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Neighborhood residents yearn for change
Black and Cooley drives soon will be joined in attempt to spruce up area
Johnny Varner, left, a former resident of the Black and Cooley drives community, and Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell, right, listen Saturday to the concerns of area resident Lyman F. Williams during a meeting at Rev. Jackson’s Cooley Drive Community Outreach Center. A meeting was called to discuss resident’s concerns about the quality of life in the area. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Christine Hudson is tired of waiting to see the Black and Cooley drives community revitalized.

Hudson has lived for 56 years in the low-income neighborhood of modest wooden-frame and brick single-story houses on parallel dead-end streets off Athens Street. She’s heard talk of sprucing it up before.

“You come to the meetings and they promise and promise, but we need something done besides promises and wasting our time,” said Hudson, who attended another neighborhood meeting on Saturday. “We been doing this for 15 years and we ain’t got nothin’.”

Officials told Hudson and a sparse turnout of fewer than 20 residents there would not be another 15 years of waiting for revitalization efforts.

“It can’t be 15 years,” Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell said, noting that state and federal grant money devoted to home refurbishments and other neighborhood improvements have an expiration date.

Hall County Manager Charley Nix told residents they would see the first major step toward an improved neighborhood within the next two months when a connector will be built to join Cooley and Black Drives. Besides alleviating traffic problems, the connector could help with persistent stormwater runoff issues.

The entire area has been designated for revitalization by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Local Nonprofit Home Development Resources Inc. has Community Development Block Grant funds available funding for remodeling, new construction and land purchase.

“Things are starting to happen,” Nix told residents. “A lot of it comes from you. It’s your energy that makes it happen.”

Community activist Johnny Varner grew up in the neighborhood and is spearheading efforts to give homeowners access to improvement grants. Varner also is soliciting comments for an ambitious agenda that calls for sidewalks, streetlights and a community park.

“Conditions are really good right now,” Varner said. “We have a good chance of getting a park. But we will have to have somebody’s who’s willing to gift or sell the land. I’ve been lobbying.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge for residents is getting sidewalks. It would require 100 percent of the neighborhood’s landowners to agree to cede a portion of their property to the county.

“That’s the only way to get it done,” Varner said. “The county’s strapped; they’re not going to be able to pay to buy your property.”
Bell praised the leadership of Varner and Angel Randolph in pushing for neighborhood improvements.

“If there’s anybody that can get it done, you’ve got the people to get it done,” Bell said.

Bell said the county’s new code enforcement division will be able to address some long-neglected problems of clutter in yards, appliances on porches, garbage, dilapidated, unoccupied homes and other eyesores.

He said code enforcement supervisor Andre Niles has been given a simple directive: “Do your job.”

“And if he does his job, then house by house, we’ll get it done,” Bell said. “But we can’t get it all fixed today.”

Varner urged residents to spread the word and foster more community participation.

“This is grass roots right here,” Varner said.

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