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Neighbors air fears about projects in two parts of Newton
Planning commissioners recommend denial of I-20 warehouse rezoning, delay vote on Starrsville event facility
Proposed Starrsville event facility
This photo taken from a presentation displayed during the county planning commission's virtual meeting Tuesday shows the building Miguel and Ayala Ramos are proposing to use as an event facility on 45 acres on Poplar Hill Road in Newton County. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — Residents said Tuesday that projects proposed in two different parts of Newton County would be detrimental to them and their properties.

As a result, pleas from the land owner and assurances from traffic engineers failed to sway Newton County planning commissioners before they unanimously voted to deny a rezoning for a warehouse just inside the county’s western border. 

Commissioners also voted to delay action for a month on a request for a conditional use permit to allow a special events facility to operate on Poplar Hill Road in the Starrsville community.

The county Planning Commission at its monthly meeting Tuesday, March 23, voted to recommend that the Board of Commissioners deny a rezoning for a speculative warehouse — one built on the belief it will attract a tenant.

The 32-acre site at 2001 Dogwood Drive is located across I-20 from the Lidl distribution center under construction adjacent to the Rockdale County line.

Warehouse developer Joseph McGorrey of Native Development Group had first requested a rezoning of the 32-acre site — which sits in both Newton and Rockdale counties — in late January but planners delayed action until a traffic study could be done.

The site runs for 1,300 feet along Almon Road and its southeast corner is adjacent to an I-20 overpass connecting Dogwood Road and Access Road. 

It includes four acres inside Rockdale County and is a former farm that is now vacant and zoned only for residential uses. 

However, landowner Cleveland Stroud said he had numerous purchase offers over the years but all came from industrial developers.

Stroud — a longtime basketball coach at Rockdale County High School — told planning commissioners the land had been in his family for a century and he wanted the money from its sale for his retirement.

McGorrey included a site plan for a 372,060-square-foot warehouse with 200 parking spaces in his presentation to the planning commission during the meeting conducted virtually through the Zoom platform. 

He said it would initially lack a tenant but would have one within a year, based on heavy demand for other nearby warehouse space.

In addition, McGorrey introduced traffic engineers who said they had submitted a traffic study to county officials.

Opponents of the rezoning included residents of Iris Brook subdivision adjacent to the Lidl development. They said they did not want another warehouse in the area adding traffic and noise congestion already imposed by the Lidl project.

Earlene Barney said “no one told us” about Lidl and other industrial projects planned for the area. Cornelia Floyd questioned the need for a new warehouse when she said others nearby had available space.

Sandra Hines of Covington, who was a recent, vocal opponent of planned residential development in other parts of Newton County, said the area already had enough warehouse space.

She said she heard plenty of construction noise from the Lidl project on a recent Sunday visit to Iris Brook.

“Listen to your citizens,” Hines said. “We do not want this warehouse.”

Commissioners voted 4-0 not to recommend the rezoning from single-family residential to M1-Light Industrial.   

In other action at the March 23 meeting, planning commissioners voted to delay action until April 27 on a request for a conditional use permit for an event facility at 19 Poplar Hill Road.

Applicant Ayala Ramos said she wanted an existing building on her 45-acre tract to host events like private parties and festivals that included live music.

However, neighboring landowners and residents complained the noise and traffic likely would affect their rural way of life that includes farming.

Alexis Prosser said she had collected hundreds of signatures on a petition opposing the permit. She said noise had been excessive from a previous private event Ramos hosted.

Mario Ninfo said he had concerns because of the potential traffic on narrow roads in the area.

“I’m sure none of you would want to live next to this,” he told planning commissioners.

Among the planning staff’s recommendations were a study of Poplar Hill Road to see if a deceleration lane was warranted. They also said they needed more information on hours of operation. 

The planning commission voted to “table” the request until their April 27 meeting and asked neighbors and applicants to meet to resolve differences.

Also Tuesday, planning commissioners approved a preliminary plat for a 158-lot subdivision on 209 acres at Ga. Highway 162 and Pickett Bridge Road in south Newton County.

Developers of Twin River Valley seek to use a plan similar to one approved in 2008 for the site. Former developers installed some infrastructure, including roads, before stopping work on the subdivision in the late 2000s, staff members said.