Property owner wants out of sale
• First State Bank financing for 663-acre tract approved by development authority
By Ben Roberts
A move by the Development Authority of Jefferson County (DAJC) to purchase just over 660-acres near Wrens for industrial development could be in jeopardy now that one of the landowners says he wants out of his contract.
In a called meeting last Wednesday morning, DAJC Chairman Bill Easterlin informed members of the authority that Tony Wren, one of three property owners that make up the 663 acre tract on Kings Mill Road, no longer wished to sell his portion.
“He does not want to honor his contract,” Easterlin said, pointing out that Wren had not given him a reason as to why he did not want to sell now, over a year after agreeing to the sale.
Easterlin told authority members their legal counsel had advised them they had an enforceable contract and that the authority was prepared to move forward with the legal process to close the deal.
“His portion is a critical component of this tract,” Easterlin said. “We will pursue this now from the legal side.”
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Wren said he no longer wanted to sell the tract, but declined from commenting further.
“They promised to put a factory that would put $8-million back into Jefferson County and then they said that fell through,” Wren said, stating that authority members Ted Johnson and Lester Hadden had spoken to him about the deal.
In a phone interview on Friday, Easterlin reiterated the importance of Wren’s portion of the tract, which borders the rail line, a key component to many industries.
“We are in the process of marketing this property now. We just had our second conversation with someone who wants to know how quickly we could get infrastructure to the site,” he said. “It’s a good, viable site and the rail makes it so. That is why we are purchasing it.”
Easterlin said he was also worried Wren’s wavering could cost Jefferson County in the near future.
“I hope that this discussion with Tony [Wren] does not prohibit us from getting a client or current prospect or cause prospects to look elsewhere.”
The other business of the meeting was to approve a $1.7 million financing package from First State Bank in Wrens for the purchase of the property. Easterlin told authority members it was his preference to finance the purchase locally, keeping the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds within the county by using a local financial institution.
Easterlin and a number of other authority members have ties to Queensborough National Bank, so that bank could not be used.
That financing package was approved by a unanimous vote of 4-0, with Johnson abstaining due to his holding a non-voting seat on First State’s board of directors.
“I don’t believe I have a conflict of interest because I’m only an emeritus member of the board, but I would like to abstain,” he said.
In February, Hadden, a Wrens City Council member, resigned from his seat on the DAJC after questions were raised regarding a possible conflict of interest in the purchase of a one-acre lot joining the 663-acre tract.
In a February interview, Hadden said he did not know the one-acre lot ran adjacent to the possible industrial site and stated he bought the property to give to his daughter as an investment opportunity. At the time of the interview, Hadden said he expected them to sell the property to a new owner.
As of the DAJC’s meeting last week, Hadden’s daughter still owned the lot on Kings Mill Road, which has since had a mobile home moved on to it and a septic tank and water well installed.
Easterlin said there were no plans to purchase the Hadden property at this time, but if the DAJC decided to entertain the idea, he would expect Hadden to sell the property for the amount he paid for it, regardless of improvements.
Wrens Legion post assists with plans for Veterans' Park
• Wrens Better Hometown continues to offer memorial bricks for downtown Veterans' Park
By Parish Howard
“Wrens is going to have a Veterans’ Park one way or another,” American Legion Post 229 Adjutant C.W. “Speakie” Stephens told those gathered for the post’s Memorial Day Service Tuesday afternoon.
The park has long been a dream of his and a topic of discussion among the post, which has lost 42 members since it was formed in 1980.
“There are only four of us charter members left,” Stephens said in another interview recently. “And we’re going to do our best to make sure this park is built so that some of us can see it before we go.”
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Stephens recently spoke up during a city meeting with DOT Representatives and brought his post’s concerns to the attention of those who are designing and planning for the park, which will be located in the grassy area adjacent to the Wrens Post Office.
According to City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson, the city’s Better Hometown organization had been planning a park or area to honor veterans for some time and decided to include it with the 2001 Transportation Enhancement Act grant because they felt they would be able to do a better job with the grant’s resources.
The city’s meeting with DOT last month was held in an effort to expedite the project, and engineers now say that it is possible construction could begin before the end of the year.
“There’s no way Better Hometown would have been able to raise enough money to do the entire park,” Johnson said Tuesday. “This is a very special project for this community and it’s unfortunate it has taken a while to get started. Hopefully we’re on a quicker road now.”
Better Hometown has sold around 215 memorial bricks, with the names of area servicemen and women, their branch of service and the years they served etched into their sides.
The bricks, which sell for $35 each, will be used as a part of the project.
“It’s really a great deal,” Stephens said. “In other places, these type bricks are going for $200 a piece. The $35 pretty much just covers the cost of the brick itself.”
Stephens said that once he heard the city was interested in building a veterans’ park, he went to work looking into designs and parks other cities have built.
His search took him to Augusta Technical College, and a designer there drew up a preliminary design for a park he liked, but realized was not quite right for Wrens.
He later traveled to parks in North Augusta, Sandersville and Cartersville and spoke to people who organized the parks there and learned from their success and mistakes.
“I talked to this one man in North Augusta who almost cried,” Stephens said. “He showed me where they had placed the bricks in the cement on the ground and you had to walk all over other people’s names to find your veteran. And once they were down in that concrete, you couldn’t take them up without breaking them to pieces. He begged me not to let our people make the same mistake.”
John McClellan, an engineer with the city’s contracted J. Ben Turnipseed Inc., is currently working on the city’s downtown TEA grant design and the veterans’ park.
“I really enjoyed speaking with Mr. Stephens after the meeting the other day,” McClellan said. “I’m not a veteran, but I have family members who are and it’s really a privilege and an honor to be working on something to honor them.”
He said that the park should include new landscaping and picnic tables as well as the veterans’ memorial area.
Stephens also suggested the city add service flags for each branch and separate the bricks by branch, so that individuals might be easier to find. He said that he hoped his post of the Legion would purchase a monument to go there as well.
He asked that the city consider grouping family members together and leave room to add more bricks as time goes by and more and more veterans wish to be included.
McClellan admitted that some of the suggestions pose challenges to the site’s engineering and design, but said that he looks forward to trying to implement as many of them as possible.
“We appreciate that the city and Better Hometown have decided that the veterans of the city and community need a place to be recognized,” Stephens said. “Before we did everything: Veterans Day, Flay Day and Memorial Day ceremonies. We’re glad they want to help.”
In the past, the Legion has held services for these holidays downtown, but the noise of passing 18-wheelers drowned out the speakers and so they moved it back to the city’s memorial cemetery. Stephens said he hopes that with the downtown project, which should slow traffic and make the heart of the city more pedestrian-friendly, the Legion could think about moving services to the veterans’ park.
“If had the money I would have built this park myself,” Stephens said. “That’s how much I appreciate all the veterans who have served for us. It’s a shame I’m a poor boy.”
Applications to purchase memorial bricks for the park can be obtained through Stephens at (706) 547-2666 and are available at city hall at (706) 547-3000.