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Newton planning board puts brakes on truck plaza plan
Recommends county commissioners deny rezoning, permit for business at east Newton I-20 exit
Truck stop plan
This image displayed during the Jan. 26 planning commission meeting shows how the planned truck plaza will appear from the air. - photo by Special to The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — One county planning commissioner said he felt "the people have spoken" about a planned travel plaza after hearing residents' objections Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Alan Milhouse was part of the planning commission’s unanimous vote Tuesday, Jan. 26, to recommend county commissioners deny Jackson-based JPC Design Construction’s request for a rezoning and permit for a $15 million travel center at I-20’s Exit 98 south of Social Circle.

Milhouse said he agreed with some residents' objections about the potential for criminal activity because of his experience of 21 years as a truck driver.

"It does present a certain element," Milhouse said.

The travel center was planned to cover 19 acres of an undeveloped 46-acre site on Georgia Hwy. 11 at the exit’s southeast corner.

JPC asked the planning commission to rezone the entire 46 acres to a commercial zoning designation that allowed the development.

Developer William B. “Bill” Jones of Jones Petroleum said the business would create about 150 jobs and generate millions in annual tax revenue for Newton County.

Residents’ concerns ranged from potential criminal activity and increased traffic, to the facility not being conducive to what was envisioned for the Brick Store Overlay District.

An overlay district places additional requirements new developments must satisfy in a specific area and governs such items as lighting, building materials, setbacks, buffering from neighboring properties and more.

Commissioners met by computer or smartphone and allowed the public to listen and participate through the Zoom web platform.

Plans submitted included a 24,900-square-foot commercial travel center with a convenience store, 2,500-square-foot gift shop and plans for Burger King, Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts. 

It also included a total of 16 pumps with 32 fueling positions for passenger vehicles; eight diesel fueling lanes for tractor-trailers; and 3,000 square feet of bathrooms.

A second phase was planned to include a chain supermarket, Jones said Tuesday night.

He asked commissioners to check out his company's JP Travel Center location off I-75 in Butts County before deciding how to vote.

However, Chairman Landis Stephens said "to me it appears as a truck stop" and asked if Jones had spoken to anyone in the surrounding area about it. Jones said no one had contacted him and he had only heard others talk about negative comments on social media.

Area residents lined up to speak against the plan. 

Wayne Pugh, a trucking company owner and River Cove Meadows resident, said area residents had sent commissioners a letter that contained 866 signatures in opposition to Jones' project.

Other residents said it would lead to development that would bring businesses not conducive to the area, and create unwanted traffic congestion at the intersection of I-20 and Hwy. 11.

Marvin Maner said he believed the area was not served by enough Newton County sheriff's deputies to properly patrol the type of business that has been a magnet for crime in other areas. 

He said it would simply be a "cash cow" for Jones and not benefit the surrounding area, which includes the Georgia State University Perimeter College's Newton campus.

"Please protect us from this," he said.

Jones said the project would benefit the county by creating an estimated $3 million in tax revenue and new construction and service jobs.

He pushed back against claims the business would attract prostitution and other crime. He has noted in the past it would feature 24-hour security.

"We certainly don't run any kind of red light district as far as this location is concerned," he said.

Deerfield subdivision resident Ashley McIntosh said a travel center would lower area home values and not help existing businesses.

"Who wants their child to go to a school across from a 'gi-normous' truck stop?" she asked.

River Chase resident LeAnne Long, a real estate agent and former county commissioner, said a truck stop would set an unwanted precedent for future business development in the area.

"We're not against having growth," she said. "A truck stop is not the direction we want to go."

Pugh said three other truck stops were within 15 miles, and idling tractor-trailers would increase air pollution in the area. 

"You might destroy the vision of what this side of the county might be," Pugh said.

Commissioners' recommendation was sent to the Newton County Board of Commissioners for final action at its Feb. 16 meeting.