Harrisburg Opportunity Zone Designation Questioned - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

Harrisburg Opportunity Zone Designation Questioned

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Augusta, GA -

Downtown Augusta a slum area, that's the designation in the city's Urban Redevelopment Plan, scheduled for a vote Tuesday.

As we first reported last week Columbia County approved a redevelopment plan for the West Town Shopping Center area, and did not use the term "slum area" in any official documents, and now city lawyers are looking to see if that phrase can be removed from Augusta's documents.

"I'm waiting on a legal opinion on that there is the potential for that we're going to stay in the letter of the law, I guarantee you that but if we were able that might tone things down a bit," says Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

Three years ago Augusta's redevelopment focus was on Harrisburg, not downtown,  it was designated an "Opportunity Zone", meaning businesses  in the area get tax breaks for creating jobs,  but some in Harrisburg don't see this as a benefit.

"Because it was done behind our backs and against the law, we don't know if it's good of bad we have no clue because we were not in on any of the planning of it," says Lori Davis, of the Harrisburg Neighborhood Association.

Lori Davis says the city messed up making Harrisburg an Opportunity Zone, because no public hearing was ever held before the zone was approved.

"I have a difficult time thinking back three years ago, I'm sure if that is what the law was that George Patty and our Planning Department went with the letter of the law," says Mayor Copenhaver.

But what about a public hearing, Davis sent a letter to the Law Department requesting   any and all information concerning a public hearing for the Harrisburg Opportunity Zone.

"I did it in an open records request to the law department and they couldn't produce any of those documents," said Davis,

That's because no public hearing was ever held on the Opportunity Zone.  

Davis has contacted the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to file an official complaint against Augusta.

So did the city not follow the law, and does that mean the designation is at risk?

"These are questions for an attorney not for the mayor I do not have a law degree once again I will say had we not followed proper procedure we would have heard from DCA," says Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the Urban Redevelopment Plan and schedule a public hearing for September 23rd.

Saralyn Stafford, of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, says the public hearing is a requirement for Urban Redevelopment Plans, however not for the designation of an Opportunity Zone.

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