The Salem Overlay district runs from Rockdale County to Ga.Highway 81. - SPecial Illustration
COVINGTON ---The Salem Overlay was recently approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners. The approved document included changes suggested by the general public and developers. Fourteen public meetings were held over 10 months to arrive at the final version.
"What we wrote is a direct result of what we heard from the community," said Jahnee Prince with The Collaborative Firm, the county's consultant on the project.
Public comments were extended from the normal 10 minutes to 15 minutes for supporters and opponents at the BOC's March 19 meeting, and each side used its entire allotment of time.
Jonathan Paschal, speaking on behalf of Smart Growth Newton County, said he's seen firsthand how an overlay can positively impact a community. Paschal said he's watched the town of Greenville, S.C., become one of the most successful and prosperous in the country thanks to proper planning.
"I'm not saying we need to be another Greenville, but it is an example of success through having a plan and following that plan. I've watched it for 30 years and I've seen success happen with a good plan and the determination to follow it through," he said. Paschal added good planning will attract quality developers. "If developers can't depend on us to implement and maintain good zoning, good developers won't come. Good developers want to be flanked by other good developers," he said.
Cindy Abbott, a resident of Dunning Keep, said she used to live in Gwinnett County off Hwy. 78 when it was a two-lane road, and she knows what happens when development is not planned.
"You have gone a long way in developing the 2050 Plan to make sure this county is growing in a way you want it to grow and not just helter skelter ... Please pass this. We need something in place where we know there is going to be a lot of development. It's coming. Something needs to be done up there to make sure that it's built correctly."
Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall supported the overlay on behalf of the Chamber's board and members, saying it is critical to help execute the 2050 Plan.
Raising building materials standards will not deter development, he said, because developers are primarily looking at household median income, per capita income and traffic counts when making site selections. "If a location fails it is never because of design criteria or building standards. It's because it was a poor location based on traffic count or household median income," he said.
But, Hall cautioned the board to be fair and consistent in implementation.
"If you put this in place the first developer that lands is going to be building based on a set of criteria that he is expecting all developers to work in accordance with, and that is only fair to that industry that everybody works under the same standards and the same fairness," he said.
Jenny Cartledge and Sue Chappell are both residents of Fieldstone Estates, with Cartledge on the Newton side and Chappell on the Rockdale side. Both said the overlay needs to continue into Newton County; Rockdale County officials passed one in that county several years ago.
"It needs to be where counties are working together for the betterment of everybody," Cartledge said. "If we don't have a plan in the Salem community we're going to see bad things come that we don't want to see. We're already affected by traffic, we're already affected by everything, but we need it to be united."
But not everyone was pleased with the overlay.
Matt Dobson, director at the Vinyl Siding Institute in Greensboro, N. C., opposed the overlay's prohibition on vinyl siding.
Dobson said the majority of homes in the district currently have vinyl siding. He said vinyl siding warranties are 50 years or more now and there is a variety of colors that no longer fade. He asked that the overlay be amended so that vinyl could be used as a "mixed material," not for the entire structure. "We've seen mixed materials create character. What you all are trying to do is create character in your neighborhoods," he said.
Several developers and their representatives said they have concerns that the overlay will be a deterrent to commercial development, given its regulations on building materials and design and limited zoning uses.
"There's no one size fits all overlay magic that fits every community," said Tracy White with The McDonald Development Company, which owns about 20 acres at Salem and Brown Bridge roads.
The proposed overlay runs along Salem Road south of the Rockdale line down to Ga. Highway 81, dividing that area into three tiers and a historic district. The purpose of the overlay is to encourage clusters of close-knit growth to keep a "small town charm;" focus development around the intersection of Salem and Brown Bridge roads, as envisioned by the 2050 Plan and Newton County Comprehensive Plan; and to set the stage for preserving farmland and open space elsewhere in the county. Salem is one of five compact communities proposed in the county's 2050 Plan.
More details about the overlay can be found at http://salemoverlay.wordpress.com.