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Oxford supports 2050 Build Out Plan

OXFORD -- During its monthly meeting Monday, Oxford City Council members signed a resolution to support the principles of the county's 2050 Build Out Plan and continue to partner with governing agencies through the Newton County Leadership Collaborative.

Last week, representatives from the collaborative -- which is made up of elected officials from Newton County and its cities as well as officials from boards like the Chamber of Commerce, the Newton County Board of Education and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority -- made its first municipal presentation to the city.

The plan is designed for the county and its agencies to have a sustainable future by following such strategies as protecting clean water, creating communities and corridors and coordinating public investments in comprehensive and economic development and land conservation.

It also includes a map that plans for the placement of town centers in the Covington, Almon, Salem, Oak Hill and Hub Junction communities; a proposed Bear Creek Reservoir and an airport business park; a conservation zone in the eastern part of the county that contains large agricultural parcels and a watershed for 5 percent of the population; compact community zones throughout the western and central part of the county for 80 percent of the population; and rural zones in Oxford and along the Yellow River with 15 percent of the population with large lot septic tank development and agriculture.

The strategies are based on the prediction that 400,000 people are expected to be living in Newton County by 2050, compared to the 100,000 residents who live in the county now. By developing a plan, the county and its agencies could save 30 to 40 percent of the estimated $5 billion in infrastructure expenditures for the county.

Residents and council members raised concerns that the plan calls for a business park and community area near Covington Municipal Airport.

"(The airport and its expansion) is one thing we fought against for 15 years," said Oxford resident Eva Sitton during Monday's monthly meeting. "I hope we're not going to throw that away."

City Councilman Jim Windham agreed, saying the group should look toward more new and innovative qualities of communities that bring opportunity and good growth to the county.

"We are too tied down to things like the airport and the quasi-governmental agencies like the Chamber of Commerce," he said. "It's in the best interest of this community in particular ... if we build trails, if we strengthen our school system and build recreational facilities. ... If we downplay airports and other old paradigms, we will pull in companies and the things they say they want ... by creating an atmosphere that draws."

City Councilman Hoyt Oliver, who represents Oxford on the collaborative, said he has and will continue to voice his concerns about the airport and its expansion, which he opposes.

"It doesn't make sense to have an airport in the middle of a community area," he said.

He said the city signing onto the plan does not mean its officials agree with everything in it.

"At this point, it's not a complete strategic plan -- this is a vision," Oliver said. "We are miles ahead of other communities in Georgia in future planning."

Voting against the plan could mean that Oxford won't have much of a voice in the county's future, council members said.

"We can't do anything without a seat at the table," Windham said.

City Councilman Terry Smith said he also is interested in the council discussing becoming a supporting financial member of the collaborative since right now the city is only a participant, but fellow Councilman George Holt said he was wary about that and hopes the plan and its results are not based on who pays in the most money.

The collaborative will continue to present its buy-in plan to other municipalities and agencies over the next month. The next meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday for the Mansfield City Council meeting, 7 p.m. Tuesday for the Board of Education work session, 7 p.m. Feb. 15 for the Newborn City Council work session and 8 a.m. Feb. 24 for the Chamber of Commerce board meeting.