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Posted: April 6, 2014 12:48 a.m.

County studies Salem Rd zoning more

County officials want to make sure they’re on the same page when it comes to future development in the Salem Road area, so they’re placing a temporary ban on some zoning requests.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners approved a 60-day moratorium on conditional use permits in the Salem Overlay, a set of special zoning and development regulations placed on the Salem Road corridor and surrounding areas to promote high-quality and more town-center oriented development.

The moratorium comes on the heels of the Board listening to two cases where applicants asked for conditional use permits in the Salem Road area to open a small car lot and a title pawn shop. A few area residents expressed opposition to both uses, saying they are the same kind of low-quality development the area has already experienced in the past.

The Board approved the title pawn shop because it met all the requirements to get a conditional use permit, while it turned down the car lot, because the property owner was asking to be relieved from the requirement to build a new commercial building and instead wanted to retrofit a home into an office.

The Newton County Planning Commission had approved both requests prior to them coming before the board, which led to some concern among county commissioners. Chairman Keith Ellis said previously he plans to have the Board of Commissioners and the Planning Commission meet soon so the two sides are on the same page when it comes to future zoning issues, as development is picking up in Newton County.

County Attorney Tommy Craig said the moratorium was requested because a “few people have shown interest in slipping under the wire” to get conditional use permits. He said the delay would give the board “time to review the proposed conditional use regulations and make sure its happy with the uses that will take place in the overlay.”
Conditional use permits are common zoning tools that require certain business types to go through a more rigorous oversight and approval process. Under the Salem Overlay, several business types are prohibited outright, while several other business types are only allowed with a conditional use permit.

Moratorium extended on personal care homes

The Board also voted to extend a 60-day, county-wide moratorium on personal care homes. The moratorium was extended to give the county’s planning staff more time to work on the county’s ordinances regulating personal care homes. In several previous instances where personal care homes have been proposed in neighborhoods, neighbor opposition has been common.

McDonald’s decision tabled to May

The Board also voted to table again until the May 20 meeting a decision on the whether to allow a proposed McDonald’s to be built on Ga. Highway 11, just south of the Interstate 20.

The issue came up at the Board’s March 18 meeting, and was heavily debated due to concerns over development regulations and potential watershed impact.

Kevin Price, who has developed multiple commercial locations in Newton County, was asking for a zoning variance to redevelop the 1.5-acre property at 887 Ga. 11 to accommodate a new McDonald’s, which would fill up a vacant store spot. The variance asked that the amount of impervious surface (generally paved surfaces through which water can’t pass) for the property be allowed to be 64.3 percent, higher than the limit of 50 percent called for by the county’s ordinances.

Impervious surfaces are often a potential concern in contributing to water runoff, which can erode soil and wash harmful items into rivers and other bodies of water.

Price said the variance was the only way to develop the property and would actually improve the property; he said a water quality system would be installed on site that would actually improve runoff control.

However, local resident Troy Bledsoe, who also serves on the county’s planning commission, was appealing the zoning board’s decision, saying granting the variance could set a precedent that would weaken the effectiveness of the county’s strict watershed protection laws.

Commissioner John Douglas, who represents the area, made a motion to table the matter initially to see if the property owner could find a way to reduce the impervious surface level at least a little bit. He again made the motion Tuesday to table the matter further until May 20.

The Board is not having a second meeting in April – zoning cases are generally heard during the second meeting of any given month – as commissioners will be traveling to Savannah for the annual conference of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

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