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Posted: July 15, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Issues aired on 2050 Plan

First of five public hearings brings out concerns on 2050 Plan

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Newton County citizens got their first crack at hearing about – and speaking out on – the 2050 Plan in a public hearing setting at Live Oak Elementary School Monday.

Close to 100 people showed up to find out more about the controversial plan, which has been five years in the making and, as the weeks go by, ever increasingly on the minds of many county residents and landowners.

The evening started with an overview of the plan by Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Hunter Hall, before Caleb Racicot, who wrote the codes in the baseline ordinances, and consultant Royce Hanson spoke on a few of the 200-page document’s broader strokes. Much of the plan wasn’t discussed Monday evening, and may be brought up in the upcoming four public hearings remaining.

Citizens then got a chance to ask questions and make comments before the presentation concluded. Members helping the leadership collaborative also took down some of their ideas on large aisles, and local leaders such as Newton County Chairman Keith Ellis and other commissioners were available for more private discussions following the hearing.

Among the issues that came up with concerned citizens — about a dozen of whom got up to speak at the end of the hearing — were government control, transfer development rights (TDRs) and acreage restrictions in different districts of Newton County’s future.

Concerns ranged from whether or not the plan would work, why the government should decide on what goes where and why, more on how the TDRs work and why the lot sizes are limited to 20 acres in conservation districts and 10 in rural districts.

A citizen in the question session asked, “Why aren’t we running this thing like a referendum and the let the county itself, rather than the five commissioners, decide?”

That was met with a response from Hanson of, “I have no opinion on that.”

Hall, however, was able to answer.

“Our position has always been [that] zoning has always been at the county or city level – that’s always been (the commissioners’) rights and responsibilities as part of their governing roles. This is no different. I that respect.”

One attendee of the hearing responded, “This is different. This is once in a lifetime.”

During the hearing, Racicot said the 2050 Plan combines zoning subdivision and development regulations into one document. It is meant to help businesses and investors develop the area, as well as helping residents of the area maintain a quality of life as the county grows to what has been predicted by the leadership collaborative to 400,000 people in 2050, as opposed to the roughly 100,000 we have now.

Among the ideas to help the county maintain farming areas and water sources that are unpolluted is having 20 acres of land for a property owner in a conservation district and 10 acres of land for a property owner in a rural district.
The 20 and 10 acre issue has caused some of the most vocal opposition. However, Hanson, Racicot and Hall assured citizens that the 2050 Plan can still be revised. Among those revisions expected is the 20 and 10 acre regulation.

“We know that is a contentious issue,” Racicot said.

The TDRs were another big issue which many spoke out on. Hanson will address TDRs in more detail at Thursday’s public hearing.

Thursday will be the second of five public hearings, taking place at Mansfield Elementary School, 45 East Third Ave. in Mansfield at 6:30 p.m.

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