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Peachtree Academy looks into Covington
Special use permit granted
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Peachtree Academy of Conyers, a well-respected Christian private school, is seeking to open up a large campus in Covington that would eventually extend through high school.

The school received a Special Use Permit from the Covington City Council on Monday night that will allow them to pursue the necessary transportation engineering studies before Peachtree Academy can receive its development permit from the city.

The SUP was narrowly approved by the council with Covington Mayor Kim Carter casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of the permit.

JaNice VanNess, owner of Peachtree Academy and a Rockdale County Commissioner, said the school had been scouting new campus locations in Newton County for four years before eventually settling on the 30-acre McGuirts Bridge Road location.

VanNess said the school would create an estimated 80 to 112 jobs. She said the Covington campus of Peachtree Academy is looking to open this fall, teaching classes out of a manufactured building on the property until a development permit is obtained to build permanent structures.

City Planning and Zoning Director Shelley Stiebling said whether the school will be able to install a manufactured building on the property will "need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis."

Plans are for the school to be built out in a period of three phases over five years. Eventually all grades, pre-kindergarten through the twelfth grade, would be taught at the Covington Campus. The SUP permit is for up to 500 students, though VanNess said she hoped to eventually have 625 students at the campus.

According to the school’s Web site, Peachtree Academy "provides accelerated students a college-preparatory education in a Christ-centered environment." The school boasts of a low student-to-teacher ratio. The five acre Peachtree Academy campus in Conyers teaches pre-kindergarten through the seventh grade. The school does offer academic scholarships.

The first phase would begin with grades kindergarten through five and include the construction of a 22,000 square foot building with 40 parking spaces. Phase II of the project consists of building a second 11,000 square foot building with 20 parking spaces for grades six through eight. The last phase of the project will consist of a 20,000 square foot building with 140 parking spaces for grades nine through twelve.

There are also plans for tennis courts and baseball facilities.

In 2006 the property, which is adjacent to Neely Farms, was annexed and rezoned to neighborhood residential with the intent of building a 120 home subdivision.

Peachtree Academy said in their application that they intend to keep the present site vegetation as natural as possible and will not be leveling the property but rather working around many existing trees, a pond and a stream and a historic log cabin. The school also plans on using LEED standards in the design and development of the site.

Newton County Engineer Kevin Walter addressed the application’s transportation issues on behalf of the county, saying the school could easily add up to 1,000 daily car trips to an already heavily used two lane section of U.S. Highway 278 that McGuirts Bridge Road connects to.

"A traffic signal would be the only way that number of students would work," Walter said.

A number of residents in the area also attended the meeting to share their concerns with the school’s impact on road traffic.

Carol Veliotis, one of the owners of the property, spoke in favor of the school’s application. She noted that the city council had previously approved the property for a large subdivision, a development she said that would have brought in many more car trips to the area than the school would.

"We feel that the benefits of this project will outweigh the costs to the neighborhood," she said. "It’s going to bring in people and revenue for this city and county. It’s going to bring in jobs."

Veliotis said the Covington campus of Peachtree Academy would be named after her father, the late Dr. Calloway, a well known and popular family doctor in Newton County for many years.

The SUP eventually passed the city council after a first attempt to defeat it failed to gain a majority vote by the council. A motion by Councilmember Mike Whatley to deny the permit application on the grounds of traffic concerns was seconded by Councilmember John Howard. Voting with them in favor of denial was Councilmember Ocie Franklin.

Opposing them were Council members Keith Dalton, Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams. Carter cast the tie-breaking vote, defeating the proposal.

"I’m certainly empathetic," said Carter of the traffic concerns. "But at the same time I don’t see how we can deny someone the opportunity to explore [developing the school]."

Carter noted that before construction could begin on the new school, the requirements of the Newton County Engineer, based on a traffic study and traffic signal analysis, would have to be met.

A second proposal to approve the SUP with Planning Department conditions was made by Dalton and seconded by Goodman. The proposal passed 4-3 with Carter again casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of.

Planning Department conditions include no outdoor storage or modular buildings, any outdoor loudspeakers must be directed away from adjacent residential properties and outdoor lighting must be designed to prevent light spillover onto adjacent residential properties.

Outdoor activity will be limited between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., seven days a week.

In other city council news:

The city council approved an $8,599 bid from Ramsey Furniture to redecorate the elected officials’ office in the Covington City Hall. An opposing bid was submitted from the city’s hired interior decorator, Dario & Associates in the amount of $14,709

• The vote to approve Ramsey’s bid was 4-2 with Council members Whatley and Williams opposing.

• The council also approved a resolution asking Susan Dario to assist Sam Ramsey in choosing fabrics and colors for the furniture. However on Tuesday City Manager Steve Horton said he had spoken with Dario and that she "very cordially said that she would prefer to allow Mr. Ramsey to work directly with the mayor and council to make sure that he satisfied those needs."

• Said Ramsey of Dario, "Frankly I’m glad she did. She did the very ethical thing."