A controversial piece of vacant property, 167 acres located northeast of SKC off Hazelbrand Road, was annexed by the city of Covington Monday night and rezoned from county agricultural residential to city heavy industrial. The council voted 3-2 in favor of the annexation and rezoning, with councilwomen Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams opposed, and Councilman Mike Whatley absent.
The property, owned by Gil Gainer, has been a source of controversy because of its unique position; it’s surrounded by manufacturer SKC, the Alcovy River, the Georgia Wildlife Federation and residences.Gainer, and developer Jerry Silvio, argue the property’s location next to SKC and the CSX railroad make it a natural choice for heavy industrial zoning. They also argue there’s a lack of available industrial land in the county.
Area homeowners and GWF officials, on the other hand, are concerned about the rezoning, because they don’t know what industry or industries may locate there in the future; this is a speculative rezoning. They say air and water pollution, noise and increased tractor trailer traffic are legitimate concerns.
As if often the case, the council followed the vote of the planning commission, which also approved the annexation and rezoning request 3-2 last month.
At Monday’s meeting, Gainer said industries will not consider property unless it is already zoned industrial. This presents a conundrum for city planners and officials, because they want to control what industries can move in. Everyone, residents, GWF and city officials, agree that the SKCs and General Mills of the world are great industrial neighbors: clean, low traffic and quiet.
But as nearby resident Johnny Stone said, a paper plant would be a different story, as would any number of other uses. The city’s ordinances and the restrictions placed on the rezoning prevent the property from housing freight transportation centers, warehouse storage and any sort of noxious uses, like chemical plants and oil refineries.
"However, despite those assurances, GWF officials and residents remain vehemently opposed. Stone collected 30 signatures from residents who live along Hazelbrand Road, who are opposed to the rezoning. Even though additional buffer was added between his property and the river and between his property and surrounding agricultural residential land, residents were still not satisfied. Some of the buffer was purchased by the county, and some of it was created because land was deeded to the GWF, after the parties discovered the property line had to be adjusted."
For his part, Gainer said he thought Newton County could have landed the new General Mills distribution plant, which located in Social Circle, if his land had been zoned heavy industrial.
A man asked to speak on the subject but was denied by the mayor, because the public had already spoken on the matter for more than 10 minutes. About 20 people left the room after the vote. For a more complete history of this story read the March 12 story "Planning commission approves Gainer property rezoning again" at covnews.com.
Below are some other highlights from Monday city council meeting:
• The portion of Lee Street located between Conyers and Reynolds streets will be abandoned by the city of Covington by June, because of the construction of a $9 million senior affordable housing complex. Signs will be placed to notify residents of the change. Car traffic is not prevalent, but there is some pedestrian traffic, Councilwoman Williams said.
Harristown Park LLP, the company formed to handle this senior complex, owns the lots on both sides of Lee Street and will purchase the right of way from the city; the right of way has not yet been appraised to determine its monetary value. Groundbreaking is expected to take place in June said attorney Jim Alexander, who is working with Affordable Equity Partners, the group building the complex.
• The city will abandon some of its unused sewer easements located at the corner of Elm Street and U.S. Highway 278, the location of the proposed Walgreens. The easements will be granted to Petroleum Realty II and Covington Ford for the cost of $1.
"The abandoned easements are no longer in use, and Walgreens desired that the city release its record interest in same by executing a quitclaim deed so as to clear the title to the Walgreens site," City Attorney Ed Crudup said in an e-mail.
• A business owner recently tried to acquire a liquor license for his business but was denied because he received a DUI 18 years ago. Employees cannot serve liquor if they had a DUI within five years, but there is no stature of limitations for owners. The city council agreed 18 years was too much and instructed city Planning Director Randy Vinson to look at the policies of other cities.
• Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful Executive Director Connie Waller wrote a letter to the council expressing concern about litter at the exit 90, Interstate 20 interchange. The council agreed it would like to clean up the interchange, but decided that cleaning up around the interstate is too dangerous and that is the responsibility of the DOT, and the city cannot afford to take on additional maintenance costs in this economy. They thanked Waller for bringing the matter to their attention, though.