Car wash company owner Mike Aiello Jr. had planned to build two new car washes in Newton County, investing around $5 million and adding 60-plus full-time jobs, but he said he's abandoning the Newton County market completely after the county board of zoning appeals denied his request for buffer and impervious surface variances.
The car wash would have been located near the intersection of Brown Bridge and Salem roads, but at issue was whether the area was yet ready to begin shifting more to commercial and whether a car wash was an appropriate business in an area that's currently being examined in depth in the Salem Road overlay and is planned to be Newton County's next big commercial corridor.
Aiello, a Social Circle resident, owns The New Car Wash company, which has an existing location in Rockdale County, and purchased the 2.3-acre lot at 12862 Brown Bridge Road across from the new Walmart and next door to Goodyear Auto Service Center.
In his presentation on behalf of Aiello, developer Lou Passarella told the board of zoning appeals the area is designed to be a mixed-use corridor in the county’s comprehensive plan and is likely to be designed as one of the most intensely developed portions of Salem Road, as it could fall within the "town center" area of the upcoming Salem Road overlay.
The county is developing the overlay to direct and control future growth along the corridor. The town center will likely be between Kirkland and Brown Bridge roads and would be planned to be the center of the area, having mixed commercial and residential uses similar to many downtowns. Other areas along Salem Road would house different types of commercial businesses while some areas would remain purely residential.
However, while the county works on the overlay, Aiello’s property is still single-family residential, though the county planning commission voted recently to allow the property to be rezoned to highway commercial. The final approval for rezoning lies with the board of commissioners.
Aiello was asking for two variances:
• the ability to increase impervious (generally paved) surfaces on the property from 60 percent of the total property to 75 percent
• the ability to reduce buffers (dedicated greenspace, generally trees, shrubs or other plants) between the property and surrounding residential property
Aiello and Passarella’s argument for the variances was that more impervious surface is allowed in more dense development and that the surrounding residential properties are similarly planned for future commercial development. Aiello said at the meeting one of the property’s neighbors has already tried to sell his property for commercial use three times.
When asked what his car wash would be like and if there are any similar one around, Aiello said he didn’t know of any similar car washes in Georgia. He said the car wash would be state of the art and would be very energy efficient and environmentally friendly as it would reclaim 95 percent of its water. The building would look nice and the property would be landscaped, he said.
The property is in District 3, and District 3 zoning board member Charles Woods made the motion to deny the petition, saying the car wash would be out of character with neighborhood, would be a detriment to the surrounding residential area and is premature given that work on the Salem overlay has just begun.
Woods said he attended a recent meeting of area residents and stakeholders for the Salem overlay and that all attendees had asked the county to try to preserve as much of the small town and rural nature that had brought them to Newton County in the first place.
"Frankly, I haven’t heard anybody demanding a car wash," Woods said.
The motion passed 3-1, with Woods, Carolyn Hardeman and James Brooks voting in favor and Nick Hathorn voting against. Member Doyle Baker was absent.
Aiello did not say anything further at the meeting, but expressed his disappointment in an email to The News.
"I am very disappointed in the Newton County Board of Appeals, as they summarily rejected our plan that would have brought 60-plus new jobs to Newton County, had $5 million investment that would have shown up directly on the tax digest and would have kept close to $3 million of retail sales revenues in Newton County. Up to 30 jobs would have been filled at our first location by the end of this year," Aiello said, with the other jobs and investment to come at a location on Ga. Highway 142 that would have planned to open in the spring 2013.
"But instead, our request was not rejected on any technical issues, but simply by a single close-minded, stereotype casting and uninformed county board member who did not see a need for our business in his Newton County district.
"I would be curious to know what the Newton County Chamber of Commerce does when Newton County kills off good jobs. Do they ‘unring’ a bell on the old (Historic) Courthouse steps?"
Aiello was looking to expand on his business, which consists of a car wash on Old Salem Road in Conyers; the former car wash location was renovated, whereas the one on Brown Bridge Road would have been a new building.
"Since a large number of our customers come from Newton County, we purchased 2.3 acres on Brown Bridge Road, directly across from the Walmart, to support that part of Newton County by creating local jobs and keeping retail revenues in Newton County, something that Newton County still hasn’t figured out how to do," Aiello said in a follow-up email. "The winner in all of this is Rockdale County and its residents. We will still market directly to Newton County residents and they will still frequent our facility as they currently do."
Despite the fact the Ga. Highway 142 location is overseen by the Covington Planning Commission, Aiello said he would not move forward with any plans there but would look at communities outside of Newton County. The company only had a contract on the Ga. 142 property, so that will be terminated, while the company will hold onto the Brown Bridge Road facility which it purchased outright.
"The Goodyear Store directly next to our property has reduced buffers. Just look at where their fence is near our western property line. As such, it is absurd for the appeals board to single out us because of us wanting to put up a car wash and flatly deny the variance requests totally. Had we allowed the property to be rezoned commercial, without the variances, over 1/3 of the property would not have been able to be touched, making it basically useless and worthless. So, the remaining properties down Brown Bridge to the east of us will now have tremendous impediments and most all hopes of commercial rezoning and development are now dashed, as our property is staying ‘residential’ and a precedent has now been set to deny any and all buffer variances in that area," Aiello said. "We have no intentions of fighting the politics, so we have chosen to switch to ‘Plan B.’"
In a follow-up conversation with Woods, he reiterated that the whole thing was premature and out-of-character for the area. He said allowing the car wash was allowing commercial to expand further and further from the Salem and Brown Bridge road intersection and he was concerned of the direct and future affect on residences, stand alone and subdivisions, around the area.