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Citizens panel to review baseline ordinances

COVINGTON — A citizens panel made up of 13 appointees will be asked to review items in the baseline ordinances of the 2050 Plan and make recommendations to the Newton County Board of Commissioners.

Commission Chairman Keith Ellis said there is no set timeline for the panel appointments to be made, and no deadline for the panel to issue its recommendations.

“I guess it will be formed as people are able to prayerfully consider who they are going to ask and, of course, I’m sure it will be balanced and representative,” Ellis said. “That way you’ll have someone that the Board of Commissioners feels like they can hear from on a regular basis, almost like a liaison.”

Ellis said the objective in establishing the panel is to hear from citizens and find common ground on the proposals included in the controversial baseline ordinances of the 2050 Plan.

“We’ve raised the bar, we just need the people to help us understand where that bar needs to be set,” Ellis said.

Each of the following entities will make one appointment to the panel: commissioners from each of the five county districts, the commission chairman, each of the five municipalities, the Board of Education, and the Water and Sewerage Authority. Ellis said commissioners will not necessary have to appoint a member from their own district.

Ellis said the panel will be allowed to work independently and will be provided whatever resources are requested.

“They’ll be given whatever resources they might need as far as documents,” he said. “If they need some legal advice, that will be made available to them. If they need some technical advice, then we will certainly make (planning consultant) Scott Sirotkin available. And they can work independently of the board and of the cities.”

Ellis said he met with other local officials Tuesday morning to discuss how the panel members would be appointed. The meeting was attended by Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry, Porterdale Mayor Arline Chapman, Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, school system Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey, District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz, District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims, and Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall.

The 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 fourth of five public hearings on the baseline ordinances was set to be held Tuesday night at Eastside High School. The final hearing is set for Aug. 7, 6:30 p.m., at Oak Hill Elementary, 6243 Ga. Highway 212, Covington.