18 August 2016

[tpc] - An Update on the Newton Co. Mosque Situation

The Piedmont Chronicles 
~ est. 2010 ~
[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(Covington, GA * 8/18/16) - This piece is a follow up to an article from Sunday

Much has been written about and much has been made of the recent news that an Islamic Mosque will soon be a reality in Newton Co. There has been much hand-wringing and consternation; a lot of speculation and opinions. It's been quite the thing here in the home county.

Recently, Phil Johnson, attorney for the Neely family and a key player in all of this drama, has written a letter to both of the local papers to clear the air and give his and his clients' side of the story to these events.

Here's what we know, according to Mr. Johnson:

- The sales price for this deal that was reported by The Newton Citizen (and also reported by this publication after referencing The Newton Citizen article ) was apparently erroneous. Per Johnson:

 Finally, though it is somewhat irrelevant, the sales price which was quoted in the paper as $1.3Million was grossly inaccurate. The property was originally split into two parcels for tax purposes - not sure why, but they were 0050-00000-001-000 and 0050-00000-001-B00. The PT-61 form 107-2015-002897 for Warranty Deed recorded at Deed Book 3358, Page 122, public records of Newton County, Georgia shows the total consideration for the property to be $675,900 for both parcels. When the Newton Citizen reporter, Alice Queen, checked this she apparently saw on the tax assessors sales activity for each parcel a sale for $675,900, but she didn’t check to see that they were on the same warranty.
For what it's worth, I went to the Newton Co. tax assessor's webpage, and confirmed what Phil said - both tracts referenced the same Deed Book and Page, which leads this writer to believe that the actual sale amount was indeed $675,900. I can easily understand the error of The Citizen, if this is the case, because it was shown that both tracts went for the aforementioned amount, making for a total of approx. $1.3 Million. But, it seems that this was incorrect. If true, the $675,900 purchase price definitely seems to be more in line with what real estate is going for in this area vs. the thought that this tract went for $10,000 per acre. 

- But the biggest thing was a letter that was provided by Mr. Johnson to me, and others, from zoning director Judy Johnson, on Newton Co. official letterhead, that references the project to Al Maad Al Islami Inc., in June of 2015, that says that the Administrative Use Permit was accepted, but based on multiple contingencies. Specifically, that the project could not have "negative impacts from the proposed use including aesthetics, traffic, public health and safety," and also that the use "would not cause unreasonable adverse impact on the adjoining land due to noise, smoke, odor, [or] hours of operation..."

So...maybe this thing isn't necessarily a done deal, after all? 

The big concern for many has been whether or not the Neely Family and Phil Johnson, Esq. knew what the full extent of this project was. We now know - they fully knew. But there was not an attempt, as far as this writer can discern, to try to hide that fact. Based on all available documents, everybody, including Newton Co. Planning and Zoning, knew that this just wasn't "Avery Community Church," but rather "Al Maad Al Islami." How it stayed under the radar for so long? That's a good question. As many have said, the timing seemed suspect. But...that's the reality of the situation that we find ourselves in. 

As an aside, I just have to say that the past week and a half has been quite the experience. It reminds me of a lyric from the band, Stealers Wheel - "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you." It seems as if both sides in this tired, drawn-out escapade have been equally harsh and ridiculous. Sure, there's been a lot of bigotry and racism on one side, but there's also been a ton of elitism, tone-deafness, and vitriol from the other side. It's really been something. It seems like neither side can appreciate the fact that situations like this are never black-and-white. There, to me, has to be an empathy and an appreciation for those who have lived in this area for generations - and to those who've lived there just a short time - who are now seeing their entire lives changed. You have to see that. But there is equally no excuse for some of the beyond-the-pale comments that we've seen from some in our community. 

I think, as I often do, of two famous quotes: 

"Between the idea. And the realityBetween the motion. And the act. Falls the Shadow" 

"There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle." 

Just another day in Newton, right?

Thanks for reading. 'Til next time...