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Newton residents, owners agree on store for former "truck stop" site
Earlier opposition falls away as convenience store, fast-food restaurants approved at I-20 exit near Social Circle
New plan for old truck stop site
An artist's rendering of the convenience store and fast-food restaurants planned for Georgia Hwy. 11 at I-20's Exit 98 are shown. - photo by Courtesy of Newton County

COVINGTON, Ga. — A downsized version of a previously controversial plan for a travel center near Social Circle will be considered by Newton County commissioners in June after the planning board unanimously voted to recommend it Tuesday.

The Newton County Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit on 10 acres on the east side of Georgia Hwy. 11 and the south side of I-20 at Exit 98 to allow construction of a convenience store and two attached fast-food restaurants after residents and developers compromised on such items as operating hours and building appearance.

The zoning board's Tuesday, May 25, action followed rejections by it and the Board of Commissioners of the same developer's plan for a travel center, fast-food restaurants and future big-box supermarket on a large part of the overall 46-acre site in February.

The applicant, JPC Design & Construction of Jackson, was denied after area residents and homeowners groups united to oppose the plan.

Many opponents said the former plan was for a "truck stop" because it would have offered fuel and amenities to both commercial tractor-trailers and personal vehicles.

JPC's revised plan is for less than a quarter of the overall site and includes a convenience store and two attached fast-food restaurants facing Hwy. 11 behind a covered row of gas pumps, said JPC attorney Richard Milam. 

"This is not a truck stop," Milam said. 

A site plan shows a rectangular, 8,000-square-foot building facing Georgia Hwy. 11 with 60 parking spaces, including spaces for passenger buses. Almost 3 acres of the 10-acre site will have impervious surfaces. Two entrances are planned off Hwy. 11.

He said the project would be a $6 million investment and employ a total of about 20 to staff the store and restaurants.

The developer has agreements with Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts to operate the fast-food restaurants — which he said will each include drive-through windows to lessen the amount of traffic on the site, Milam said. 

He said the new design includes gas pumps to serve personal vehicles only and no fuel facilities for tractor-trailers.

Residents had criticized the former travel center's operating hours because it would have allowed overnight truck parking and lighting. 

However, Milam said hours will be limited to 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. in the new plan. 

Lighting is required to be "down-cast," and not shine outside the site, said county development services director Judy Johnson. 

Johnson said developers also would be required to install a landscape buffer along the perimeter of the site.

Leanne Long, an area resident and representative of some homeowner groups, said residents knew the site will eventually be developed for commercial use even with the restrictions of the Brick Store Overlay District — which places additional requirements for design and appearance on new construction in the northeast Newton area.

"We're all trying to work together to make this something we can all be proud of," Long said.

One area resident asked if commissioners could approve conditions to prevent future owners from building a larger, truck-oriented facility on the site. 

Planning commission attorney Paul Frickey said the county government could not prevent future requests for such a use but the Board of Commissioners would be required to approve any action to change the plan presented by JPC.

"It cannot be a truck stop without that process," Frickey said. 

The Board of Commissioners now is scheduled to consider it at its June 15 meeting.

Milam said after the meeting that JPC is waiting to see what action the Board of Commissioners takes on approving the revised plan before deciding if it will proceed with a lawsuit it recently filed in Newton County Superior Court.

The lawsuit was the only legal remedy JPC had to appeal the Board's February decision to deny the previous travel center plan, Milam said.

Planning commission
Attorney Richard Milam, far left, listens as county development services director Judy Johnson speaks as the Newton County Planning Commission considers Milam's plan for a convenience store and fast-food restaurants Tuesday at the Historic Courthouse. - photo by Tom Spigolon