Residents hear plans for Almon

COVINGTON -- About 50 property owners attended a meeting to learn more about the Almon/Crowell Road Overlay District on Monday night at Turner Lake Complex. Most wanted assurance that the proposed development standards for the district would not affect their existing properties.

Officials assured them that existing properties would not be affected -- the standards will only apply to new development. The exception would be if substantial changes are made to change the footprint of existing buildings, such as adding a room.

Merely painting or replacing the roof of a home would not merit compliance with the overlay standards, Planning Director Marian Eisenberg said.

"These things are normal maintenance on houses. It's when you do something new," that the ordinance would apply, she said.

Structures that are rebuilt due to destruction by fire or act of God would not be required to meet the standards either, she said.

More than 900 property owners in the overlay area were invited to Monday's meeting to hear the proposal that has been in the works for the past year. The overlay district was formed at the request of several large landowners in the area who asked that higher quality development standards be put in place to regulate future growth.

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 range from pocket parks, or passive greenspace, to swim/tennis clubs. Developers would be required to install sidewalks, street trees and other landscaping inside the development as well as on the roads leading into the development.

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 chimney's to be veneered in stone, brick or hardiplank.

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

One resident asked if government-funded housing would be allowed, but Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan said there are no plans to allow that type of development.

Multi-family homes would be allowed in mixed-use districts but not in the form of apartment complexes -- instead, town homes separated by a firewall would be allowed. In the town center, some buildings could have residences on the second and third floors and businesses on the first floor.

Students with the University of Georgia's School of Environment and Design are working on conceptual plans for the town center, which will be presented to the public at 1 p.m. Thursday at The Center, located at 2104 Washington St.

"These are smaller lots than what we're used to but there's a lot of open space and a lot of improvements in exchange for that density," Eisenberg said of the overlay district.

Residential density ranges from 3.5 single-family units per acre on 6,000-square-foot lots to up to 10 townhouses and 20 multi-family units per acre. Density varies depending on the tier where the property is located.

Morgan said the Almon community is one of five that have been picked in Newton County as development nodes where future development will likely be concentrated. This overlay will likely be used as a template for others, she said.

Morgan also noted that Porterdale officials have declared their intention to annex all the way to Interstate 20. Many property owners in Almon have come to the county with concerns about those plans, she said.

"They are not happy we're doing this as a community node. That (annexation) was part of their business plan," Morgan said.

Several residents approached after the meeting said they weren't clear on the details of the overlay or the impact it could have on them.

"I didn't really understand it. I'm a country person," said one woman.

John Dallas, pastor of Shiloh Methodist Church and resident of the Almon community, called the plan "fantastic."

"It was really good. It takes us back to having a community like we had before. Almon was a wonderful community but it's been divided by the interstate," Dallas said, adding that the new development standards will give the community back its small town atmosphere.

David Clay, who has residential property for sale in the area, didn't have any complaints, although he said he doubted much of the plan would come to fruition during his lifetime.

"I think it's probably a good thing in the long run. I just don't see it happening any time soon," Clay said.

Hoyt Bennett, who also has residential property for sale said he thinks the plan will be helpful to attracting high-quality development.

"I think it will be beneficial to have in place, but we'll have to wait until the economy picks up," he said.

The overlay is set to go before the Board of Commissioners for a vote at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Newton County Historic Courthouse, located at 1124 Clark St.

A draft of the ordinance and map of the district are located at www.co.newton.ga.us.