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Newton subject of national study

COVINGTON -- Newton County is receiving national attention as the subject of a study by the Orton Family Foundation.

Covington and Oxford are lauded as exemplary communities in the Community Planning Stewardship Study, a research project developed through the Craig Byrne Fellows Program of the Orton Family Foundation. Based in Vermont, the Orton Family Foundation helps small cities and towns hold onto their "heart and soul" by adapting to change while maintaining or enhancing the things they value most.

The document includes five case studies -- Covington/Oxford; Hastings, in Barry County, Mich.; Hillsboro, Oregon; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and West Duluth neighborhood, Duluth, Minn. -- that are succeeding in honoring local values, sustaining citizen engagement, achieving visions and plans, holding leaders accountable and responding to a changing world.

Covington and Oxford are recognized for their participation in the 2050 Plan, a collaborative, county-wide initiative to develop sustainable small-town growth alternatives to urban sprawl in Newton County. The Center Facilitating Community Preservation and Planning and the Newton County Leadership Collaborative are recognized as facilitators of the plan and the study highlights recent efforts to inform the community of its focus through Celebrate Our Home, a series of meetings held throughout the community to educate the public on the plan.

"Until recently, local planning practices in the county actually promoted the kind of development that was disrupting the quality of life: low-density residential development along with a lack of mixed use, local centers, or street connectivity," according to the study. "With the inception of the Center for Community Preservation and Planning, the Newton County Leadership Collaborative, and the 2050 Plan, local leadership and citizens have begun to reverse this situation."

Kay Lee, director of The Center, said being included in the study "is a terrific marketing tool for us ... the growth model Newton County has created over the last 10 years is something other communities can look to and implement in whole or in part and it can benefit other communities."

The study describes the planning process leading up to the 2050 Plan, which has four guiding principles and accompanying strategies: protecting clean water; creating communities; creating interconnected corridors; and coordinating public investment. The plan also includes a county-wide zoning strategy.

"Today, local governments are busy implementing 2050 Plan initiatives. The City of Covington and Newton County have jointly revised their ordinances for a designated growth corridor in the Covington area, in compliance with the new plan. Covington has also adopted a form- based code promoting mixed-use development for greater densities and decreased auto dependency as the basis of all planning in the city," the study states. "Following the local tradition of collaboration, Covington's new codes are intended to serve as a model for new ordinances in all urbanizing areas of the county. And, with the help of students working through the University of Georgia's Metropolitan Design Studio, hosted in Covington each spring semester, the city of Oxford is updating its master plan."

According to the study, since its inception The Center has hosted more than 2,000 events, forums, meetings and planning sessions involving approximately 20,000 participants, including citizens, planning advocates and experts, local government representatives, and community stakeholder groups.

The study quotes Ron Thomas, of the University of Georgia's College of Environment and Design, as saying: "Newton County and its small towns are an example of the battle over sprawl taking place across the U.S. The Newton community has done more, committed more, and achieved more in the way of collaborative planning than any other such small-scale community we know of in the US. This has occurred during the worst economic downturn in modern times."

To view the entire study, visit www.orton.org/resources/stewardship_study.