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Brick Store Overlay gets approval from BOC

Newton County has a new overlay of ordinances as the Brick Store Overlay was approved by the Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

A public zoning hearing was conducted during the meeting at the Newton County Historic Courthouse, with those in attendance in favor of the zoning overlay leaving happy with the board’s decision, and a group of landowners feeling they weren’t heard. Following the hearing, the zoning ordinance creating the overlay passed 3-1. District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims voted against, and District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The overlay, which was first proposed almost 16 years ago, puts ordinances in place in the area surrounding Ga. Hwy. 11 and Hwy. 278 going north past I-20, south past Patrick Road, west to Green Valley Farm and east to Country Walk Road.

Overlays are designed to avoid commercial and residential sprawl by creating walkable, town centers with development ordinances. Some of the guidelines could be sidewalks and paths, clustering businesses together, increasing building density to preserve green space, eliminating large commercial signs on tall poles, requiring certain building materials and requiring commercial buildings to have aesthetically pleasing facades.

Newton County has two similar overlays, previously established in the Salem Road and Almon Road areas.

The Salem Road Overlay was created after sprawl had occurred in that section of Newton County, as an attempt to fix some infrastructure issues. For that reason, Sims was in favor of Salem Road receiving an overlay.

“I’m probably one of the biggest supporters of the overlay,” Sims said. “If you’ve ever been on Salem Road, you’ve seen what no restrictions to development will happen.”

However, the District 2 commissioner warned against a resolution with split favor from the community, and used his experience in forming the Salem Road Overlay as a reason to vote against the Brick Store Overlay.

“For the Salem Overlay, it got very heated,” Sims said. “We paused, went back, and I went over with several of the big land-owners and went over with them what is in this plan to see what is best for them and this community.”

The Brick Store Overlay saw its own pause, following the 2050 Plan zoning ordinances that was killed after public outcry in 2014.

After taking time “to allow separation from the 2050 Plan,” according to District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox, the Brick Store Overlay was brought back up in 2015. The overlay plan was posted on the county’s website for two months, with no public comment, and two public hearings were conducted before the issue came before the board of commissioners.

“[District 1 citizens] appreciate what we’ve got, and think it’s a good plan,” District 1 Commissioner John Douglas said. “They want to see quality and high-end growth, commercial mostly. The way to do that is we do all we can at this level to make sure this happens.”

The overlay was brought about by a citizens steering committee formed in 2000 that wanted to increase the property value of the area as Newton County grew around the intersection of Hwy. 11 and Hwy. 278.

“A lot of us would like to keep the area like it is — that’s part of the character of the community — but the area will grow,” said Betty Bledsoe, a member of the steering committee. “You have to dictate how it will grow. By not having restrictions, the area could be another strip mall, similar to one on Hwy. 138 in Conyers.

Some District 1 residents, however, spoke out against the plan that changes how their land can be used.

“There are about 10 property owners who own the majority of land you're talking about,” Brenda Stanton said during Tuesday’s zoning hearing. “Only one of those property owners were on the committee they were talking about. We don’t have any problem with overlay — most of the big property owners don’t. But the main issue is nobody asked us and said ‘what can we do to help ya’ll get the best use out of your land, that will be safe and still make the neighbors feel secure in the area.’”

The newly formed Brick Store Overlay is designed to manage development to the east end of the county in three tiers. Those tiers are broken down into residential and neighborhood commercial, moderate commercial and mixed use/town center. A large portion of the Brick Store Overlay is Mount Pleasant, which was approved as a master planned “town” to be developed around Georgia Perimeter College in 2006. Since the area was developed before the overlay, it supersedes Tuesday’s decision, and is its own area within the Brick Store Overlay.

”I view that there is an incredibly enhanced property value for every parcel up there,” Maddox said.