Public meeting set for Almon overlay

COVINGTON -- For the past year, property owners, planners and county officials have been working together to come up with higher-quality development standards for the Almon/Crowell Road area.

On Monday night, more than 900 property owners living in that area have been invited to hear the plan for the new Almon/Crowell Road Overlay District, soon to go before the Board of Commissioners for approval, at a public meeting scheduled for

7 p.m. at Turner Lake Complex, located at 6185 Turner Lake Road.

The proposed district includes the main roads of Almon, Harold Dobbs, Crowell and Brown Bridge and a portion of Kirkland Road and surrounding streets and neighborhoods. For a map of the district and a copy of the draft ordinance, go to www.co.newton.ga.us.

"I think this is very exciting because the stakeholders have been involved. They actually approached Commissioner (Mort) Ewing before I came into office because they wanted to make sure as development occurred in this corridor that we held development to the very highest standards," said Commissioner Nancy Schulz, the district representative.

About 100 property owners have been involved in the planning process.

The overlay is divided into three tiers: residential, mixed-use and a town center that would be located in the Almon community.

Among the standards for new residential developments would be requirements for enhanced common areas, or centrally located gathering spots that could be range from pocket parks, or passive greenspace, to swim/tennis clubs.

Vinyl or aluminum siding would be prohibited, as would manufactured homes. Sodded yards with irrigation systems would be required. Brick or stone skirting would be required around the foundation of homes, with chimneys to be veneered in stone, brick or fiber cement siding, such as HardiePlank.

In addition, homes would be required to meet certain energy efficiency requirements.

Standards for commercial development include requirements that buildings be close to the road and screened parking and similar architectural features for buildings facing public streets.

The overlay fits into the county's 2050 build out plan, which calls for development to be concentrated in nodes, including the Almon/Crowell road, Oak Hill and Salem areas.

With that in mind, the density in the overlay district is higher than is typical in Newton County. Residential density ranges from three single-family units per acre to up to 10 townhouses and 20 multi-family units per acre. Density varies depending on the tier in which the property is located.

"By metro Atlanta standards that's not very high at all; by Newton County standards it's probably high," said Planning Director Marian Eisenberg. "If you want to have quality commercial development, you've got to have the rooftops. You have to make it worthwhile for the developer to come inside (the district) by giving extra incentives."

Development in flood plains and wetlands is prohibited in the district, which would automatically preserve about 13 percent of the land as greenspace, she added.

Schulz said recent data from the Urban Land Institute indicates in the future, most home buyers will be looking for smaller sized properties with greenspace nearby.

"We're ahead of the ball by paralleling what the Urban Land Institute predicts will be patterns for growth in the future," she said.

"By consolidating future growth you have more efficient distribution of your county's infrastructure. You're not sending people out to all parts of the county. You're not responsible for putting in new roads in all areas of the county," she said, adding that the hope is that water and sewer infrastructure and new schools would also be concentrated in those nodes.

Coming from Atlanta on Interstate 20, the Almon Road exit is the gateway to Newton County and it's important that high quality standards be in place there, Schulz said.

According to Eisenberg, there's no better time to get those standards in place.

"There's not a lot of development going on so this is the perfect time. When development picks up we'll be ready with some high-quality standards," she said.

Schulz added that current property owners have nothing to fear: They won't be required to make any changes to their homes or businesses.

"If you have property, it's not affecting people who currently live in that area. They don't have to do anything different unless they want to build a new structure or if they want to rezone their property or sell it then the developer would have to comply with those new building standards," she said.

At Monday's meeting, the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and give input. A public hearing will also take place at the BOC's March 16 meeting, slated for 7 p.m. at the Newton County Historic Courthouse located at 1124 Clark St.