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Posted: November 27, 2012 9:00 p.m.

Vision for Salem Road advances

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Salem Road is already one of the county's main commercial corridors, but county officials realize it likely won't reach its potential as a true destination to both shop and live in without some changes.

Last week, Newton County commissioners saw the latest draft proposal of a special zoning overlay for the Salem Road corridor that will seek to seek to foster high-quality residential and commercial development, make the area more livable and walkable, and create close-knit communities.

The zoning overlay, officially known as the Salem Overlay, would place certain development standards on any future building or development that takes place in the corridor to ensure that it's consistent with what area residents and county officials want.

The overlay is being created by The Collaborative Firm, a planning and architecture firm that has held seven meetings with area stakeholders and the larger public to gather input while crafting the overlay.

A core idea of the overlay is to divide the Salem Road corridor from the Rockdale County line to Ga. Highway 81 into three different development tiers.

Tier 1 would take up the majority of the corridor, including some side streets off Salem Road, and would allow mainly residential with some neighborhood commercial uses, like florists.

Tier 2 would include some mixed-use residential and light commercial uses. The primary area for this would be from the Rockdale County line south to the historic Salem Campground area.

Tier 3 would have the heaviest commercial use, but would also be a mixed-use area that would have high walkability. This area would be considered the "town center" and would be the area at the intersection of Brown Bridge and Salem roads.

In addition, the Salem Campground area would be labeled a historic district and almost all development would be prohibited surrounding the campground, which is at the intersection of Spring and Salem roads.

One of the most important parts of the overlay would be to ensure that any new residential or commercial development was aesthetically pleasing and somewhat consistent in style.

Alex Fite-Wassilak, senior planner with The Collaborative Firm, described striking such as a balance as having enough variation so there is interest, but also enough conformity so there's not chaos.

He said the overlay would seek to take advantage of already existing public spaces, namely streets, by making them more aesthetically pleasing and by making pedestrian and/or cyclist friendly.

The hope would be to reduce traffic by encouraging more road connectivity in between neighborhoods and shopping areas and not to create many more connections directly to Salem Road, which not only diverts traffic from the main road when feasible but also reduces the number of interaction points where accidents could occur.

In the town center commercial section, the idea would be to have nicely designed storefronts with high-quality building materials, while hiding any mechanical equipment, loading areas in the back of the building. Parking would be shared when possible, and held off-site when possible to reduce the amount of space that has to be used for that in the heart of the downtown area.

Streetscaping developments, such as trees in the median, and decorative lighting are ways to enhance a town center feel.

Some ideas for residential standards would be having more windows, high-quality building materials, no privacy fences allowed in the front yard, no prominent garages, covered porches and a slate of recommended earthy colors for homes.

To read a copy of the draft copy of the overlay, to see a map of the proposed tiers and to see a copy of the most recent presentation, check out the media above. Residents can also visit the website salemoverlay.wordpress.com/documents/.

The next presentation of overlay will take place at the Nov. 27 Planning Commission meeting.

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