Carter breaks tie on land at airport

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Mayor Kim Carter cast the tie-breaking vote Monday night to approve the first reading of an ordinance to annex 158 acres near the Covington Municipal Airport into city limits.

The undeveloped property, owned by the Newton County Industrial Development Authority, fronts Ga. Highway 142, City Pond Road and Airport Road. It was purchased to recruit industry to the area and is proposed to be rezoned from county R-3 (residential) and AR (agricultural residential), to city M-2 (heavy industrial).

Carter initially said in the event of a tie, she would not be able to vote, as she is a member of the IDA. However, City Attorney Ed Crudup advised that her membership on the authority is not a conflict of interest. Carter is a member of the IDA because of her position as mayor and she is charged with carrying out both duties, Crudup said. The city's charter calls for the mayor to cast the deciding vote when the council is deadlocked.

Councilmen Keith Dalton, Chris Smith and Mike Whatley voted in favor of the petition, while Councilwomen Ocie Franklin, Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams were opposed.

The IDA purchased the property in 2004, with city and county backing, for the purpose of recruiting industry, said IDA attorney Frank Turner Jr. In six years, only one significant prospect has expressed interest, and that may be because the property was not adequately zoned, Turner said. The state places priority on property that is properly zoned and publicly owned, he said. Also, both the city and county future land use maps show the area as industrial.

"Unless the property is zoned and in public hands, the state will not even show it to large prospects," Turner said, adding there is currently no user in mind.

The IDA has voluntarily attached protective covenants, which include prohibiting uses that create a nuisance via excess noise, odor or pollution. It has also agreed to increase buffers from 25 to 50 feet where the property abuts residential areas.

But residents say that's not going to make much difference. Resident Josie Cook said the buildings would still be visible from her home.

"You can sit there and vote on it, but it's not in your community. You wouldn't want it," she said. "It's OK to sacrifice where we are and what we've worked for, but not what you've worked for," she added later.

Carter said ultimately her vote in favor of the petition was to benefit the entire community by bringing industry and jobs, but added that "It pains me from a homeowner's perspective to vote this way."

The final reading of the ordinance is set to take place at the council's Dec. 20 meeting.