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Council approves railroad moratorium

COVINGTON -- The Covington City Council approved a 30-day moratorium on any permits that might be requested for construction on railroad rights of way while the Planning and Zoning Department comes up with zoning classification for the property.

Senior Planner Scott Gaither said the federal government exempts railroads from local zoning and building regulations. "There are two railroads running through the city, one north of Hwy. 278 and one south and neither one has zoning," he said.

If right of way abandonment occurs, "It's no holds barred -- anything could go," he said.

About 10 years ago, Cobb County wound up with a switchyard in a historic neighborhood and more recently, Locust Grove had an issue with a company wanting to erect billboards on railroad rights of-way. To prevent something similar from happening in Covington, the Planning and Zoning Department asked for the moratorium while the staff comes up with zoning classifications that would be effective if the property is abandoned. Gaither said there's been no indication that abandonment is imminent.

"Other jurisdictions are looking at this as well, going ahead and getting zoning of some form in place for when abandonment issues may arise," he said, noting that in Covington, rail lines run through residential areas and the city is taking action "so no one goes out there and builds whatever they want, as obnoxious as it could be."

Gaither said the moratorium covers issuance of permits of any kind.