Sherwood Heights residents vowed Sunday, April 29, to fight the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ March 6 approval of a lease for nearby transitional housing providing workforce development for homeless men.
“We’ve got to get something done,” neighborhood resident Beverly Nordholz said, leading a community meeting attended by about 50 people. “Let’s do it.”
Residents of the Gainesville neighborhood were encouraged to sign a petition, choose a spokesperson and speak at an upcoming commission meeting.
From the outset, Nordholz acknowledged that “because the lease was approved legally, there’s not a lot, at this point, we can do.”
However, she told the group gathered at Lakeview Academy, “I’ve talked to a lot of government officials and real estate agents to see what their opinion of the program is. And it was suggested to me that we meet individually with the commissioners and put as much political pressure as we can on them.”
The property at 1255 Vine St. was leased for an annual $1 rent to North Georgia Works, also near Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
The petition says approval was given “without any consideration of the interests and opinions of the citizens who live in the neighborhood.”
Main concerns about the project are its effect on property values, resident safety and “loss of freedom of movement,” property safety, traffic and worries about “outsiders in and out of the neighborhood,” the petition states.
“They need a police officer there — that would be my recommendation,” resident Bill Taylor said. “The difference between a security guard and police is the power to make an arrest.”
As far as the effect on property values, “it’s a wait-and-see kind of thing,” said Steve Watson, an area resident and chief appraiser for the Hall County Board of Tax Assessors. “We’ll have to see how the market behaves.”
Local buzz about North Georgia Works started when residents got a letter from Gainesville City Councilwoman Barbara Brooks informing them of a meeting on Monday, April 23, at the North Georgia Community Foundation about the project.
In an interview last week, resident Brian Lester said he felt the neighborhood’s residents were not given adequate notice for voicing their concerns.
“The county owned this building. You would think as a courtesy they would let the residents of this neighborhood know its intended use,” he said.
Doug Hanson, a local advocate for chronically homeless men, spearheaded the project.
He has said the project is based off the Georgia Works model in Atlanta, which describes itself as transforming “chronically homeless men into self-sufficient and productive members of society.”
The program would give the participants housing while teaching them skills, Hanson said.
“We expect to receive some other concerns from people that we will then come back to and respond to in a positive way,” Hanson said.
“We’re in the process of working through all those security issues now. In time, we will be able to completely answer those questions. We will have staff that will be there 24 hours … They can rest assured that there will be security in this place 24 hours, and they will be people who are trained in all aspects of security,” Hanson said.
Hanson said the requirements for North Georgia Works’ participants include giving up all government support, being clean from drugs and alcohol and having a will to work.
“I think it’s a wonderful program,” Nordholz said. “It’s very noble and could do a lot of good, but there are too many unknowns … and that’s why we do not want it in our neighborhood.”
Speaking to residents, Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann said he has told City Manager Bryan Lackey, “This is an awfully odd place to put this facility.”
“I think we’re going to be sensitive to the needs of the folks who live in Sherwood Heights,” Wangemann said.
“Are you going to fight for us?” Nordholz asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” the councilman said, prompting a loud round of applause.