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County Commission aims to keep 2050 panel at 13 members

COVINGTON — During the comments portion of Tuesday’s meeting, the Newton County Board of Commissioners declined to increase the number of members on the recently established citizens panel for the 2050 Plan baseline ordinances.

Monday the Covington City Council authorized Mayor Ronnie Johnston to request six city representatives in addition to its one representative on the 13-member panel.

An ad hoc group of local officials created the citizens panel last month, establishing the number of members and the officials and organizations to appoint them.

“I don’t see why we should delay the process any further by returning the question to that committee,” said Commissioner Nancy Schulz.

The citizens panel will be charged to investigate the baseline ordinances of the 2050 Plan, a proposal that has generated controversy in the county, and make recommendations to county leaders.

Commissioners expressed concern that a large panel, possibly with many conflicting viewpoints, may not be efficient in developing an analysis of the baseline ordinances.

After the meeting Tuesday Chairman Keith Ellis remarked that the city and county surely “will work out all these differences and come together.”

Ellis urged commissioners to work closely with the citizens panel, assisting the members in their work if asked.

“It all boils down to we’re going to take our time and be patient, we’re going to get an ordinance that is well received by our citizens,” he said. He later emphasized, “I want to make sure every person is heard.”

The ad hoc group authorized the chairman and each commissioner to appoint a member to represent his or her district on the citizens panel. Ellis selected, from 20 recommendations, Wayne Haynie, an engineer who specializes in water and wastewater issues.

Commissioner John Douglas named Sandy Morehouse, owner of Burge Plantation, to represent District 1. Schulz announed her selection for District 3, Michelle Porteous, chief executive officer of the Windcrest Homeowners Association.

The remaining commissioners, five municipalities, the Newton County Schools Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey and the Water and Sewerage Authority will each make one appointment to the panel.

The 2050 baseline ordinances are regulations designed to achieve the objectives of the 2050 Plan, which was created by the Newton County Leadership Collaborative at The Center for Community Preservation and Planning over the past 10 years. The 2050 Plan is based on four development principles — protecting clean water; creating communities; creating corridors; and coordinating infrastructure. The plan is based on projections that the county’s population could reach 400,000 by 2050.

Some of the more controversial issues in the baseline ordinances are 10- and 20-acre minimum lots in proposed rural and conservation zones in the county and the use of transferable development rights to offset the loss of property values and drive growth to areas designated for greater density.

The fifth and final public hearing on the baseline ordinances will be held tonight at 6:30 at Oak Hill Elementary, 6243 Ga. Highway 212, Covington.

In other action the commission voted unanimously for the county to pursue a contract, not to exceed $10,000, with Schnabel Dam Engineering Inc. for concrete work to improve safety at Turner Lake Dam.

Additionally, the commission agreed to consider requests for a vehicle and facilities expansion from Ga. Food Service, which provides meals for elderly citizens.

Claudia Minge, representing Covington First United Methodist Church, presented information on the “Change The World 2014 Race Against Hunger” event on Oct. 25. The event, which includes music art exhibits, health screenings, a mile fun run and a five-kilometer race, raises funds to help fight hunger in Newton County.

During the time allowed for citizens comments, two audience members went to the podium and spoke against the 2050 plan and other county problems.