published Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Fort Oglethorpe: Officials fear suit may stop Barnhardt sidewalks


by Beverly Carroll

An e-mail that circulated around Fort Oglethorpe City Hall last week has officials uneasy about taking any more action on Barnhardt Circle, including the planned replacement of sidewalks that are buckled and cracked.

“Based on the e-mail, I’m really concerned about what we can actually do up there without causing someone to think we violated the terms and provisions of the deed,” City Manager Ron Goulart said.

“If something so simple as a cricket pitch flies in the face of what the deed actually says, I’m afraid something as major as sidewalks will, too,” he said.

A lawsuit was filed against the city recently claiming the cricket pitch — a flat concrete slab the city built on the polo field — violates the deed giving the land to the city.

Mayor Ronnie Cobb said he received e-mails from some Barnhardt Circle residents claiming the city was blackmailing them by holding up the sidewalk project until the lawsuit was settled.

One of those e-mails makes reference to an “upcoming suit.” No other lawsuit had been filed as of Friday.

Mr. Goulart said the e-mail referring to another lawsuit was from Edward Parrish. Mr. Parrish did not return calls seeking comment.

Mayor Cobb and council members said they support replacing the sidewalks in the historic neighborhood, and Mr. Cobb said he is angered residents had reacted to “rumors.”

The sidewalk project is still in a planning phase. No engineering has been done, and the grant request is still in the works, Mr. Cobb said.

But Mr. Goulart and the city attorney were preparing a response to the lawsuit filed by Sharon Anderson, of Barnhardt Circle, asking the city to remove the cricket pitch built in 2007. The suit claims the concrete pad violates the deed stipulation the site be used “only for purposes of public schools, and/or parks or playgrounds and other public purposes, and for no other purpose.”

Ms. Anderson claims city officials are using the sidewalks to intimidate residents.

“That is not new construction,” she said. “They are needed. The old ones are in terrible shape.”

Mr. Goulart said the city may need to seek a legal opinion on the sidewalks before spending several hundred thousand dollars.

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