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Porterdale, Mansfield behind on broad plans

COVINGTON -- The latest update to comprehensive plans for Georgia cities and counties was due nearly two years ago, but two Newton County cities have yet to complete a plan.

Without an updated land-use plan approved by the state Department of Community Affairs, cities and counties are at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving state funding.

"Failure to adopt an approved comprehensive plan by the required date results in the local government being disqualified to receive state-managed financial assistance, whether it be grants, loans or whatever," said Jon West, regional planner for the DCA. "That includes funds that originate at the state or funds that originate at the federal level that are disbursed by the state."

Both Porterdale and Mansfield failed to meet the February 2008 deadline to have the update to the plan approved by DCA, West said.

Porterdale's plan is in the works, with a community input meeting on a proposed plan slated for 11 a.m. Nov. 21 at City Hall. Mansfield is beginning its planning process.

The comprehensive plan is designed to address a 20-year window and covers a wide range of topics, such as land use, economic development, transportation, public safety and stormwater management. Plans are required to be updated a minimum of every 10 years, with some components updated more frequently.

Newton County began its last update in 2006, although the plan wasn't due until 2008. That decision was based on the rapid growth the county was experiencing at the time, according to the county's consultant.

Leaders for both Porterdale and Mansfield said they fell behind in the planning process because they weren't included in the county's comprehensive plan. Newton County's 2008 plan was the first that did not incorporate all five of the county's municipalities.

Covington's plan was completed in conjunction with the county's as both used the same consultant. All five municipalities were included in the county's 1993 plan.

John Middleton, administrative officer for Newton County, said he could not recall how the decision was reached for the county to do a solo comprehensive plan.

"I know we, as well as the city of Covington, interviewed and selected the same consultant to do it so we could have some level of compatibility between the two plans," Middleton said. "The city had to do theirs at the same time we had to do ours, so we did work with them on it."

Mansfield Mayor Bill Cocchi said the City Council was caught off guard when Mansfield wasn't included in the county's plan.

"All of a sudden, nobody had it -- Oxford, Porterdale, Mansfield, Newborn. We were just out in the cold on it," Cocchi said. "The first thing I knew we all got caught by surprise and the (Northeast Georgia) Regional Development Commission, they wanted $24,000 to work it up. And I wasn't about to pay that."

Porterdale City Manager Tom Fox said it was never clear who determined that the county's municipalities should complete separate comprehensive plans, and he doesn't recall any communication to that effect.

"We just didn't know we were expected to generate our own plan," Fox said. "We expected to work with the county, but it turned out the county had already made arrangements to do their plan."

Porterdale is budgeted to spend $8,500 on its comprehensive plan.

Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry said Oxford's plan was completed last year at a cost of about $24,000. Oxford worked with the RDC, which provides planning services to local governments, to develop its document.

Newborn also worked with the RDC to complete its plan earlier this year.

Without a plan that encompasses all of the county's jurisdictions, planners said that land-use compatibility could become an issue.

"When a plan is submitted for review, it comes to both our agency and we forward it to DCA for review," said Lee Carmon, planning director for the Northeast Georgia RDC. "Part of what we review it for is compatibility with neighboring jurisdictions. If we see conflicts, that becomes part of our review ... and these items have to be addressed before the state will say your plan is suitable for adoption."

West with the DCA said that joint planning is preferred by the state for compatibility reasons and also helps to prevent communities from duplicating efforts.

"We still encourage them to do that," he said. "In fact, I would say a large proportion of communities statewide still plan jointly."

Fox said having a joint plan with the county would have been an advantage in terms of compatibility.

"If you were an average citizen in Newton County, you would probably want all the cities to work with the county to come up with the best overall plan for the whole community," he said. "This may not be the ideal scenario to have the different communities not coordinated under a master plan."

As it stands now, Fox said Porterdale will consider land uses the county has established next to the town's borders, but the town's interests must come first.

"We should look at it, but we are our own community and we have to look after our own best interests," Fox said. "I would have preferred to do a joint plan, and I think it would have been beneficial to each community to have a joint plan."