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If you are accused of a crime, the only thing standing between your freedom and a verdict of "guilty" is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Port Wentworth, GA.

Those who have been arrested before know that life in the legal system is no laughing matter. Aside from the imminent ramifications of fines and jail time, any goals you have of bettering yourself and advancing your life could be compromised. Without a trusted attorney by your side, you could face a lifetime of embarrassment and poor employment prospects due to a tarnished criminal record.

The good news? Dennis O'Brien and his team of experienced lawyers in Port Wentworth are ready to clear your name. By retaining the help of a criminal defense attorney early in the legal process, you have a much better chance of securing your freedom and living a life as a productive member of society.

At O'Brien Law Firm PC, our practice was founded to fight for the rights of individuals accused of or charged with a crime. Our team of legal experts is well-equipped to take even the most difficult, contentious cases. From violent felonies to DUI, there is nothing we haven't seen and handled. As a former law enforcement officer, founding attorney Dennis O'Brien knows exactly how much a person can lose if convicted. That's why we work tirelessly to secure a verdict that is favorable for our clients.

Regardless of how serious or minor your case may be, know that we will fight fearlessly on your behalf. You deserve zealous representation - when you hire O'Brien Law Firm PC, you will receive nothing less.

 Drug Lawyer Port Wentworth, GA
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The O'Brien Law Firm PC Difference

Many of our clients are surprised to discover that founding lawyer Dennis O'Brien was a police officer prior to his criminal defense career. As a former Field Training Officer for the Memphis Police Department, he has over two decades of knowledge and experience in the criminal justice system. Dennis truly understands the nuance and complexities involved in a criminal defense case. This rare experience gives Dennis a clear edge in any criminal defense case and gives clients priceless peace of mind when they need it the most. Unlike some criminal defense attorneys in Port Wentworth, Dennis O'Brien and his team believe that every client deserves effective, empathetic legal assistance. While some Port Wentworth criminal defense firms will take weekends off or pass along cases to paralegals, Dennis personally reviews each of his cases. There is no case too small or big for O'Brien Law Firm PC. When you hire our firm, you can rest easy knowing that we will be by your side when the going gets tough.

 Federal Defense Attorney Port Wentworth, GA
Here are just a few reasons why O'Brien Law Firm PC is Port Wentworth's top choice in criminal defense:
  • Vigorous Representation
  • Fierce Dedication to Clients
  • Unmatched Experience
  • Face-to-Face Counsel
  • Prompt Response to Inquiries and Questions
  • Commitment to Defending Your Rights
  • Thorough, Effective Research and Investigation
  • Contact Us or Call: 912-704-5150
 Criminal Defense Law Firms Port Wentworth, GA
Our firm has represented hundreds of criminal defense clients in Port Wentworth and is highly qualified to take your case. Some of our specialties include:

Drug Cases in Port Wentworth, GA

When you are charged with a drug crime in Port Wentworth, it can change your life forever. Georgia imposes very strict punishments for drug offenses. The truth is, it's hard to get your life back on track with a drug charge on your record. Your freedom and way of life could be in the hands of your criminal defense attorney. As such, you need a competent lawyer with years of experience handling drug cases. Leaving your fate in the hands of an incompetent attorney could have long-lasting effects on your family and may result in a conviction.

 Criminal Defense Lawyers Port Wentworth, GA

Consequences for drug crimes in Port Wentworth often include:

  • Jail
  • Prison
  • Heavy fines
  • Community service
  • Court-ordered drug and alcohol counseling
  • Probation or parole
  • Permanent criminal record

While the consequences for a drug crime in Georgia are serious, there's reason to be hopeful: O'Brien Law Firm PC is here to fight for you. Remember - being charged with a drug crime is NOT the same thing as being convicted.

Our stellar team has represented many clients facing numerous drug-related charges. While each situation varies, one constant remains the same for clients facing drug charges: a fear of what lies ahead. At O'Brien Law Firm PC our job is to help you overcome the fear of the unknown. We do so by ensuring you understand your charges, the possible outcomes associated with those charges, and the options you need to consider from a criminal defense standpoint.

With more than a decade of experience as Port Wentworth drug crime attorneys, we have the experience and resources to defend you in court no matter what your charges may be, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Crack
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ecstasy

No matter what charge you are facing, our team has the experience and resources to build a comprehensive defense strategy for your drug case in Port Wentworth, GA. Without a criminal defense attorney acting as your advocate, you could be facing very harsh penalties. Here are a few punishments you could be facing for drug crimes in Port Wentworth:

  • Schedule I or Schedule II Drug Possession
    Schedule I or Schedule II Drug Possession:

    Having less than a gram (or one milliliter for liquids) of this type of drug results in a prison term of one to three years. Having four grams or milliliter carries a term of one to eight years.

  • Schedule III, IV, or V Drug Possession
    Schedule III, IV, or V Drug Possession:

    Any substance on this list is punishable by a prison sentence of one to three years.

  • Non-Narcotic Schedule II Drug Possession
    Non-Narcotic Schedule II Drug Possession:

    If you have less than two grams or milliliters of this substance, punishments can be between one year and three years. Having up to four grams or milliliters results in a prison sentence of one to eight years.

  • Possession of Marijuana
    Possession of Marijuana:

    Those who are in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana are subject to a jail sentence of up to 12 months. Fines may be no more than $1,000. Possession of more than an ounce of marijuana can result in a prison term of one to 10 years.

To avoid these life-changing punishments, you must take action now. Contact O'Brien Law Firm today for a consultation about your case.

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 Defense Lawyers Port Wentworth, GA
 Criminal Defense Attorney Port Wentworth, GA

Violent Crime Cases in Port Wentworth, GA

Violent crime offenses in Port Wentworth typically involve some form of bodily harm to another individual, actions committed against an individual's will, or threatening someone with bodily harm. Aggravated violent offenses are more severe charges and often occur when a violent crime is made more serious due to circumstances like deadly weapons.

Much like serious drug cases, violent crimes create an added layer of negativity that follows the accused for the rest of their life. In these cases, even an accusation is enough to cause irreparable damage to a person's reputation. Those convicted of a violent crime face severe penalties that can include years in a correctional facility.

Common crimes of this nature include but are not limited to:
  • Murder
  • Assault with the intent to murder
  • Vehicular homicide
  • Domestic violence
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Carjacking

When you are accused of any of the above crimes, your freedom hangs in the balance. The outcome of your case will determine whether you leave the courtroom with your freedom intact or stripped away to serve time behind bars. Because the punishments for violent crimes are so extreme, you should be seeking legal counsel from a criminal defense attorney in Port Wentworth, GA, as soon as possible. As a former police officer with a long record of positive verdicts in violent crime cases, Dennis O'Brien is well equipped to represent you in court.

Having a criminal defense lawyer by your side is the best way to avoid the serious punishments associated with violent crimes. These punishments usually result in prison time if convicted and include:
Forced rape: 20 years
Armed robbery: Up to 20 years
Simple assault: Up to 12 months
Aggravated assault: 10 to 20 years
Aggravated battery: Up to 20 years
Involuntary manslaughter: One to 20 years
Vehicular homicide Up to 15 years
Murder: Life in prison or the death sentence
Zealous Representation Without Judgement

As a former police officer, Dennis O'Brien has seen the toll it takes on a person when charged with a crime. His time in law enforcement allows him to empathize with his clients who desperately need competent representation. Despite being innocent until proven guilty, accusations are scary, and conviction could be a reality. That is why you must work with a trustworthy criminal defense lawyer in Port Wentworth, GA who will work tirelessly to clear your name.

Clients choose O'Brien Law Firm because we believe in open communication, honesty, and hard work. It is not our job to act as judges for those who have been accused of crimes. Rather, our goal is to find the best defense that allows us to protect our clients' rights and freedoms.

DUI Cases in Port Wentworth, GA

Driving under the influence (DUI) is one of the most common crimes committed in Georgia. Punishments for such a crime can be severe, and for understandable reasons - when a person operates a vehicle while they are intoxicated, they're putting their life and the lives of others at risk.

While DUI is a serious crime that completely upend the accused's life, the earnest desire to end drunk driving can make police officers too eager to catch a person who they believe is under the influence.

 Criminal Defense Law Firm Port Wentworth, GA

The city of Port Wentworth, Georgia, has implemented severe punishments for DUI, even for first-time offenders. Individuals charged with DUI in Port Wentworth could face:

  • Very expensive fines and fees
  • Loss of license
  • Incarceration

Fortunately, if you or someone you love has been charged with DUI, there is hope. This is particularly true when the accused is administered a breath or blood test for DUI. In fact, cases that involve a breath and/or blood test are beaten daily. When you hire O'Brien Law Firm PC, we will dive deep into your DUI case in Port Wentworth and examine every angle possible for your case to be dismissed. Here are just a few questions our team will investigate:

  • Was the stop legal? If not, your case could be dismissed
  • Is there enough evidence or probable cause to arrest you? If not, Dennis O'Brien will file a pre-trial motion and will fight hard to have your case dismissed before trial.
  • Did the police read you your implied consent rights? If not, your case could be thrown out. Failure to read implied consent rights to the accused is one of the most common police errors.
  • Were your blood testing records and breathalyzer results maintained? Breath testing comes with inherent weaknesses that can create doubt in a juror's mind.

There are numerous ways to beat a DUI case in Georgia, from unreliable field sobriety tests to inaccurate state-administered breath tests. As a veteran criminal defense lawyer in Port Wentworth, GA, Dennis O'Brien has the knowledge and experience to expose the state's mistakes and fight for your rights. When you hire O'Brien Law Firm PC your chances of dismissal are greatly increased. When your case is dismissed, you can continue living life without the burden of a criminal record.

 Criminal Justice Attorney Port Wentworth, GA

If you or someone you love is accused of a crime in Port Wentworth, GA, don't leave fate up to the prosecution. Take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family before it's too late.

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Latest News in Port Wentworth, GA

‘Overcoming the past:’ Historic church will purchase land from Port Wentworth

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WTOC) - A historic church in Port Wentworth is getting land they were promised by the city, but not how they had hoped.It’s a years-long negotiation that ended at a city council meeting this week.Near Highway 21 and Berrien Road, you’ll see this church and it has some history behind it.“They started out as a praise house down on the river,” said Eugene Barney, pastor of Richmond Baptist Church.It’s called Richmond Baptist Church.“Our historical marker...

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WTOC) - A historic church in Port Wentworth is getting land they were promised by the city, but not how they had hoped.

It’s a years-long negotiation that ended at a city council meeting this week.

Near Highway 21 and Berrien Road, you’ll see this church and it has some history behind it.

“They started out as a praise house down on the river,” said Eugene Barney, pastor of Richmond Baptist Church.

It’s called Richmond Baptist Church.

“Our historical marker says the founding pastor was the third pastor of First African Baptist and First African said it was the sixth pastor...so that was a controversy,” said Pastor Barney.

There might be a lot of changes with growth and development in Port Wentworth, but this church stays the same after more than 100 years. The only difference is they used to have a little more room.

“When they were children they used to play out in front of Richmond. There used to be an additional 70 feet.”

That’s why there have been years of negotiating with the city to get more land after some of theirs was taken with the widening of Highway 21. Just as they thought they were getting two acres for free...

“Some constitutional issues dealing with the separation of church and state,” said Steve Davis, city manager of Port Wentworth.

The church had two options - lease for $1 for five years or buy the land for $40,000.

“You get your hopes built up like when we were children when your mom said ‘imma take you to the....imma take you to the,’ then at the end of the day you don’t go. Just a little let down, but we’re good.”

Richmond Baptist bought it and they’re still excited to expand.

“Thankful for the two acres at that amount. We recently purchased an acre for more than that.”

It’s finally a step toward safety.

“We keep the doors closed, but we don’t need anybody to get a good shout on and run out the door.”

This is a phase the church is ready for and soon, those church doors might look a little different.

“I don’t even have all the answers, but we’re praying and waiting and God is continuing to deposit and give direction.”

The city manager said they did the minimum they could on the price given the location and legal restrictions.

He said this is a way to hopefully help them overcome the past.

The pastor of Richmond Baptist clarified to WTOC following the interview the transaction is not completely finalized just yet.

Copyright 2022 WTOC. All rights reserved.

Port Wentworth city planning woes: must redo ordinance, revisit comprehensive plan

Port Wentworth, a city embattled with urban planning woes, is gearing up for a major overhaul of its zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance, which is a blueprint for land use and development within the city, needs to be entirely rewritten, according to City Manager Steve Davis.Third-party auditors, ...

Port Wentworth, a city embattled with urban planning woes, is gearing up for a major overhaul of its zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance, which is a blueprint for land use and development within the city, needs to be entirely rewritten, according to City Manager Steve Davis.

Third-party auditors, Horizon Community Planning, pointed out major issues with the local zoning laws during an Aug. 28 council meeting, calling it “very difficult to interpret” and “inconsistent”.

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“Forgive me for being blunt, but there’s so much wrong with the ordinance that we really need to start over,” said Paul Le Blanc of PLB Planning Group, a partner on the project. “I've been doing this for a long time. I've written dozens of ordinances ... and we really struggled maneuvering through the ordinance. So, I can only imagine what a citizen would experience and even developers."

Horizon Community Planning works with local governments and boards across the country in developing effective zoning laws, comprehensive plans and code enforcement so that cities can run safely and smoothly. They’ve offered their services to neighboring cities such as Richmond Hill and Bluffton, South Carolina.

Port Wentworth’s city council regularly amends its zoning ordinance to accommodate new developments, which is common for a city to do. But years of changing administrations and stopgap amendments have introduced inconsistencies. The ordinance hasn’t been looked at in its entirety for nearly three decades, said Davis, so this revamp is long overdue.

Local zoning laws provide standards for four main types of development: residential, agricultural, commercial and industrial (other categories for places like historic districts and major business districts also exist and vary from city to city). Zoning laws are important because they protect the health, safety and welfare of a city; protect property values; balance community goals with private property rights; and support a city’s comprehensive plan.

However, auditors found that Port Wentworth’s ordinance is vague and doesn’t outline regulations that it should within each zoning category. For example, guidelines on landscaping and parking designs are missing. Subjective wording such as “be of high quality” and “proper scale” are found throughout the ordinance, too.

For the law to be effective, it should clearly outline specific height and size requirements, said Le Blanc. That way, developments that fall under the same categories are consistent and predictable.

As a result, the city council has to take a very “hands-on approach with all development applications because the zoning code is not clear on what should happen in each district,” said David Jirousek of Horizon Community Planning. It’s created a “know-it-when-we-see-it” approach.

That, in turn, has led to a cumbersome process for developers trying to get a development approved.

In addition, the ordinance doesn’t clearly outline the role of the planning and zoning commission versus the role of the city council, according to the audit. Planning and zoning generally checks that a development aligns with the zoning ordinance. Meanwhile, the council looks at the project in a broader scope, such as traffic patterns, neighborhood character, and utilities.

However, because those responsibilities are not clearly delineated, the developer's site plan, oftentimes, bounces back and forth between the planning and zoning commission and city council, which can be costly and time consuming.

“I agree we have too many steps,” said at-large council member Jo Smith, “I’ve heard this from almost every developer.”

There were also numerous issues with the ordinance’s organization and format, Horizon found. It is rife with formatting errors, legalese, random insertions and lacked visualizations and graphics. All of this makes it difficult for developers to understand building regulations within the city, said Jirouzek.

Horizon’s audit also pointed out that the city overuses a zoning type called the “planned unit development” or PUD. That designation is reserved for developments that stray away from the existing zoning requirements. But because Port Wentworth’s existing zoning requirements are so vague, they’ve had to default to PUDs often, said Davis.

PUDs are especially prevalent in the northern part of Port Wentworth, said Davis. North Port Wentworth was annexed into the city in 1989 and saw the rapid development of several housing subdivisions in order to salvage the diminishing population from industrial encroachment.

More:Port Wentworth's rural neighborhoods face an uncertain future with warehouse development

Save for undeveloped agricultural lands and the Pine Forest subdivision, most of the northern portion of the city is made up of PUDs. PUDs aren’t necessarily a bad thing, Davis said, but having too many creates the lack of consistency Horizon cautioned against.

“If all of the developments have standards that aren’t standard, then you really don’t have any standard,” said Davis. “We desperately need this rewrite and to start doing this regular zoning.”

At the August council meeting, the city approved a $130,000 contract with Horizon Community Planning. For the next eight months, Horizon and the city of Port Wentworth will work together to rewrite the ordinance, said Davis. After that’s complete, the auditor will also take a look at the city’s comprehensive plan, which maps out the city’s future land uses.

“Zoning is the law and the comprehensive plan is policy,” explains Jirouzek, “The two should work together and there seems to be a real disconnect between the two.”

The city will most likely have to extend the current industrial rezoning moratorium, which ends in December, said Davis.

“This is just one step in a major city initiative," said Jirousek, "Outside of zoning, the city is going to be assessing road and utility infrastructure, property maintenance codes and overall stormwater management planning to really ensure it's on solid ground to be able to be prepared for the incredible port-related growth pressures. This is just part of a comprehensive approach to address those pressures."

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

Marlin Compression and Port Fuel Center Receive CNG Implementation Energy Matters Award

DOVER, Del., Sept. 21, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- On Wednesday, Sept. 14, Chesapeake Utilities Corporation affiliate Marlin Compression and the Port Fuel Center received a CNG Implementation Energy Matters Award. The award was presented by Georgia Public Service Commission Vice Chairman Tim Echols during the Clean Energy Roadshow at Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia.Marlin Compression and the Port Fuel Center were recognized for their collaboration in constructing a high-capacity compressed natural gas (CNG) truck and tube trai...

DOVER, Del., Sept. 21, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- On Wednesday, Sept. 14, Chesapeake Utilities Corporation affiliate Marlin Compression and the Port Fuel Center received a CNG Implementation Energy Matters Award. The award was presented by Georgia Public Service Commission Vice Chairman Tim Echols during the Clean Energy Roadshow at Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia.

Marlin Compression and the Port Fuel Center were recognized for their collaboration in constructing a high-capacity compressed natural gas (CNG) truck and tube trailer fueling station, which opened in March in Port Wentworth, Georgia. The Marlin Compression CNG fueling station is located along the I-95 corridor near the Port of Savannah, within the Port Fuel Center. The facility is one of the largest public access CNG stations on the East Coast, and features a dedicated lane for filling transport trailers. It also serves as a staging area for Chesapeake Utilities' Marlin Gas Services to fill CNG transport trailers for its virtual pipeline services.

"Sean Register and Marlin Compression have built a state-of-the-art CNG fueling facility just minutes from the Port," said Echols. "This is the station we have been waiting for to jumpstart CNG truck applications."

The Energy Matters Awards were created in 2021 to support the vision of Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols and recognize environmental excellence from individuals, businesses and communities throughout the state of Georgia. These awards encourage individuals and organizations to share their innovative and sustainable projects in the spirit of collaboration and knowledge sharing.

"We are honored to be recognized alongside our partner Sean Register of the Port Fuel Center for our collective efforts to offer drivers and fleets more sustainable fuel options in an effort to improve the air quality at the Port of Savannah and neighboring communities," noted Kevin McCrackin, assistant vice president, RNG, LNG and business development. "We look forward to exploring additional ways to help industries get closer to carbon neutrality."

For more information about the Port Fuel Center, visit: Port Wentworth, Georgia CNG Station - Marlin Compression.

About Marlin Compression

Marlin Compression is part of Marlin Gas Services, which was acquired in 2018 by Chesapeake Utilities Corporation ( NYSE: CPK), and provides compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling services for fleets, delivery companies, solid waste providers, mass transit vehicles and other markets. Marlin Compression operates two CNG public fueling stations: one located at Chesapeake Utilities Corporation's Energy Lane operations center in Dover, Delaware, and a fuel station within the Port Fuel Center, near the Port of Savannah, Georgia. To learn more about Marlin Compression, visit www.marlincompression.com

About Chesapeake Utilities Corporation

Chesapeake Utilities Corporation is a diversified energy delivery company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Chesapeake Utilities Corporation offers sustainable energy solutions through its natural gas transmission and distribution, electricity generation and distribution, propane gas distribution, mobile compressed natural gas utility services and solutions, and other businesses. For more information, visit www.chpk.com.

Please note that Chesapeake Utilities Corporation is not affiliated with Chesapeake Energy, an oil and natural gas exploration company headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

For more information, contact:

Brianna PattersonManager, Public Relations and Strategic Communications419-314-1233bpatterson@chpk.com

SOURCE Chesapeake Utilities Corporation

Rincon City Council tables warehouse-related requests

RINCON — The Rincon City Council set up a temporary road block against a warehouse development Monday night.During a regularly scheduled meeting, the council tabled the first reading of an ordinance to annex a 66.92-acre parcel at 0 Ga. Hwy 21 until Oct. 10. The parcel is owned by Jag of Effingham County.The first reading of a petition filed by Stotan Industrial for a zoning map amendment for the tract was also tabled until Oct. 10.The decisions same after several citizens expressed concerns about the growing numbe...

RINCON — The Rincon City Council set up a temporary road block against a warehouse development Monday night.

During a regularly scheduled meeting, the council tabled the first reading of an ordinance to annex a 66.92-acre parcel at 0 Ga. Hwy 21 until Oct. 10. The parcel is owned by Jag of Effingham County.

The first reading of a petition filed by Stotan Industrial for a zoning map amendment for the tract was also tabled until Oct. 10.

The decisions same after several citizens expressed concerns about the growing number of warehouses in the area and their impact on traffic.

“We do not have the roads for this,” Mona Underwood said. “We do not have the infrastructure for this. These roads are not prepared for this.

“We can’t get people in cars out of Effingham County. We don’t need to be adding semi-trucks ...”

Underwood told the council that warehouse moratoriums have been issued in Bloomingdale, Pooler and Port Wentworth so studies could be conducted. She thinks warehouse developments are harming Rincon’s reputation as a family-friendly pace to live.

“I am asking you guys to be courageous and not stop (warehouse developments) but just hit the pause button and let’s do some study to show what this looks like because what we have right now is industrial sprawl,” she said.

The latest parcel in question, currently zoned agricultural, is destined to join three adjacent ones that have already been amended for industrial use.

“I’m not saying never (approve warehouses) — just not right now,” Underwood said.

Underwood’s remarks were echoed by other citizens.

“I look at y’all as a group of people who will protect the citizens,” James McKelvin told the council. “I don’t believe (the Effingham County Board of Commissioners) is doing that for us.”

Steven Schmidt called for warehouse developers to be required to build highways to mitigate their traffic impact.

Councilman Damon Rahn requested to see a traffic study about the proposed warehouse development. Councilwoman Michelle Taylor chimed in likewise.

“That’s my biggest issue — traffic,” said Rahn, noting that he gets caught up in Savannah-bound traffic on his way to work each day like thousands of people from Rincon. “I have to leave earlier and earlier.”

Speaking on behalf of the developers, Brett Bennett told the council that the Georgia Department of Transportation has discussed widening Ga. Hwy 21 to six lands. He agreed to share the traffic study with the council and said he expects the 2024 completion of the Effingham Parkway “will help a good bit.”

Rahn received unanimous support for his motion to table the annexation request until Oct. 10.

In another move Monday, the council OK’d the second reading of the City of Rincon Capital Cost Recovery Fee Ordinance. The City of Rincon’s impact fees recently came into question and are currently not being collected.

“The (City of Rincon) has a Comprehensive Plan that mentions impact fees that was prepared by the Coastal Commission, which is an arm of (the Georgia Department of Community Affairs,” outgoing City Planner Jason Stewart said in a recent email to the Herald. He is headed to the City of Port Wentworth to serve as the assistant city manager.

“DCA requires an approved Comp Plan that has a capital improvement element as part of the plan in order to be able to administer impact fees,” Stewart continued. “For whatever reason a few years ago, that was not added into the plan that was approved by DCA. We haven’t been officially notified that we are not in compliance but the (City of Rincon) plans to correct the deficiency in the Comp Plan.”

Impact fees are imposed by local governments to pay for all or a portion of the costs of providing public services to new developments.

Kevin Exley has made impact fees a campaign focus as he eyes a return to the Rincon City Council in 2023. He contends that some Rincon business owners have been overcharged.

A city divided: Decades of unchecked growth, backlash put Port Wentworth on the brink

In the city of Port Wentworth, divides run deep.These divisions cut the municipality’s 65-year history into two eras and splits the city's footprint into two parts. The defining moment occurred with the 1989 annexation of the northern portion of the city, a move that added 20 square miles north of Bonnybridge Road and would change the course of Port Wentworth's future.The expansion more than tripled the land area of the once tiny and quaint town. In the decades since, population has tripled as well, to 13,000 residents, a...

In the city of Port Wentworth, divides run deep.

These divisions cut the municipality’s 65-year history into two eras and splits the city's footprint into two parts. The defining moment occurred with the 1989 annexation of the northern portion of the city, a move that added 20 square miles north of Bonnybridge Road and would change the course of Port Wentworth's future.

The expansion more than tripled the land area of the once tiny and quaint town. In the decades since, population has tripled as well, to 13,000 residents, a boom sparked by industrial growth largely connected to the nearby Port of Savannah as well as Savannah's broader economic success and a demand for affordable housing.

Rather than serve as the city's saving grace, the growth has introduced conflicts across Port Wentworth's many neighborhoods, discord city leaders have been ill-prepared to handle.

Port Wentworth is a city divided - politically, geographically, economically and in terms of quality of life. To better understand the roots and impact of these divides, Savannah Morning News journalists studied records, reviewed decades of news coverage and interviewed dozens of current and former residents. The research revealed how unchecked growth, poor city planning and historic racial tensions have all contributed to a broken community, one on the verge of splitting into two separate municipalities. This four-part series explores:

The Divide: A split decades in the makingGeographic divide: North vs. SouthEconomic divide: Industrial vs. ResidentialQuality of life divide: Sprawl vs. Community

The expansion was meant to be a strategic move to buck the declining population diminished by the industrial growth. But eagerness to expand took precedence over careful planning, resulting in inadequate public services and a lack of commercial resources most acutely felt in the annexed area, the city’s burgeoning north side.

Additionally, several existing, historically Black rural communities were left in the lurch while the city government prioritized new residential development.

Housing development in the north attracted a surge of new residents, most of whom are Black, Latino and multiracial. While the northern portion of the city's population ballooned about 150%, the southern end grew 11%, according to 2020 census data. The neighborhoods south of Bonnybridge Road, collectively referred to as “old Port Wentworth,” remained home to generations of white families who first settled there - though that side is gradually diversifying as well.

The city’s main roadway, Georgia 21, is often clogged with traffic as the region continues to grow in people and in warehouses. The highway connects the north and south sides of town but serves more as a barrier to the already disparate communities, say residents of the city.

In recent years, the disparities and angst have played out in Port Wentworth City Council meetings. Those disagreements reached a crisis point this year when the mayor attempted to dissolve the city charter. When that effort failed, he pushed to split Port Wentworth into two municipalities.

For the first time in over a month, council and mayor convened the evening of March 24. But residents packing the chamber did not see a united council – many admit they can’t remember a moment when they have.

December, 1985

March, 2021

JuxtaposeJS

“My entire time that I’ve lived here, it’s always been ‘the north side’ and ‘downtown’,” said resident Chris Hanks, who moved to the north side of town in 2008 when housing development boomed and led to the creation of what people now call “North Port Wentworth.”

“It’s not fair to us … we’re one Port Wentworth!” he said.

Differences between the two communities – geographic, demographic and political – have played out countless times through their respective council representatives.

But the March meeting was the first time the council was seriously considering breaking Port Wentworth apart. A feasibility study examining a split should be conducted, the council said, despite everyone’s wishes to stay united.

Unity has been absent in the city of Port Wentworth for years. Some say that it never existed. In recent months, tensions that had been brewing between the city’s north and south end finally boiled over. Frustrations and interpersonal conflicts that had festered behind closed doors finally came to a head in the form of public outbursts, a city employee walkout and the shutdown of city hall.

City and local officials, partitioned into north-south factions, held separate meetings.

Proceeding without the mayor and a council representative of Old Port Wentworth, a quorum of council members representing mainly the north side carried on with city business.

Meanwhile, Mayor Gary Norton hosted an informal press conference under a park pavilion to announce the possibility of dissolving the city charter. Residents, largely from Old Port Wentworth, were informed ahead of time and showed up. North Port Wentworth residents were not told about the gathering and felt shut out.

The call for drastic change marked the climax of decades of failed efforts to address woes tied to growth.

Since 2010, when the city of Port Wentworth adopted the by-district system, city hall has rarely known peace. Splitting the city into districts was supposed to ensure council representation for both sides of town. Districts 1 and 3 cover the north side; District 2 mostly encompasses the north and a smaller section of Old Port Wentworth; and District 4 sits firmly in the original part of town. Two at-large members and the mayor represent the whole city.

Council members’ attempts to secure the interests of their constituents have devolved into acrimonious arguments and stalemates, preventing the city from focusing on a stated common goal – protecting the quality of life of residents in an area facing increased industrialization.

Fed up with the council's infighting, Hanks, the north side resident, demanded action from his elected leaders in that March 24 meeting. "Dissolve the city charter, split the city or keep it the same?" he said.

The divide runs deeper than today’s interpersonal conflicts. When the city annexed its northern portion in 1989, the original boundary line never seemed to disappear. Instead, it scarred the city like an angry wound, refusing to heal and refusing to be forgotten.

The council voted unanimously to explore a divide.

The study is underway, although city officials have yet to issue a timeline for when it would be done or even details of how the process might work. The city manager recently told council members and residents of his struggles to identify an outside consultant to take on the project.

Two state universities, the University of Georgia and Georgia State University, routinely prepare reports for communities considering cityhood. However, neither has ever explored splitting an existing municipality in two.

In the end, no one can predict the future, said Tim Holbrook, a resident of old Port Wentworth and a past mayor. Holbrook oversaw the expansion of the north side in his term in the early 2000s, back when construction was just beginning.

He now runs a deli with his wife in Port Wentworth's downtown district. The couple have a second location on the north side. Holbrook doesn’t have animosity towards the people, he said. As the past mayor, he wants to see the city prosper.

But his own frustrations about council dysfunction over the years have led him to think, maybe the city is better divided.

“We don’t want to be part of this type of government,” said Holbrook.

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at nguan@gannett.com or on Twitter @nancyguann.

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