COVINGTON, Ga. — Increasing demand for residential construction is prompting county planners to ask commissioners to slow the pace of growth into mid-summer to update zoning laws that are not “adequately” addressing recent development trends.
The Newton Board of Commissioners was scheduled to conduct a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 16, on a request to extend until July 20 its current moratorium on accepting new requests for residential rezonings and any preliminary plans for new residential subdivisions in the county’s unincorporated area.
The current, 30-day moratorium ends Feb. 19 and Development Services Director Judy Johnson said an overhaul is needed on county ordinances that guide how future subdivisions and residential areas are developed. It does not affect building permits, she said.
A moratorium lasting until the county commission's July 20 regular meeting will give planners the time needed to address existing concerns and any new concerns raised in a work session, which likely would be scheduled for late April, she said.
It also will give it time to host two public hearings on the changes, as well as account for any possible delays because of safety concerns around the spread of COVID-19, Johnson said.
“We may not need the entire time,” she said.
Johnson said her staff believes the current ordinance is not sufficiently regulating new residential developments based on current trends.
The staff wants to address conflicting language in the county ordinance, as well as to clarify development densities, traffic concerns and zoning requirements and differences between types of multi-family dwellings, she said.
Johnson said commissioners may want to address residential densities in proportion to an area's infrastructure — such as roads or sewer availability — as well as the availability of public services like law enforcement, fire protection and schools.
She said the county already had received 144 applications for building permits for single-family residential construction between Jan. 1 and Feb. 9.
Most of the residential permits filed in January were for new homes in the Tarpley's Bluff subdivision and Browning Drive in southwest Newton; and Forray Drive, Lakeridge Court and Joshua Creek Road in west Newton, according to a review by The Covington News.
If those permits eventually lead to construction of new homes, numerous new residents buying those homes will need services, Johnson said.
"It's not that we don't want growth, just sustainable growth," Johnson said.
She said the Board of Commissioners also may want to better define requirements for amenities in subdivisions, such as creation of pocket parks or walking facilities within individual communities.
Johnson gave the example of the county ordinance’s requirement for reserving 30% of land in mixed-use subdivisions for “civic use."
At least one developer has converted the 30% in his development into attractive, private parkland for subdivision residents with paved walking trails.
Others, however, have reserved mostly unusable land within their developments for "civic use" and done little to develop it.
Johnson added that a moratorium extension would not affect subdivisions with plats and plans already approved.
The Board of Commissioners is set to meet Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse at 1124 Clark St. in Covington.