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Vote delayed on Walker's Bend overlay

COVINGTON — The Covington City Council delayed voting on a proposed overlay zoning district for Walker's Bend subdivision Monday night, opting instead to send it back to the Planning Commission after a resident raised concerns that future development will not have a minimum square footage standard.

The overlay is being proposed at the request of property owners and the Covington Redevelopment Authority in hopes of protecting their investment in the neighborhood off Ga. Highway 81, which is the site of the city's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, said Senior Planner Randy Vinson.

A stipulation of the 2003 rezoning of the property was that the subdivision have protective covenants, but the developer went bankrupt and that never came to fruition. The city's Urban Redevelopment Plan allows the adoption of overlays as a protective measure for properties that fall within the urban redevelopment area.

The overlay establishes standards for property maintenance and the design of future development in Walker's Bend. For example, grass would be required to be cut on a regular basis, never going above 8 inches; outdoor drying of laundry would be allowed on clothes lines for not more than 24 hours; paint and siding must be maintained or repaired if peeling or damaged. The ordinance also sets architectural standards for new construction and regulates outdoor storage and fencing.

David Willett of Newton Oxford Properties LLC, of Loganville, who owns 11 rental properties in Walker's Bend, said the overlay is needed.

"We try to maintain our properties better than anyone out there," he said, but noted it can be difficult to lease when neighbors don't keep up their properties. Though Willett said he's supportive of the overlay, he is concerned there is no minimum heated square footage requirement for new construction. After talking with Vinson, Willett said he learned there are plans to build two-bedroom houses as small as 766 square feet in the subdivision. Currently the average home size there is more than 1,500 square feet, with the largest home at more than 1,900 square feet and the smallest at 1,260 square feet, Willett said.

"Seven hundred square feet is very small. That's a little bigger than a double garage," he said.

The overlay ordinance states that its purpose is in part to encourage design standards "in accordance with the master presented by the developer." But Willett said the smaller homes proposed aren't consistent with what's currently in the neighborhood, and he's worried his property values will decrease.

"It's great to keep the grass cut and not have laundry out over 24 hours, but does that really contribute to valuation? It does a little but what really contributes to valuation is consistency," he said. Willett recommended setting a minimum 1,200-square-footage requirement to keep home sizes consistent with what is currently in the neighborhood.

But Vinson said the Redevelopment Authority doesn't want to set a minimum square footage. The homes will be for people who don't necessarily consider housing an investment but are primarily concerned with having shelter, and larger homes are more costly to heat and cool, he said. Also, one of the target demographics is retirees who don't want so much upkeep. The homes will be higher quality than many larger homes, he said.

Councilman Keith Dalton said he doesn't have a problem with smaller square footage if it is applied to multi-family dwellings such as apartments or town homes but he does not want stand-alone houses of that size.

But Councilwoman Janet Goodman disagreed.

"Very few people are looking for big homes. We're looking at affordability as well as size," she said.

Councilwoman Ocie Franklin made a motion to send the overlay ordinance back to the Planning Commission for additional discussion. The Planning Commission previously approved the ordinance. The motion was seconded by Dalton and passed 5 to 1 with Goodman opposed.