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Mayor breaks tie to approve private school

COVINGTON - Mayor Kim Carter cast the tie-breaking vote Monday night to allow a private school on McGuirts Bridge Road.

The council was deadlocked 3 to 3 on whether to approve a special-use permit for Peachtree Academy Private School LLC to open a school for at least 500 students in grades K-12.

The project, located on approximately 30 acres at 70 McGuirts Bridge Road off U.S. Highway 278, would be developed in three phases, ultimately resulting in more than 50,000 square feet of building space and 90,000 square feet of outdoor space for ballfields and tennis courts.

The special-use permit was approved with numerous conditions, including the requirement that a traffic study and signal warrant analysis be conducted to address transportation concerns.

McGuirts Bridge Road falls under county jurisdiction. County Engineer Kevin Walter told the council the county has "grave concerns about this number of students."

Walter said the school would likely generate up to 1,000 new vehicle trips per day. He added a traffic signal will be needed for safety reasons.

Also, the McGuirts Bridge intersection with Highway 278 is at an 80-degree angle, which could prove dangerous for so much traffic, Walter said. The intersection of Smith Store and Salem roads is at a 60-degree angle, and there have been several fatalities there, he said.

Attorney Scott Cole, representing the Webb family, who lives at 10 McGuirts Bridge Road, said the plan would landlock his clients.

The Webbs, whose driveway is about 80 feet away, would be blocked in by motorists waiting to get into the school, which will have only one entrance and exit, he said.

Wendell Crowe, a resident representing the rest of the neighborhood, added that, "We are all going to be right in the middle of noise and light pollution."

Carol Veliotis, owner of the property where the school will be located, pointed out that as currently zoned at neighborhood residential 1, the site could accommodate up to 120 residential units, which would generate even more trips than the school.

"The benefits of this school will outweigh any negative effects it will have on the neighborhood," she said. "Nothing is perfect. Only God is perfect. But this is a good plan. It is not a development, it is a school."

Applicant JaNice Van Ness added that the school will bring between 80 and 112 jobs to the area. Van Ness is a member of the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners.

Councilman Mike Whatley recommended referring the matter back to the Planning Commission, but Councilman John Howard disagreed.

"They have done umpteen hours of work on this thing, and they have come up with a good plan from their standpoint," Howard said.

Whatley changed his motion to deny the special- use permit, which was seconded by Howard.

"Let's not forget the proper studies have to be done," said Carter before the vote. "How can we deny someone the right to develop their property?"

Carter said the school won't be able to move forward with development without completion of the traffic study.

"I don't know how we could deny the opportunity for that to at least be investigated," she said.

The vote was 3 to 3, with Howard, Whatley and Ocie Franklin in favor of denial.

Councilman Keith Dalton then made a motion to approve with conditions. That vote was also 3 to 3, with Carter casting the tie-breaking vote to approve the special-use permit.

Among the many conditions imposed are the following:

· The applicant must reapply for a special-use permit on or before February 2014;

· Outdoor activity is limited to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days per week.

· Planned walking trails must connect with existing trails in the area.

· LEED planning standards must be incorporated. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices.

· Pedestrian scale lighting must be used in parking lots, and lights no higher than 40 feet can be used on ballfields.

· Undisturbed buffers of 50 feet will be on the east, west and north of the property with a 100-foot conservation easement on the south.

The goal is to open the first phase of the school in the fall, according to the architect, Bill Foley.

Van Ness said the existing campus in Conyers will remain open.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.