COVINGTON, Ga. — A county commissioner says he will be among those opposing a controversial plan for a travel center and fast-food restaurants at I-20 and Georgia Hwy. 11 when the county planning commission considers it Tuesday night, Jan. 26.
District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards said area residents have overwhelmingly opposed the proposal by Jackson-based Jones Petroleum for a travel center covering 19 acres of a 46-acre site.
Proponents of the plan, such as developer William B. “Bill” Jones, said it will bring jobs and additional services to area residents, as well as facilities that I-20 motorists and cargo haulers need.
Edwards said residents opposing it have a range of concerns — from potential criminal activity and increased traffic, to the facility emitting too much light at night in a relatively undeveloped area around I-20’s Exit 98.
The Planning Commission’s meeting will be broadcast as a Zoom meeting and not a live meeting, according to the Newton County government website.
Those wanting to attend the meeting are asked to register in advance at: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYpc-GopzkpG9f-zImcxNC-uGJIJ9A_-hds.
After registering, a confirmation email will be sent containing information about joining the meeting, the county's website stated.
Jones has submitted a rezoning request and a conditional use permit to Newton County Development Services for the project on a 46-acre site at the exit’s southeast corner.
Plans submitted in early October call for a travel center valued at $15 million, including a 24,900-square-foot commercial travel center with convenience store, 16 pumps with 32 fueling positions for passenger vehicles, and eight diesel fueling lanes for tractor-trailers.
Restaurants with drive-through windows, such as Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts, also are planned, Jones said.
It will create about 150 jobs and generate about $3 million in annual tax revenue for Newton County, Jones said.
He said I-20 motorists and tractor-trailer operators already demand the services of the travel center.
A 35-mile section of I-20 between Conyers and Madison lacks any kind of 24-hour retail services specifically designed for tractor-trailers, he said.
He said he had not heard any direct opposition to the Newton County plan.
However, he said residents did oppose a plan for a similar facility now operating in Butts County. Opposition subsided after an open forum at which he answered questions and gave a presentation about his project, Jones said.
“When you go into a community, you’re always going to have pushback,” he said. “I don’t fault people for having different opinions.”
The facility will have 24-hour security service and will be well-lit to help dispel customers’ fears at any hour of the day about the potential for criminal activity, Jones said.
“You don’t want to go to a dimly lit facility,” Jones said.
Developers plan to keep natural buffering already in place along the north side of the project to screen truck parking from I-20 and the project will be set back 100 feet from Hwy. 11, according to a rezoning petition the developer submitted to Newton County.
A 54,000-square-foot second phase also is planned for “future development” and will include “big box” retail development with nine individual tenant spaces, according to plans Jones submitted.
Jones said said he wanted the second phase to include a supermarket because “that end of Newton County” does not have any retailers offering the variety of products found at a large-scale grocery store.
Area residents must travel at least four miles from I-20 and Hwy. 11 for a supermarket, with the closest being about four miles west in Covington and five miles north in Social Circle.
Completion of the travel center’s first phase is expected by December 2021, with completion of both phases by the end of 2023.
Edwards, a Mansfield resident whose district includes the travel center site, said the project also must meet the requirements of the Brickstore Overlay District which covers the area around the Brick Store Historic Site east of Hub junction and I-20's intersection with Georgia Hwy. 11.
An overlay district places additional requirements on development in a specific area and governs such items as lighting, building materials, setbacks, buffering from neighboring properties and more.
Area residents like Mary Street and Kayla Arrington are among those opposed and are signers of a petition that has attracted hundreds of signatures.
Street said she and others “just don’t feel it’s necessary there” and suggested I-20 and Alcovy Road in the city of Covington as an alternative.
She said residents also “aren’t crazy about a bunch of tractor-trailers” traveling through the area.
Other kinds of commercial development — such as a supermarket that is not open 24 hours — may be acceptable, Street said.
“I know that progress is going to come,” she said.
Arrington said she is concerned about a loss of the area’s “rural environment.”
In addition to concerns about increased air pollution and traffic, she said she does not believe the project will add value to the surrounding area even if developers plan a more upscale design than typically offered by such businesses.
“It’s still a truck stop,” she said.
Longtime area resident Betty Bledsoe, who was a member of a committee that helped develop the Brickstore Overlay District, said roads around the project also lack enough lanes to handle expected traffic.
She said residents around the Stanton Springs area typically travel to Madison or Covington for retail services. The surrounding area is primarily agricultural or residential with large lots.
Bledsoe said the overlay district was developed so that eastern Newton did not develop in the same way other parts of the county did in the 1990s and early 2000s before design standards and other requirements were put in place.
“We know it’s got to grow, but it’s got to grow in a positive way,” she said.
If planning commissioners vote for a recommendation Tuesday night, the Newton County Board of Commissioners was expected to take final action on it at its Feb. 16 meeting.