‘We don’t live in a perfect world’ ... Advocates calling on community to assist Castle Lake tenants
by Rachel Gray
February 24, 2014 04:00 AM | 9621 views | 23 23 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shannon Smith Sikorski, a small business owner in Kennesaw, has been working with the Castle Lake community to provide food and holiday gifts, and is hoping the Kennesaw community will rally behind Castle Lake to help their relocation be successful and keep families together. <br>Staff/Todd Hull
Shannon Smith Sikorski, a small business owner in Kennesaw, has been working with the Castle Lake community to provide food and holiday gifts, and is hoping the Kennesaw community will rally behind Castle Lake to help their relocation be successful and keep families together.
Staff/Todd Hull
slideshow
Tom Tanner, pastor at Riverstone Church in Kennesaw, and other members at his church have started many outreach programs at the Castle Lake Mobile Home Park including tutoring, building a new playground, revamped a community building and had cookouts.
Tom Tanner, pastor at Riverstone Church in Kennesaw, and other members at his church have started many outreach programs at the Castle Lake Mobile Home Park including tutoring, building a new playground, revamped a community building and had cookouts.
slideshow
KENNESAW — Two community groups will continue their outreach to a group of often marginalized residents, hoping the rest of Cobb will aid the same people when they are evicted.

A 52-acre tract on the northwest corner of Barrett and Cobb parkways is slated for a commercial project by Atlanta-based Fuqua Development, which will close at least part of the Castle Lake Mobile Home Park that houses an estimated 1,500 people.

The mobile home park includes 250 lots, with both rented and purchased prefabricated homes lining the narrow, cracked roads that make a grid in the wooded area.

Last week, residents of the complex addressed the Kennesaw City Council in both English and Spanish, trying to stop the $150 million commercial

development.

Those cries of dissent were joined by statements from two community advocates.

One speaker was Pastor Tom Tanner of Riverstone Church, which has been located off Stilesboro Road, less than a mile from Castle Lake, since 2006.

On Sunday, Tanner preached out of the book of Mark, where Jesus challenges his followers to give away their possessions to the poor in order to serve the Lord and enter the kingdom of heaven.

On the walls of the Riverstone Church sanctuary are blocks with a few words, including outreach, development and community transformation.

Many members of the church have literally taken those words to the streets, hoping to shape one neighborhood at a time, not by just providing for the physical needs but in building relationships.

“We care deeply about the people of Castle Lake,” Tanner said.

Almost three years ago, Brad and Brooke Kireta started an outreach group for Castle Lake, offering English classes for adults while their children are tutored, providing materials and labor to build a new playground, donating free haircuts, playing host to cookouts and repairing the homes of single mothers and widows.

The promise of relocation help

On Feb. 17, The Kennesaw City Council voted 5-0 to annex much of the mobile home property into the city limits, with a condition requiring Fuqua to submit a relocation plan to move existing residents prior to the beginning of construction.

Attorney Garvis Sams, of the Marietta-based firm Sams, Larkin, Huff & Balli, LLP that represents Fuqua, said the project would break ground in six months and open in the spring of 2016.

After hearing the residents’ cries for help, Mayor Mark Mathews said the developer would work closely with the residents to help them relocate.

Jeff Fuqua, who formed Fuqua Development LP in March 2012, attended the public hearing and through Sams told the crowd the company would form a committee this spring to start relocation assistance on a family by family basis.

With four extension churches throughout Cobb and another starting in Smyrna, Tanner said he is not concerned about the Castle Lake residents moving away from Riverstone Church, because there is a great chance a similar congregation will be nearby.

But he wants to make sure their other needs are “intentionally cared for,” Tanner said.

The Kiretas said Castle Lake is a strong community where neighbors rely on each other for rides to work and child care, and dispersing the close-knit groups could have a devastating impact.

“These people do life together,” said Brad Kireta, including the four busloads of kids who attend nearby public schools from kindergarten through high school.

Brooke Kireta said many of the residents may not know English, but are intelligent, hardworking people who want to contribute to the greater community.

“It is a cultural view that they come to the country to take, take, take, but often they are the ones being taken advantage of,” Brooke Kireta said.

Losing homes, way of life

Another outspoken advocate said the fear of outsiders now seems founded as Castle Lake residents are losing their only sense of security: their community.

Shannan Smith Sikorski, who also gave an emotional speech to the City Council last week, is the owner of Big Shanty Barbershop off Main Street in downtown Kennesaw.

Born and raised in Kennesaw, Sikorski said she first began raising money for the Castle Lake residents more than two years ago after reading about a backpack program that provides lunches to hungry kids.

With the support of friends, families and businesses, Sikorski said her charity helps pay utility bills and provided 153 toys this Christmas season, mostly to people Sikorski said are too scared to ask for help or too shy to accept

donations.

“We had to force turkeys on them,” Sikorski said about a program she organized around Thanksgiving. “They don’t want to take too much.”

During the holiday season, Sikorski said her charity gave $3,000 worth of donations, but that money could have been used for an even greater purpose if the neighborhood had been told about the impending development.

“Long-term housing might have been a better gift,” Sikorski said.

The young children, who Sikorski emphasizes are American citizens, and work diligently in to break the cycle of poverty, but she has been told by parents their grades are already slipping do to the stress of moving.

“It is up to us to keep the dream alive,” Sikorski said.

Although Sikorski said she has no plans to picket the new businesses or lie down in front of bulldozers, she will be “barking in everyone’s ear” until the last person is safely relocated.

The city’s economic development

In December, Fuqua filed papers with Kennesaw seeking to rezone the property from a county residential mobile home park to a city planned village community.

The massive mixed-use project would include 450,000 square feet of retail space and 30 townhomes on the western side of the property. The townhomes would be purchased, not rented.

Whole Foods Market has agreed to anchor the large shopping complex. There is also space designated for a sporting goods store, and room to add a drug store, casual dining restaurants, specialty retail shops, office space and even a gas station, Sams said.

Darryl Simmons, Kennesaw’s planning and zoning administrator, said the Atlanta Regional Commission received a copy of the site plans and “determined that this mixed use development is not a Development of Regional Impact.”

Developments of Regional Impact are large-scale developments that are likely to have regional effects beyond the local government jurisdiction in which they are located.

As for the rezoning and annexation decision by the City Council, any party desiring to appeal would have to file with the Superior Court of Cobb County by the middle of March, Simmons said.

Riverstone Church is not against the commercial development, “just the way it all went down,” Tanner said.

Tanner, who lives in Kennesaw, said the new stores and restaurants would be good for the city, with more jobs and an economic boost.

Organizers of the outreach from Riverstone Church said the Castle Lake management staff has opened land and buildings to allow the group to help residents.

But Sikorski said the management company has hidden details and purposely miscommunicated, further breaking down the trust the residents have for other officials.

“The most important thing right now is that they understand everything that has been done,” Sikorski said.

At the Feb. 17 meeting, Mathews said the council was not aware the management of Castle Lake had not communicated the plan to sell the land until recently.

Mathews gave his word that the Castle Lake families would be treated fairly and be placed in a better living situation than the one in which they are currently living.

Even with the high possibility of leaving schools that have created programs for the Castle Lake children or quitting jobs that will no longer be within walking distance, Sikorski said in a “perfect world,” being forced to find new homes could be the best thing for the residents.

“But we don’t live in a perfect world,” Sikorski said.

Comments
(23)
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AntiScum
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July 15, 2014
All the criminals involved in lying and stealing from the poor people living in Castle Lake need to be throw in jail and I hope they all get cancer.
livedthere
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June 22, 2014
Just heard about this today.I lived at Castle Lake in the late 70s. Then you owned your home,rented the space. They were very strict about every thing and the lot rent was high.No illegals, no trouble at all. This jus proves how when they move into an area,crime goes up, property value down.I agree with the lady that said they need to go south to the border!!
foodog4me
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March 11, 2014
What is the official date the residents have to relocate? If they own their home and just rent a lot will they be compensated since I believe its against the law to move a MP that is over 10 years old. FYI- Not ALL residents are Hispanic.
anonymous
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February 25, 2014
I don't see a plus in encouraging people to keep living in poverty and to not better themselves. If these people and churches are encouraging illegals to become legal and to do what is required of them by law, I applaud them. If not, why are you discouraging people to remain poor, illegal, and a drain on our tax system?
onguard
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February 24, 2014
Pure business. That's all this is. Sikorski and Tanner are just looking for publicity. They ought to be ashamed. Just help those who you want to.
The Lord Said,
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February 24, 2014
The way you treat the least of these, is the way you treat me!
Get Over It
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February 24, 2014
The residents of Castle Rock are entitled to a 60 day notice in the state of Georgia if their landlord wishes to break their lease. This is being done. Anything beyond that is no ones business but the landlord and the tenants. I can appreciate the good folks at Riverstone and others in the area wanting to help, and I actually applaud them for "walking the walk."

The sad truth about all of this is that there are those who wish to paint the property owners and the developer as the bad guys here, and that is simply not the case. There are others who wish to paint the residents of the trailer park as the bad guys, and that is not the case either. This is an economic decision being made by informed people, and done within the constraints of the law, and to suggest otherwise is not accurate. With regards to the largely Hispanic population of Castle Rock, there are some good and decent folks who live there, who work hard, want a better life for their children, and who try to do the right thing.

If Riverstone wishes to take a lead on this, I am sure there are other churches who would gladly help.
Wm H, Kennesaw
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February 24, 2014
Since Whole Foods has already commited to the Fuqua project I suggest that some community input from area residents might get Whole Foods to see that Jeff Fuqua and the Castle Lake MHP put into effect a worth while relocation package.

I dropped them a note today with my concerns, the area contact for Georgia is darrah.horgan@wholefoods.com The more people who drop them a line the better chance that they will take up the matter with Fuqua and Castle Lake.

Take a minute and send off an email to the above address.
Betty Runs
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February 26, 2014
Thanks for the info. I have dropped Darrah a note expressing my concern for the residents of Castle Lake as well. Reading through some of the comments I am not surprised that people will categorize these residents as low-life illegals who are taking advantage of our welfare system. It is unfortunate people cannot get past their stereotypes and bigotry to see that we are all human regardless of economic status, race and gender and we all deserve a chance to improve our lot in life. So if Tanner and Sikorski want to take the lead and speak out I'm on board to help!
Just Wait
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February 24, 2014
Does this story really deserve this much space on the front page? Must be a slow news day.
ERAC
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February 24, 2014
This is what's happening in our community and I'm sure if you were losing your home it would be as important. Let's have some empathy.
I Live Nearby
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February 24, 2014
For those of you not familiar with Castle Lake, this article sugar coats what it is and doesn't mention the negative impact it has on surrounding neighborhoods.

Castle Lake is a run-down trailer park filled with illegal immigrants.

It is "close-knit" and they look out for one another because they often don't speak english and can't perform basic societal functions on their own and thus they rely on the help of others.

The many, many, children (raised in non-English speaking homes) living in this community require additional time to educate which diminishes the attention other children might receive. Unfortunately, these children also depress test scores on standized tests for area schools which then depresses real estate values for the traditional neighborhoods in the area.

While the church may feel keeping this group of illegal immigrants together is beneficial, it actually hampers assimulation and has a negative impact on the broader Barrett/Stileboro community.

As a nearby resident, I will be happy to see the trailer park sold and the land re-developed. Of course I too have a heart for the residents but most are in the country illegally and they are negatively impacting my property values and my children's education so my compassion is tempered by reality.
anonymous
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February 24, 2014
Me, me, me, me, me, me!
Truthseeker99
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September 02, 2014
Bravo! Somebody on this " holier than though" comment section has the guts to speak the truth. This is a giant city and they can go dodge the INS somewhere else.
anonymous
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February 24, 2014
Please publish the crime stats, police calls, etc from the trailer park and maybe people will understand
Ken 30152
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February 24, 2014
Wealthy Vancouver Canada property investors Joseph and Marcos Ergas, owners of Castle Lake Homes Corp (aka 'The Ergas Group'), are probably watching the clock run out on the 30 day window for a possible Kennesaw annexation appeal on the pending sale of 53 of their 87 acre Castle Lake MHP to controversial Atlanta developer Jeff Fuqua and hisFuqua Development Holdings, LLC.

The entire property is valued at $3,250,000 but generates only $39,000 yearly for Cobb County in property taxes.



If the sale is finalized to Fuqua and developed as a mid-sized retail development considerably more taxes will be generated and additional jobs will come to the area.

With an initially estimated 600-700 impacted residents of the Castle Lake MHP you might wonder if there is any recourse for them in the recent 5-0 Council vote for annexation of the unincorporated Cobb County acreage.

There are avenues via both the Superior Court and a direct appeal to the City, if done in the 30 day window of opportunity. The end date for such a challenge would be Wed. March 19th. There is no change in the status of the 53 acres until then and as yet no indication of an appeal.

The major issue at present is the displacement of those on the affected acreage and those remaining 34 MHP acres which will shortly follow to other developers with an eventual removal of over 1,000 retirees, low income and Hispanic residents, all probable Kennesaw residents/citizens, although such residency/citizenship would be of short duration for most.

An occasionally mentioned 'relocation package' has yet to have any details firmed up and this has caused considerable unrest and anxiety in the Castle Lake community.



While the City and the attorney for Fuqua have both indicated that some plan would be put into effect for those to be displaced it remains to be seen what will be done.

At minimum it should include hiring a professional real estate firm to assist the displaced finding places in other MHP's or area rental housing, refunding in full all security deposits and providing reasonable 'key money' for those who leave to defray their relocation costs.

For additional Castle Lake info see also: http://mayormathews.blogspot.com/

new American way
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February 24, 2014
This is the new, accepted, American way. If money can line someone's pockets, just sweep the poor under the rug. This is a sad story and apparently, nothing would have been done at all unless there had been some publicity. Thank you Marietta Journal and thanks to the wonderful people who are trying to help residents of Castle Lake.
anonymous
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February 24, 2014
new American way, after all that whining, I was expecting you to close by telling us how you had gone over and brought a bunch of them over to live with you.

Of course, liberals tend to TALK about how much they "care" ( so others will know how much they care)... actually doing something (other than whine) is not as easy for the typical liberal.
onguard
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February 24, 2014
new American way, why don't you share some of your ignorance to the Native Americans. I'm sure they would find it quite humorous.

Cobbresident4
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February 24, 2014
The Woodlands mobile home park appears to be the closest to Castle Lake and a move there would probably cause the least amount of disruption to Castle Lake residents' lives. High school students would not have to change schools but middle and elementary students would. Elementary and middle school students would still be in excellent schools, though. I hope that Fuqua Development, Castle Lake owners, RiverStone church, and the charity headed up by the owner of Big Shanty Barber Shop financially assist the residents in moving there. Also, I hope that the moving can be done after the current school year has finished so as to minimize the disruption to students.
I Live Nearby
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February 24, 2014
Those schools are only excellent because they haven't experienced a mass influx of Hispanic children from poor families where English is not the spoken language of the home. Once that occurs, the schools are changed. The performance on standarized tests for the schools as a whole will decline. The schools will not be rated as high. More traditional families looking for a place to relocate will bypass homes in the school district with the now "poorer performing" schools and as a result, real estate prices will be harmed.

It is best if this community be allowed to disburse on its own. Otherwise, do-gooders are only moving the problem up the road.

Cobbresident4
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February 24, 2014
@ I Live Nearby: Your argument appears to have some merit. Looking at the most recent third grade Iowa Test of Basic Skills scores for Bullard, Big Shanty, Lewis, & Hayes elementary schools, the English and Math scores range from highest to lowest in the order in which they are listed. Castle Lake students attend Hayes. Hayes' Complete Composite score is 49 to Bullard's 64 with the others falling in between. While the true reasons for this difference cannot be laid solely at the feet of Castle Lake residents, there may be a relation. It may be better if the families spread out to numerous schools which would also encourage them to better assimilate into our community. However, I still believe that the developer and current property owner should assist the residents financially with the forced move.
I am over it!
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February 24, 2014
Please do not encourage their movements up here into The Woodlands! Why push them farther north when they should be going farther south like all the way to the border! Get real people! Life is Such! Did you all know that they play the card of "Help Me"? Over the Holidays, not only do they receive baskets from Big Shanty Owner, but; from the Hayes Elementary School which they attend. Sounds to me like they are racking up enough freebies from this community. Bet they did not tell the church and the others about the baskets from Hayes did they? Talk to the Social Worker at that School! Her name is "Missy". Check it out for yourself, make a call.
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