Vivian Hightower speaks to the Tifton City Council.

Vivian Hightower speaks to the Tifton City Council.

TIFTON — The Tifton City Council approved an $11.9 million bid to build apartments at the former Captain’s Point Trailer Park Feb. 3, but not before a lengthy — and, at times, heated — debate.

At the Jan. 21 meeting, the council considered an $11.9 million proposal from Valdosta-based Integrity Development Partners to develop affordable housing in the form of apartment complexes where monthly rents would be structured to allow for various income levels to afford to live there. This project would develop approximately 5 acres of what was previously Captains Point Trailer Park, leaving the other half of that 12 acre property for other development.

Integrity Development Partners was one of four companies to submit a proposal.

When the recommendation was presented to the council for discussion and a vote at the January meeting, councilmember Johnny Terrell objected to the proposal, saying that he didn’t want to put people back into rental properties and wanted to build affordable housing to enable home ownership.

“We agreed when we started this project that we were going to build houses that you could buy,” Terrell said at the January meeting. “You can’t buy apartments like that. This is the same thing that’s happening down there.”

At the Feb. 3 meeting, Vivian Hightower, chairperson for the Urban Development Agency, said she spoke with residents of the area who didn’t want to see single-family homes built there.

“They’re telling me they can’t afford it,” said Hightower. “The people over there, they cannot afford a single dwelling.”

“If you can pay $415 a month rent, you can pay $415 a month rent to own,” said Terrell. “We’ve got to make changes.”

“You just moved there,” Terrell said to Hightower. “I grew up there. I’m not voting for anything.”

Terrell then stood up and left the room while saying “Traitor, turncoat,” repeatedly.

The council continued discussing the proposal.

“Until we raise the value of the entire neighborhood…there is no way we can sustain,” said Tifton Mayor Julie Smith. “A builder can…come in and have rental units, which will be very, very nice and very affordable, and will elevate the area…Then we can come in and do single residence houses.”

“It’s not what we want as a council,” Smith added. “It’s what residents want. You should have safe affordable clean housing. That’s what the urban redevelopment area represents.”

After a few minutes, Terrell returned and rejoined the discussion, saying that the people Hightower talked to “don’t want to do better.”

“You’ve got to want to do better,” he said. “Ninety percent of my district is rental property, maybe 95 percent. Let’s give them a chance to own something.”

“I grew up in that area as well,” said council member M. Jay Hall. “I’m invested in that community and will be forever. We do need to rebuild that community and bring life to everybody over there. But there’s an education component as well.”

“This is a major step,” he added. “You’ve got $11 million about to be invested in an area that’s been ignored for years. As we all know, you’ve got to start somewhere. You can’t just put those houses there and expect somebody to come in and be able to afford it.

“I think this is what we need to move on. Right now, we’re just looking at dirt and I’m tired of looking at dirt. We can keep looking at dirt or we can put something on the land.”

At a called meeting after the workshop, the council voted to go with Integrity’s $11.9 million bid.

Thrift Stores

The council discussed a potential moratorium on new downtown thrift stores.

City manager Pete Pyrzenski recommended the moratorium so the city and Downtown Development Authority could define what a thrift store is and how they are different from antique stores.

“I want to be fair to entrepreneurs…but I also want to be fair to the DDA,” Pyrzenski.

“It won’t take long, ” Pyrzenski added. “One hundred and twenty days and we could really hash this out.”

“We need to do a study,” said council member Jack Folk. “You get too many and they don’t survive. You don’t want to be overrun.”

“More time to study isn’t the same as no more thrift stores,” Folk added.

Design Standards

Recently proposed state legislation would create state-wide guidelines for cities and counties that don’t have design standards in place.

Assistant Community Development Director Danny Wallace presented a set of design standards to the council to consider.

“I didn’t want this to be a burdensome regulation,” said Danny Wallace. “I want this to beautify the city. I kept it simple, I kept it easy to understand, and I kept it down to three pages.”

Single family residences and buildings already built would be exceptions to the standards.

“If we don’t set it up, Atlanta will dictate,” said council member Wes Ehlers. “We have to put something in place in order to protect us.”

The next meeting of the Tifton City Council is 5:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at Tifton City Hall.

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