The Salem Road Overlay has been approved with amendments by the Newton County Board of Commissioners, after several months of planning and development meetings were held on the proposed project, which prolonged a vote from the board.
Several citizens, officials, developers and land owners attended the March 19 BOC meeting to voice their opinions about the proposed corridor, which would create a more livable and walkable Salem Road area by creating close-knit communities to keep the small-town charm of Newton County.
After discussions during a public hearing portion of last Tuesday’s meeting, the overlay was unanimously approved with amendments by the Board of Commissioners.
What is the Salem Overlay?
The Salem Road Overlay is 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. Tier 2 would include some mixed-use residential and light commercial uses. Tier 3 would have the heaviest commercial use, but would also be a mixed-use area that would have high walkability.
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.
However, a few developers had concerns about putting certain standards on future development and expressed their concerns at the meeting.
Concerns from developers
Matt Dobson, with a vinyl siding company in Greensboro, N.C., said he was not opposed to the Salem Overlay, but he said he didn’t think the county should limit vinyl siding as a material used in the development of commercial property.
“Vinyl siding has been in place for 50-plus years,” Dobson said. “Vinyl siding is used in a wide array of different types of structures.” Dobson asked the BOC to consider an amendment he provided during the meeting.
“We’re not even asking that vinyl siding be allowed for use on the entire structure, just as a mixed material,” he said.
Vernon Smith, a commercial realtor with Re/Max in Augusta, said he represented about 10 acres at Salem Circle and Brown Bridge Road. Smith encouraged the BOC to work with developers.
“I’m not against this overlay; it has done wonders for Columbia County, and y’all have pretty much followed the same steps,” Smith said. “It’s been great, but there was some tweaking that had to be done.
“You’ve got to have some participation on the county commissioner side to make it work smoothly,” Smith said.
Tracy White, with the McDonald Development Company, which owns about 20 acres of land at the corner of Brown Bridge Road and Salem Road, said there is no one-size-fits-all overlay for every community.
“We’ve had some serious concerns and economic damage that our property and other properties would suffer if this overlay, as it is written, is passed,” White said.
“While the mixed use is now optional, owners who do not elect to do mixed use on their property are actually damaged by lower densities and fewer allowed uses.”
White mentioned several other changes the board should make in addition to the amendments that were added to the Salem Overlay; however, the board approved the proposed corridor with the amendments.
Amendments made to the Salem Overlay
Scott Sirotkin, director of the Newton County Department of Development Service, explained the amendments as follows:
(1) “Item one, if this is incorporated into the overlay, this would allow properties and Tiers 2 and 3 to have the same option to petition neighborhood commercial uses with the conditional use permit already allowed in Tier 1;
(2) “Item two clarifies when a traffic study for a curb cut on Salem Road is required. Right now, it’s required in all cases what the recommendation says [is] the county engineer would make the determination of when a traffic study is warranted based on an analysis of the ITE trip generation manual;
(3) “Item three clarifies the meaning of the term “net site acreage” and basically regulates multi-family townhome development inside the overlay using the same approach as we currently use for multi-family development now;
(4) “Item four [adds] a clarification for non-residential development, where a certain percentage of windows are [required]. If a building is a corner lot, then it says 60 percent along with the primary street is still required, but for side streets, it’s half that — 30 percent and there’d be no minimum for sides that face an alley;
(5) “Item five, for residential properties, this would change the regulations for garages to match that of what we currently have at the Almon Overlay;
(6) “Item 6, for transitional buffers, this clarifies that if the use of the property is changed or redeveloped and if the buffer that was required is no longer required, then that buffer will not have to continue to be maintained;
(7) “Item 7 adds an option for non-residential development that is next to existing subdivisions or properties outside of the overlay. The transitional buffer could be reduced by up to half, if a berm or fence that provides adequate screening and protection is provided by the property owner and that approval would be made by the Newton County landscape architect;
(8) “Item 8, another clarification, that if there is a condemnation of property, we would treat that as an act of God and allow the property owner to re-site buildings or rework their properties without having to meet the requirements of the overlay.
That is a practice anyway; this just codifies it in the overlay,” Sirotkin said.
The Collaborative Firm explains similar overlays
After Sirotkin discussed the changes to the Salem Overlay, he invited Jahnee Prince and Alex Fite-Wassilak with The Collaborative Firm — the company which was hired by the county to help develop the overlay — to discuss a PowerPoint presentation, which explained the function of an overlay.
Prince showed several pictures of overlays done in Fayette and Clayton counties, which showed areas before and after an overlay.
“On the left is a property that developed prior to the overlay district being put in place and what you can see here is a very big, not very nice sign, no landscaping and it’s a little hard to see from this picture, but there isn’t any sidewalk here,” Prince said.
“The one on the right is different [and] developed under the overlay district and what you can see here that is different is that there is a sidewalk and there’s a lot of landscaping.”
A copy of the PowerPoint presentation can be found by visiting CovNews.com.
Citizens in support of the Salem Overlay
Citizens and city representatives also spoke during the meeting, where they said they were in favor of the overlay and hoped it would be put in place by the board of commissioners.
“I would be in support of this Salem Overlay,” said David Berry, a resident of Brown Bridge Road. “I’ve been to one of the meetings that we had at the church on Brown Bridge and I had the opportunity to ask some questions. So it was very important for me and those questions have been answered on some of [the] non-residential uses, which I’m sitting in there with a lot of footage there on Brown Bridge.”
“We think the area needs to grow,” said Dorothy Wooten, another Brown Bridge Road resident. “There are a lot of people in the area and we need businesses to be able to go to and we just need some progress there and as far as worrying about the roads being widened, that will come. We need to get the businesses going first.”
“I just wanted to say thank you to the Board of Commissioners for listening to the people and the things that they have told that they need out there,” said resident Linda Shell. “Thank you for working with the Collaborative Firm and making all these changes that you’ve made that we hope will benefit us all.”
Several other citizens spoke in favor of the overlay during the meeting, along with the city of Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, and Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall.
An ordinance of the Salem Overly went into effect on March 20.