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67 acres in county rezoned after neighbors request
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A group of Newton County residents realized the area around them would eventually change and their peaceful, country living would likely be interrupted.

However, instead of reacting to change, the residents proactively put themselves in a position to benefit.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners Nov. 19 approved rezoning 67.2 acres, encompassing multiple properties on City Pond Road and Ga. Highway 142 North, from agricultural residential and single-family residential to heavy industrial. Along with five houses, The Church at Covington’s property was also rezoned.

The request was unusual because it was made by property owners who plan to continue living in their houses, whereas most requests for rezoning from residential to commercial or industrial are made by prospective property buyers who want to locate a business on a property.

In November 2010, the Covington City Council voted to approve a request from the county’s Industrial Development Authority – which is responsible for helping to recruit industry – to rezone 160 acres along Ga. 142 and Airport Road as heavy industrial.

At the time, area residents opposed the move because they felt it would reduce their quality of life. Authority officials said the land was needed because the county had a lack of available industrial land.

One of the residents, Josie Cook, said Nov. 19 that the neighbors realized industry would interrupt the “comfortable lifestyle we’re accustomed to,” and they looked at a way to help the county and thought rezoning their property ahead of time would be a benefit.

The neighbors did their research, including speaking to the authority and the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, and realized the county’s 2050 Plan called for their land to eventually be used for industry. The properties are close to the airport and off a major highway, making them potentially appealing to industry. Cook said she believes the rezoning will make her land more valuable.

David Payne is the pastor of The Church at Covington and also lives next door to the church. He said the neighbors worked together to form a contiguous grouping of land to make it more appealing to a future industry.

He said the church, which has the largest property at 32.27 acres, is not looking to sell its property, but wants to be a good neighbor and owns nearly 64 acres across Ga. 142.

Officials from the chamber and industrial authority wrote letters in support of the rezoning request.

The board approved the rezoning with several conditions, including limiting uses (no adult entertainment, asphalt plants, chemical plants, explosive plants, landfills, paper mills, or junk yards, among other restrictions); requiring sidewalks; and having landscaping along roads. The conditions will kick in once a company plans to develop the property. In addition, any site plans to develop the property must come back before the county, at which point additional conditions could be added.

The rezoning will not affect the church, which is an allowed use in a heavy industrial zoning; the church can build on the site in the future. However, the houses are basically “grandfathered in” under the new zoning, because homes are not allowed in heavy industrial zonings. The owners can make needed repairs and do regular maintenance, but they cannot make any major structural changes or additions.

A favorable factor for the residents is that their property tax bills should not go up.

“The rezoning of a property does not solely change a value for tax purposes,” Chief Tax Appraiser Tommy Knight said. “Unlike a fee appraiser, an assessor cannot consider highest and best use when valuing properties. We have to consider existing use.

“For example: A once-rural area is now prime for a commercial development; however, a farm is located next to this area and (is) part of the rezoning or overlay. Under this scenario, a fee appraiser would appraise the property as commercial. An assessor would appraise the property under its current use as a farm. Otherwise, the property owner would be forced to pay higher taxes while still trying to farm the land.”