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Posted: January 17, 2013 9:49 p.m.

More meetings set for Salem overlay

Citizens either looking to give feedback about the Salem Overlay District project or who missed the public meetings in 2012, now have a chance to learn more about the project and voice their concerns at two additional meetings.

County Manager John Middleton announced that there will be meetings held on Thursday, Jan. 31, and Tuesday, Feb. 21, starting at 7 p.m. at Gateway Community Church located at 11677 Brown Bridge Road.

Middleton made the announcement during the Newton County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday encouraging commissioners to attend.

"The reason that I will encourage you to go there is because that overlay will touch almost four out of five commission districts and within pretty close proximity," Middleton said. "Also, we will have other overlays going forward; certainly we have learned a lot out of this one and we will learn more each time we do one."

Scott Sirotkin, director of the Newton County Department of Development Service, said a brief overview of the Salem Overlay will be given at the meetings and there will be discussion of the any changes that were made since the last meeting.

"We will have a panel of folks at the meeting who will answer questions, discuss ideas and work with the public to try and create the best possible ordinance," Sirotkin said.

The board deferred an ordinance for the Salem Road Overlay District at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting, after concerns were expressed from the community about the project during a public meeting on Dec. 17.

It was recommended by Sirotkin that the board table making a decision on the ordinance until March so that the public could be more informed about the project.

At that board meeting, Commissioner Nancy Schulz agreed with the recommendation to hold off on approving the proposed Salem Road Overlay project because of the confusion about what exactly the project was about.

"Based on the comments that we heard from the public, we felt that it is in the best interest of the strength of this overlay that we listen to what the constituents of this area have to say and that we go back to the drawing table and make a stronger ordinance," Schulz said.

The board also extended its contract until March 31, with The Collaborative Firm, a planning and architecture firm which developed the overlay.

The intent of the Salem Road Overlay is to create a more livable and walkable Salem Road area by creating close-knit communities to keep the small town charm of Newton County, in conjunction with the county's 2050 plan - a plan that looks to control growth and direct it toward the already dense western side of the county, promoting town centers that will include the majority of the county's housing, businesses and other amenities, allowing the county to save lots of money on future infrastructure.

The 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.

The zoning overlay would also 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.

Sirotkin said the board is scheduled to consider the Salem Overlay again at their March 19 meeting.

For more information on the Salem Road Overlay District and to view documents and maps related to the project, visit salemoverlay.wordpress.com.

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