Annex of 449 acres approved
Social Circle votes to bring land into city

SOCIAL CIRCLE - The City Council voted Tuesday to approve a Planning Commission recommendation to annex 449 acres of land in Newton County into the town's corporate limits.

The Planning Commission voted to recommend the annexation at a 6 p.m. public hearing at City Hall. The City Council followed suit after its own public hearing at 6:30 p.m. The council vote was unanimous, with two of the four council members absent. The annexation will take effect April 1.

Under the city's zoning ordinance, the property was annexed under AG-2 zoning, which is agricultural with low-density residential development. Most of the property, which lies on the north side of Interstate 20 between Ga. Highway 11 and Old Social Circle Road, was zoned agricultural in Newton County.

In conducting the City Council public hearing, City Attorney Joe Reitman reminded those present that the city does not do involuntary annexations or annexations in which only 60 percent of property owners are in favor of the action. The property in question is solely owned by Carolyn Penland.

Reitman said a subdivision to the north of the Penland property, in which the residents did not want to be annexed, would not be affected.

"AG is pretty much identical to Newton County zoning, so it is not more intensive or less intensive," Reitman added.

The Penland annexation is the third such action by Social Circle in the past six months. In September, the council OK'd annexation of 334 acres, most of it in Newton County. That property lies along the north side of Interstate 20, starting from U.S. Highway 278 by County Line Road, running southwest along U.S. 278 and I-20 to a point less than halfway to Old Social Circle Road. That tract had several zoning classifications in Newton County and was rezoned to AG-2 in Social Circle. At the time of the annexation, there were seven owners listed, with Donnie Clack of Little River Ventures LLC owning about 320 acres.

The City Council approved annexation of another 223 acres of largely undeveloped land at its December meeting. That land, owned by Greg Rosa, lies in both Newton and Walton counties south of Social Circle and north of Interstate 20 along Little River Road, off Ga. Highway 11. It was also brought into the city limits under AG-2 zoning.

According to City Manager Doug White, property owners must wait one year before seeking a different zoning designation for property that is annexed into the city.

Under legislation approved by the General Assembly in 2007, Newton County is entitled to binding arbitration if it objects to annexations by cities outside its borders. Though Newton County filed suit in 2006 when Social Circle initially attempted to annex these properties, it has filed no objections to the three annexations in the past six months. James Griffin, an attorney in the Newton County Attorney's Office, said in an earlier interview that it would be difficult for the county to prove that the annexations are detrimental to the county.

"It would be hard to prove a material detriment to an AG zoning," Griffin said. "It's pretty obvious, but I think the owners are probably interested in developing their property next to I-20, but at this point the county has not objected on those grounds."

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@rockdalecitizen.com.