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Future planning: Covington looks into creating redevelopment strategy

COVINGTON - The city of Covington took a big step toward coming up with a solution for substandard housing Thursday when officials, planners and other interested parties met to discuss the creation of an urban redevelopment plan.

The city is taking a more proactive approach in seeking grants and state and federal resources to improve housing, according to Mayor Kim Carter.

The purpose of the meeting, held at The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, was to allow experts with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to provide guidance in how best to do that.

Under the Urban Redevelopment Act, cities and counties have powers to rehabilitate, conserve or redevelop areas defined as slum areas, including deteriorating or underutilized sections of downtowns, brownfields, old warehouse or industrial districts, declining commercial corridors and deteriorating neighborhoods.

"We know nothing's really a slum in Covington. It's all about relativity," said Martha Reimann, community development specialist for the Office of Downtown Development at the Department of Community Affairs. Reimann said the focus should be on areas that need to be brought up to a higher standard to match the surrounding community.

She said it's up to the city council to adopt a resolution naming blighted or slum areas.

"You don't want to push any neighborhoods into this that don't understand it and don't want to do it," she said.

Tax incentives can be provided for people whose properties are rehabilitated and for development and business owners to come into areas that have been revitalized, according to city Senior Planner Michelle Larsen.

Once approved, having the plan in place will open the door for the city to receive grants that could assist with redevelopment and other projects.

Many of those grants are awarded on a points system, and the city will automatically get extra points for having a redevelopment plan in place, according to Planning Director Shelley Stiebling.

In addition to grants, bonds can be issued to pay for redevelopment projects. The bonds may be issued either through a newly created urban development authority or the existing Downtown Development Authority.

But, "the goal is to leverage as much private financing as possible," Reimann said.

Builders of Hope is the likely candidate to do the rehabilitation work. The nonprofit organization out of North Carolina is already partnering with the city on the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, for which the city is seeking funds from the federal government to purchase and redevelop foreclosed properties.

The urban redevelopment plan can be completed within three or four months at relatively little cost, either in-house by the city or by an outside consultant, Reimann said.

Public input will be sought before the plan is approved.