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Newton County votes to remove lot minimums but continue work on 2050 Plan

Maddox's motion strikes compromise, shifting land use planning to the Development Services Department

COVINGTON — After a robust discussion before a passionate crowd of spectators, the Newton County Commission Tuesday night voted to scrap controversial portions of the 2050 Plan baseline ordinances but to continue work on developing a county-wide comprehensive land use plan.

Commissioner Levie Maddox made a motion – which was akin to a bombshell – that called for the county Development Services Department to “produce a draft unified development code for the county.” Nancy Schulz seconded the motion and heated discussion followed.

The motion surprised onlookers because a majority of the citizens addressing the commission earlier had advocated ending the 2050 Plan altogether. Many in the crowd applauded when Commissioner John Douglas said, “The 2050 Plan has to go, and the sooner the better.”

“The goal is to maintain the quality of life for Newton County. … There are some good things to the proposal (the 2050 Plan baseline ordiances) and there are some things that are unacceptable.”

Schulz added, “We know what happens when counties don’t plan for growth, and we don’t want to be there.”

J.C. Henderson sided with Douglas’ opposition, saying, “What I hear when people call me on the phone is they don’t want it. … You put me in office to represent you.”

The Commission passed Maddox’ motion 3-2, with Maddox, Schulz and Lanier Sims voting for it and John Douglas and J.C. Henderson voting against.

Maddox made a second successful motion, seconded by Schulz, to permanently remove from any drafts of the baseline ordinances the 20-10 provisions which proposed to restrict property lots in the eastern conservation district to a minimum of 20 acres and parcels in a proposed rural district to a 10-acre minimum.

Another Maddox motion that passed requires Development Services to enter into detailed contracts if it solicits outside consultants such as The Center for Community Preservation and Planning. Those contracts would detail the scope of the contractual work, delivery dates and such, and they must be approved by the County Commission.

In town hall meetings this summer, many citizens expressed anger about the 20-10 lot minimums and the Transferable Development Rights, which would allow a property owner in a restricted district to sell his or her development rights to a buyer in a higher density district.

During Tuesday’s comments by citizens, made before the Commission took up the 2050 Plan issue, Fred Wheeler of Covington said, “The (2050 Plan) is a result of exaggerated population projections and external values not shared by the citizens of Newton County.”

Gladstone Nicholson offered a view in favor of land use planning.

“We have to leave our children and grandchildren something to build upon for the future, and if we don’t do that, we will do them a great injustice.”

Before adjournment, Commission Chairman Keith Ellis said, “I am proud of the commissioners tonight” and complimented the board and audience for handling a difficult topic with civility and professionalism.