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COMMENTARY: 2050 Plan a collaborative effort that needs citizen input

I would like to provide a brief history on the intent and origin of the 2050 Plan that I think is important as we begin the public input sessions on the baseline ordinances (BLO).

The Newton County Leadership Collaborative (LC) was formed back in 2005 for the intent of getting elected and non-elected leaders in Newton County together to discuss issues that dealt with the explosive growth in our county and what, if anything, we should do about it. Represented at the table were the Board of Commissioners, cities of Covington, Oxford, Porterdale, Newborn, Mansfield, the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, the Board of Education, and the Chamber of Commerce. Early discussions dealt with the housing boom, transportation corridors related to traffic, the cause and effect of population growth on our school system, economic development goals and strategies, sewer service areas to accommodate growth, etc. While Alcovy High School was being constructed in 2004-2005, there was discussion about the cost of placing the school in southern Newton County and what the added tax burden would be for running bus service to that location as well as the cost of buying additional acreage for septic needs. It was the realization of the added tax burden on the citizens of Newton County that led to the members of the Leadership Collaborative working together to support the Board of Education as they selected the location of Flint Hill Elementary. With the BOE choosing the location for Flint Hill — a location that was closer to the population center (saving taxpayers money on bus fuel), and on sewer (saving money on land acquisition for septic), everyone won. That is just a small example of how the LC had been working together for the good of the taxpayers. It is also an example of a community trying to proactively manage its growth as well as learn from its past.

Now with respect to the actual 2050 Plan — the LC never set out to create a land plan. It has grown very organically over the past eight years. Members of the boards, councils and authorities that make up the Leadership Collaborative have been meeting every month since 2006. Over that time there have been various county and city staff represented, transitions through several election cycles, appointments, different board members, and various Chamber presidents. Each of the entities involved has funded the LC and its goals through their various budgets when applicable. The 2050 Plan and version 1 of the BLO is not a product of a handful of individuals who have an agenda to push — very much to the contrary. They are in fact the byproduct of years of collaborative work done by hundreds of people representing all Newton County residents and businesses. In a nutshell, it is a Comprehensive Land Use Plan designed by our elected and non-elected officials, their key staff members and the Chamber of Commerce to help us plan responsibly and proactively for the absolute certainty of population growth in Newton County. We have seen the impact of unplanned growth in our neighboring communities and this plan, in principle and purpose, enables us to protect a quality of life we desire and maintain our unique community character.

So where are we in the process? The LC asked the consultants to create ordinances that would facilitate the county land use plan (2050 Plan). They have created Version 1. The elected officials have had a chance to review this version with the consultants. A group of stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds, demographics and interests, from developers to homeowners, has been given the chance to review the ordinances as well. Now we are asking the citizens of Newton County to review and offer feedback. The consultants will take all the various feedback and create Version 2 of the BLO and we will facilitate public input once again. When Version 3 of the baseline ordinances is complete, each government will work with consultants to customize the baseline ordinance to their unique needs, leading to Version 4. For instance, each government will plug in their own historic preservation ordinance or tree ordinances, etc. Input from the public will be sought with each subsequent version. Lastly, the consultants will create a Final Version that will be brought to the people through the public hearing process and finally to our various elected bodies for review and adoption.

So here is what we are asking you to do. Engage. Participate. Please go to the website at www.2050plan.org to get the full story and details. Attend the public input sessions. There are five, held in public schools throughout Newton County. We look forward to seeing you there.

Hunter Hall

President

Covington/Newton Chamber of Commerce