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Council okays Square gazebo if sponsor is found
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It’s been a controversial topic for two years, but the Covington City Council voted to approve the building of a gazebo on the Historic Downtown Square if a sponsor steps forward to cover the costs.

The vote was 3 to 2, with Council Members Chris Smith, Post 1 East, and Kenneth Morgan, Post 1, West voting against.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston said he added discussion of the gazebo to the agenda because the council needed to make a decision to move forward with the project should a sponsor agree to pay for it. He reminded the council that both a committee and the county had reviewed and approved the project two years ago.

At that time, some changes to the Square park, including a concrete concert stage was approved by the council. However, the gazebo was left out of that motion from the council.

In early August, Newton Federal Bank expressed interest in sponsoring the construction of the gazebo on the Square. Smith was vehemently opposed to the gazebo and spoke with the bank’s board members. Consequently, the bank withdrew its offer. [See “Topic of gazebo comes back to the council.”]

Council Member Joshua McKelvey, Post 3, East, said at a recent city-wide town hall meeting, held Monday, Sept. 12, the subject was discussed. “I continued to talk to people. The majority have been in a favor. There is a segment, mostly generational, who don’t want to see the Square change. Any way you go, there are going to be people who will be upset.”

Smith said he also spoke to people after the town hall meeting, as well, and said they were older residents. But, he said, “This council has already said ‘no’ once before. I still very strongly that it’s a big mistake to put the gazebo on the Square.”

Council Member Hawnethia Williams, Post 2, West, said she was up in the air. “I think aesthetically, it would look nice. It would add a little bit of flavor to the park. From what I’ve gathered, the film community has not voiced any negative concerns about it.”

She said she thought the gazebo would be a positive addition to the community, especially for residents in their 20s and 30s, who want to walk around.

She added that if the gazebo proved to be a problem on the Square, it could always be moved.

Jenny McDonald, Director of Tourism for the Covington/Newton Chamber of Commerce, was asked if the gazebo would interfere with or deter the film community from shooting on the Square.

McDonald, who works with location scouts, said, “They’re not looking at just one part of something. Every movie I’ve worked with in the last three or four years has mainly wanted to shoot the courthouse or another building.”

She said she didn’t think the structure would affect filmmakers. “They might use it. When we had the Santa Claus house on the Square, they thanked us because they didn’t have to build something.”

Randy Vinson, Covington's Planning Director, designed the park for the Square, which at one point included plans for a fountain and the gazebo. He said the gazebo would be situated on the octagon pad of concrete on the corner of Church and Washington. Currently, the area is where musical groups perform during the summer and for other events. “We’re putting up a tent right now,” he said. “This would be better than that awful tent.”

During the council member comment period following the vote, Smith said, “I’m disappointed about this decision, but I will move forward and support the council.”

Vinyl siding problem

An ordinance that would ban the use of vinyl siding for new and remodeled housing was tabled following a long discussion.

Scott Gaither, of Covington's Planning and Zoning department, said the proposed ordinance addresses concerns about the safety of vinyl, which has a lower fire ignition point than wood and often melts during a fire, and its appearance. It was recommended by the Planning and Zoning commission. Odors released by vinyl during a fire are also toxic.

The ordinance would require new or remodeled building projects to have exterior walls consisting of brick, hearty wood or wood. However, he said, vinyl siding is cheaper and does not require the preparing and priming wood requires before installation. The cost difference ranged from $5,000 to $7,000 for a 1,200-square-foot house to $5,000 to $10,000 for a 3,000-square-foot home.

For a number of council members, that cost difference made the proposed ordinance problematic.

“A lot of houses in Covington Mill have recently been remodeled,” Smith said. “Is it better to have vinyl available for those who can’t afford to use hearty wood?”

Williams asked why the use of vinyl had suddenly become an issue. Gaither responded by saying there was an upswing in construction, and there were roughly 300 single residential lots that could be built on in the future.

Williams said she would like to hear from the fire marshal and learn more about the issue. The council agreed to table the ordinance.

Other actions

  • The council approved a request from Jake McCarthy of Boy Scout Troop 211 to build covers over the five benches on the Eastside Trail for his Eagle Scout project;

  • Heard a request from Laura Bertram from Newton County Community Partnership, asking the council to consider entering into a partnership with them to address literacy needs in the city. Bertram also invited the council to a Celebration of Literacy on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at Georgia Piedmont Technical College from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.;

  • Approved the closing of Conyers Street between Monticello and Church streets for Covington First United Methodist Church’s Change the World Day on Saturday, Oct. 8;

  • Approved a request to close the downtown Historic Square on Sunday, Oct. 9, for the Covington Bike Fest;

  • Approved an invoice to The Underwriters Group, Inc., for $54,010 for Excess Workers Compensation;

  • Accepted a bid for $18,000 to add insulation to the main building at Legion Field and approved a request from City Manager Leigh Anne Knight to request bids on HVAC system for the building;

  • Approved a motion to allow city staff to approve extended rental of Legion Field up to eight days, with the $1,000 rental rate doubled to $2,000 for the fourth through eight days;

  • Approved a memorandum of agreement with the University of Georgia for $37,400 for a program where students from the Cal Vinson School of Government works with the city to create a management development program;

  • Approved an agreement with AT&T for Newton County 911 services, requiring a one-time fee of $13,201, and $2,894 a month, part of which will be reimbursed by the county; and

  • Approved road closings of streets around the cemetery and use of the cemetery for the filming of the movie, “The Case for Christ,” between Sept. 28 and Oct. 10.