Flanked by her husband and brother-in-law, Denise Barton — who lives in one of at least four homes the county has moved to acquire over the past year in connection with the improvements — held up a copy of an MDJ article detailing the condemnation of her property and asked Cupid, “How is this not a crime? Because this is stealing from us.”
Joel Cope, president of the Mableton Improvement Coalition, said his group partnered with the Cobb County Police Department to organize Monday’s meeting after receiving an influx of complaints about public safety and code enforcement issues in the Mableton area.
Officer Mike Bowman, spokesman for Cobb police, and Sgt. Chris Michaels from the county’s Quality of Life Unit, which supplements the police department’s ability to address code violations such as graffiti, led a panel of public safety officials in a presentation of ways Mableton residents can keep themselves and their neighbors safer.
Almost all of the about two-hour meeting focused on public safety issues, shifting to the condemnation only after Cupid opened up the floor for the community members in attendance to speak as the meeting drew to a close.
Denise Barton was among several residents to raise concerns about code violations in her neighborhood, beginning her public comment by informing Cupid of the overgrown grass in the vacant yard next to hers.
The house beside her own has stood empty since the county bought out its inhabitants earlier in the year, Barton said, adding the county was now coming after her family.
Cupid said she was aware of the project in question, calling it a “town square” improvement that has been in the works since before she took her seat on the commission a year and half ago.
While she acknowledged hearing opposition to the proposal in recent weeks, she has “heard louder voices in support.”
The $4.8 million project would link Walker Drive with Church Street in Mableton, said Jim Wilgus, deputy director of Cobb’s transportation department. Funding for the project was approved under the 2011 special purpose local option sales tax. Wilgus said the quarter-mile stretch of new roadway will include a town square in front of Mableton Elementary School, which sits directly across the street from the Barton home.
Cupid has said condemnations are a “commonplace” way to facilitate government projects around the county, such as the transportation improvements that have thrown the Bartons’ land into contention.
Denise Barton, a lifelong Cobb resident, has said the land has been in the Barton family for almost 70 years.
Her brother-in-law, David Barton, moved into the house when he was three years old and has called it home since 1946, when his father had the home built for the family.
Denise Barton and her husband, Keith Barton, live with David on the property they inherited when David and Keith Barton’s mother died in 1999.
Keith Barton told Cupid during the meeting county officials had changed the nature of the projects three times since they first approached his family, from a road project to a “roundy-round” in which buses could turn around in front of the school to the town square and green space it is now slated to be.
“I need more information,” Cupid said. “I keep learning more and more about this town square. Tonight was the first night I learned about its evolution. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to take these properties. I have a lot more questions than answers right now.”
When speaking to the Bartons during the meeting, Cupid said she had invited DOT officials to attend the town hall.
She said she was told by the department certain “legalities” kept them from speaking publicly about any ongoing negotiations with property owners in such cases.
“This is not our first condemnation, nor one of a few,” Cupid said. “We’ve had several since I’ve been on board. I have never seen one come back like this. I’ve never had the actual person contact us with the problem. Typically, there’s negotiation, and I assume it’s resolved in such a matter where somebody doesn’t come back to us.”
Jennifer Jerral, a property portfolio manager who lives off Veterans Memorial Parkway in Mableton, said she is one of many who are in favor of the condemnations.
“There’s just potential,” Jerral said of the area. “But there’s a lot of these homes that have not been taken care of. Unfortunately, (as) part of the progress this community needs, you have to sacrifice to some extent. But it’s going to be a huge benefit for the community for us to have a town hall area where we can have different events. It’s like a no-brainer.”
Cupid said she didn’t know what the next step was for the Barton family, but noted she would need more information in order to feel “comfortable” moving forward with the project.
“I don’t know if it’s just this family, because there are other people whose properties have been affected that I haven’t heard from,” Cupid said. “I’ve got a lot more digging to do.”