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Newton BOC, Planning Commission talk Brick Store Overlay

COVINGTON — In a joint meeting Tuesday, the Newton County Board of Commissioners and the county’s Planning Commission discussed future plans for the Brick Store Overlay.

If the Brick Store Overlay is approved, it would prevent commercial and residential sprawl along Ga. Highway 11. Instead, the overlay is designed to create a more walkable town with high-quality shopping and restaurants.

The overlay would add a layer of regulations for developers looking to buy land within the proposed overlay district. When the ordinance is passed, the overlay will separate the regulations into three tiers – Tier 1 for residential and neighborhood commercial, Tier 2 for moderate commercial and Tier 3 for mixed-use and town center.

County Planning and GIS consultant Scott Sirotkin gave commissioners nine items to review in order to produce a final draft of the overlay ordinance.

Items to be considered included extending the boundary of the Tier 2 further south on the west side of Ga. Highway 11; reducing building setbacks; allowing private streets as well as off-street parking and allowing only one row of store-front parking.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz was concerned about allowing parking only behind stores because they’ve received many requests from developers for it to be allowed in front of stores in the Salem and Almon overlay districts.

“We’ve heard that it really impacts the business if there’s no parking allowed in the front, so I ask that we consider at least two rows of parking allowed in the front,” Schulz said.

While commissioners are excited to finally have some solid plans in front of them, residents spoke out saying the process needs to be reconsidered.

Brenda Stanton said she and her husband own about 46 acres in the middle of the proposed overlay and want to develop it in a way that will help the county in the future.

“As a family and a representative for the land owners, we’ve talked about this and I’m not sure we have need for an overlay, but we’re willing to work with the county to ensure that what is there is best for our children and grandchildren,” Stanton said.

She pointed out that there will be a need for grocery stores and restaurants for the employees of Baxter International, which is under development in nearby Stanton Springs, so that their money stays in the county.

“As we look at the rules, these standards will affect whether or not the growth will come,” Stanton said. “We want to develop land that will enhance that side of the county, but we feel that the property owners were brought into the process way too late. The county needs to slow down and talk to everyone.”

Jack Davis of Athens owns property in the overlay and said the county shouldn’t enforce too many rules because it can prevent developers from moving in.

“Clarke County tried to enforce a lot of rules and people couldn’t do business. I hope this county remembers that when you go to pass this overlay.”

Commissioners agreed the next step is to have the Planning Commission table the public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. June 24 in order for the steering committee to meet again and review the standards.

The county hired The Collaborative Firm to host charrettes for the property owners to weigh in on the regulations for the Brick Store Overlay. Commissioners John Douglas and Levie Maddox represented the BOC at the series of meetings held at the Georgia Perimeter College where citizens participated in surveys and questionnaires that helped guide development of the overlay’s standards.