Development moves in, forces out families - CBS46 News

Development moves in, forces out families

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

Atlanta and the surrounding area is growing by leaps and bounds. Time and time again undeveloped or under-developed property becomes mixed use space or retail. That's what's happening in Kennesaw at the intersection of Cobb and Barrett Parkways. But it doesn't come without controversy.

Castle Lake is the only neighborhood Jennifer Arreguin knows.

"I like that we know this whole community," Arreguin said.

It's full of mobile homes, some owned, others rented, mainly by families.

"We're all immigrants in my household and this is the place we felt most at home because of the heavy immigrant population here," Arturo Zertuche said.

Moneita Lewis bought her retirement home a year ago.

"It belongs to me and I was planning on being here for the rest of my life," Lewis said.

Now, they realize their dreams will soon be dashed.

"They're gonna tear down all this place," Arreguin said.

That's because most of Castle Lake has recently been annexed into the city of Kennesaw and rezoned. The land owner and developer are working on a deal to build a mixed use space comprised of retail, restaurants, and grocery stores. According to Kennesaw Mayor Mark Matthews the development will have a positive impact.

"It's jobs, its tax base, it's sales tax being generated in not just the city, the county, the schools, the state, it's an impact for everybody," Matthews said.

Just how much impact? The entire 84 acres at stake is currently valued at $1.3 million. Only 53 acres will be developed, but the assessed value is expected to skyrocket to $60 million.

Right now, only about $39,000 is paid in taxes per year to the county and school district. That should jump to $1.8 million. And because the property is now in Kennesaw, once complete, the city gets another $575,000. And that doesn't even consider job growth.

"To make it worthwhile it has to be sold and utilized to the highest and best use to justify the sale price. The value is a lot more than just what it's going to end up generating in property tax value," Matthews said.

And while the numbers stack up in favor of the development, these families feel it comes at their expense.

"It's obvious this is prime property. I know it would bring huge revenue into the city of Kennesaw and I know it's all about the dollar, all about the money, and it's not about people," Lewis said.

Many at Castle Lake live within walking distance of work. But most choose this neighborhood because it's affordable.

"It's a lot cheaper to live here especially with the amount of space you get to live in compared to what you have to pay at apartment complexes," Zertuche said.

And now they are forced to find a new place to live.

"I might have to move to Mexico, because they're going to tear down this place, and in Mexico I have this house where I can live," Arreguin said. 

Jeff Fuqua of Fuqua Development said he would like to do an interview, but can't because of a confidentiality agreement. The company will help the families with relocation. Here is the statement by Fuqua:

"Here at Fuqua Development we take pride in our constant efforts to be aware of community issues and concerns in all projects in which we are involved.

Our Castle Lake project is no exception. From the beginning, we have been sensitive to the possible impact of this project on some of the current residents (143 trailers) in this mobile home park.

At this point, however, months away from closing on the 52 acres we are acquiring, it is impossible to establish a clear timeline and a detailed program to address resident relocation issues. 

Nevertheless, we are already beginning to develop such a program, which we may be able to share with the affected residents probably in late spring. Those residents will be able to ask questions and comment on all elements of the program before its implementation.

While we are unable to provide relocation details for Castle Lake at this time, the tenant relocation plan that I managed during the development of Town Brookhaven is testament to Fuqua Development's commitment to put in place sensitive and beneficial relocation assistance programs when those are called for.

Town Brookhaven was developed on a 530-unit apartment complex, which required tenant relocation assistance for a large percentage of residents. Many community meetings were held to keep tenants abreast of the project and to discuss various assistance possibilities. Because a large percentage of the residents were Hispanic, all the meetings were conducted in Spanish and English, and all informational materials were in both languages as well.

Eventually, the Town Brookhaven relocation program included benefits such as assistance finding suitable apartments for relocation, security deposit assistance, moving and utility transfer assistance and cash bonuses related to individual moving dates.

Regarding the Castle Lake development, we want to reassure everyone concerned that Fuqua Development remains as committed today as it has been in the past to a substantive relocation assistance program for those affected and, further, that we will implement that plan on a timely basis, so that there will be no last-minute pressure to move."

Mayor Matthews said he, as well as, teachers and school administrators are concerned about the kids and families, and plan to help with the transition.

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