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Posted: February 22, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Watershed concern could scuttle plan for new McDonald's

McDonald’s wants to open a location on Ga. Highway 11, attached to the BP gas station just off I-20, but residents and officials are split on whether to grant an exception to the county’s watershed laws.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners tabled a request for a zoning variance Tuesday, after hearing arguments from both sides, including the property owner who said the property and its effect on the watershed will actually be improved by the proposed changes, and an area resident and county planning commission member who said no exceptions should be made.

Kevin Price, who has developed multiple commercial locations in Newton County, is planning 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.

In order to redevelop the location, Price and the county’s staff believe the site would have to be allowed to violate the county’s ordinance that limits the amount of impervious surfaces to 50 percent of the total land of a property. Impervious surfaces (generally paved surfaces) are ones that don’t allow water to pass through them and therefore create more water runoff, which can cause erosion and carry harmful debris and contaminants to rivers and streams, compromising water quality.

The county’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted 3-2 to approve Price’s request to have 64.3 percent of the property be impervious surfaces.

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.

County Commissioner John Douglas, who represents District 1, where the store is located, made the motion to table the matter until the April 15 meeting to see if property owners could find a way to reduce the impervious surface level, though he indicated he might still support a number above 50 percent.

According to the county planning department’s report, the site currently has 55 percent impervious surfaces because the watershed ordinance was passed after the property was already developed.

Bledsoe said the April 2003 county meeting when the watershed protection ordinance was passed had more than 500 supporters in attendance and said the move put the county ahead of others in future planning.

He said he has no quarrel with Price’s plans but wants the plans to be in compliance with an ordinance that hasn’t had any exceptions granted for 11 years.

However, Price argued the improvements would actually help protect water quality better than the current state of the property and said his only other option is to leave it like it is.

Price said one other improvement would be that the site would be tied onto a sewer system, which would replace the septic tank.

He said the current site is an "old-style gas station" from "20 years ago," and he’d like to see one of the county’s gateways have an improved look with a new-style McDonald’s.

Douglas said he made protecting the quality of life on the east side of the county one of his major campaign points when he ran for office in 2012, and he said he would continue to fight for those standards to avoid the possibility of "willy-nilly growth" that he said exists in areas of Rockdale County.

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