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Newton BOC denies rezoning request for small auto sales lot

COVINGTON — Residents on Brown Bridge Road won’t be welcoming a new small auto sales lot after the Newton County Board of Commissioners denied a request for a rezoning because the plans didn’t follow the Salem Overlay District criteria.

The overlay runs along Salem Road south of the Rockdale line to Ga. Highway 81, dividing that area into three tiers and a historic district.

Michael Presley wanted to rezone an acre, located at 13125 Brown Bridge Road, from residential use to commercial in order to sell cars. He purchased the lot in May and began the process with the Newton County Planning Department to have it rezoned.

Because the property is located in the Salem Overlay District, commissioners were adamant about the conditions recommended by the Planning Commission and staff.

Staff recommended that should the BOC approve Presley’s requests, he would need to limit the cars for sale to 10; provide ingress and egress for the site approved by the Transportation Department; prepare a stormwater plan; and, if adjoining properties developed, he would need to install sidewalks and comply with the Salem Road Overlay District’s requirements.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz questioned why the new business wouldn’t have to follow the overlay requirements immediately.

“It is a new use for the property so we should be triggering the Salem Overlay District now, not when future things develop,” Schulz said.

The purpose of the overlay was to encourage clusters of close-knit growth to keep a “small town charm;” focus development around the intersection of Salem and Brown Bridge roads, as envisioned by the 2050 Plan and Newton County Comprehensive Plan; and to set the stage for preserving farmland and open space elsewhere in the county.

Commissioners Lanier Sims and Levie Maddox agreed with Schulz, stating that the rules are in place now because of a commitment to improve the standards of businesses moving into the area.

“If new uses and development don’t trigger the standards, than what does?” Maddox said. “If we don’t approve this, what kind of precedent does this leave with us going forward?”

Presley’s three requests – future land use change from residential to commercial, rezoning from residential to commercial general, and a conditional use permit – were denied unanimously.

Presley said in a phone interview he was shocked by the vote and is unsure what steps he’ll take next.

In other news, the BOC approved 4-1 the conditional use permit request from Mark Friedman of Conyers to open a title loan business at 2536 Ga. Highway 81 and Salem Road. The commissioners also allocated $8,000 to the Washington Street Community Center from the contingency fund.