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Covington planning commissioners recommend no rezoning for rental-only neighborhood
McGuirts Bridge
City planning commissioners saw this plan for the 113-home, all-rental subdivision on McGuirts Bridge Road. (Special | City of Covington)

COVINGTON, Ga. — Covington planning commissioners are recommending denial of a subdivision containing rental-only homes after hearing warnings about likely traffic congestion on its only access road and the negative impact of a densely developed subdivision on adjacent neighborhoods.

It comes as Covington City Council members consider an ordinance to regulate such investor-owned and “build-to-rent” developments.

Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend the City Council deny a rezoning request by former mayor Ronnie Johnston and McGinnis Ferry Development Group to build 113 homes on a 33-acre tract on McGuirts Bridge Road near U.S. Hwy. 278 on the eastern edge of the city.

Johnston requested a rezoning from the Neighborhood Residential District 1 (NR-1) classification to the NR-2 classification which allows more dense development.

The overall density would average 3.5 units per acre — much lower than the maximum 12 units allowed in the NR-2 zone. However, the homes would sit on 50-foot-wide lots of about 12,000 square feet each and surround undeveloped areas that include a lake and buffer area.

The undeveloped, mostly wooded site is adjacent to the Eastside Trail and the Wildwood and Neely Farms developments which are already zoned for NR-2.

It is also adjacent to the Fairfield neighborhoods outside the city limits with lots that average about two acres each.

Johnston said he has owned the land since 2014 and had several offers over the years to sell it. However, he said the McGinnis Ferry developer planned a subdivision that would be maintained well and not allowed to fall into disrepair.

"If that's going to happen, these people (McGinnis Ferry) are not real smart because they're going to invest a lot of money," Johnston said.

He also said the need was great for higher-quality rental housing to serve both workers in local industries and young people either unable or unwilling to buy new homes in the current market.

"I truly believe this could be a great project for Covington," Johnston said.

However, the planning staff said in notes to commissioners that access will come from McGuirts Bridge Road which is an "undersized, minor road and add to the existing limited options turning onto the main road, Hwy. 278." 

"This would result in approximately triple the amount of traffic going through an unsignalized intersection to turn left on Hwy. 278 toward Covington." 

A potential harm to the public "would come from introducing a higher density pattern among a neighborhood with mostly two-acre and above lots," they wrote. 

"That would be an increase in intensity and traffic," the staff said in their analysis. 

"The parcels as zoned would allow for a neighborhood of around 50 lots which would still be an increase in intensity for the surrounding Newton County properties. That allowance is possible without a zoning request and is the largest-sized lot minimums in Covington's ordinance.

It said there had been an "upswing in denser single-family development and multi-family development throughout the city in recent years" but such plans were in areas already designed for them — such as Covington Town Center or Neely Farms — or along roads "that can handle the growth."

"This property sits among an older, larger-lot, established neighborhood that has limited access. Due to the property's current zoning allowing a reasonable use and transition between the surrounding neighborhoods and issues of access through the established Newton County neighborhood, staff recommends denial of the application." 

A large group of neighboring residents — many dressed in red shirts — attended the meeting. Many told commissioners they opposed construction of a densely developed subdivision that would significantly increase traffic.

Tony Harris of Todd Drive said he had lived in his home for 36 years. Johnston's plan is on the old Callaway property that he said many considered "part of the neighborhood," he said.

Harris suggested Johnston build a development with homes on larger lots that will be owner-occupied.

"This type development will have a huge impact on us," he said. "We're all pretty old and we don't want to move." 

Greg Maloney of Fairfield Drive said Johnston could build 30 owner-occupied houses on the site and "still make a good return on investment."

Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend the city council deny the rezoning at its Monday, Sept. 19, meeting.

In other action, the planning commission voted to recommend the council not extend an existing zoning overlay area to a 21-acre tract located between the Cricket Frog Trail and Turner Lake Road.

Developers planned a multi-use subdivision to include 145 units of apartments, 84 row homes, a park area and future single-family section on the long, narrow site facing Turner Lake Park.

However, commissioners pointed to the current traffic congestion on Turner Lake Road and other factors, such as the impact on area schools, before voting 4-3 to recommend denial.

Commissioners did vote to recommend one rezoning request for a proposed distribution center at 10665 Hwy. 278.

Developers requested the 18-acre site be rezoned from NR-1 to M2 (Heavy Industrial) for construction of a 259,000-square-foot building. 

The site is north of Peachtree Academy and a church. It also is adjacent to the Lochridge Industrial Park and would extend that industrial area south.