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County moves forward with 2050 plan
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The 2050 Plan is moving forward, as both the Newton County Board of Commissioners and Covington City Council unanimously approved last week spending $50,000 each to develop and implement zoning ordinances that will put teeth into the future land use plan.

At its heart, the 2050 Plan says that Newton County has enough water to comfortably accommodate a total of 400,000 people and the plan seeks to house those people cost effectively and protect agricultural land and natural habitats.

The general idea is to control growth and direct toward the already dense western side of the county, promoting town centers that will include the majority of the county's housing, businesses and other amenities. That will allow the county to save lots of money on future infrastructure (schools, roads and water lines) once the county is fully built out by the year 2050.

The city, county and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority will each contribute $50,000 towards developing ordinances and multi-jurisdictional agreements for the plan. The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, which was the conduit through which community leaders created the plan, will continue to work through the execution of the plan, which will take about 18 to 24 months, officials said.

According to a project description from the center, the next steps in the 2050 Plan include developing baseline ordinances for the various development zones called for in the plan, including the compact western communities, rural zones, where the rest of the people will live and conservation zones, which will seek to protect land from development.

Other steps will be to develop ordinances that apply to two or more of those development zones, for things such as development credits (transfer of development rights) and creating inter-governmental agreements in reference to sewer service territory and annexation, so that governments don't fight over land and future revenue.

Center officials expect the project to cost about $150,000 to $250,000 for fiscal years 2013 to 2014. The cities of Oxford, Porterdale, Newborn and Mansfield are also expected to contribute money for the project, according to the center.

The water authority previously agreed to contribute to the project, because officials believe it will save the authority money down the road, even though the county actually stands to get the most benefit out of the work.

There are currently 60 zoning descriptions in the ordinances of Newton's eight governments. The center said that creating baseline ordinances will simplify zoning, increasing efficiency and decrease cost. The center also said that baseline ordinances and inter-governmental agreements will guarantee that Newton's governmental agencies will manage growth and development with clarity, continuity and consistency across the community.

Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston told the council that he thought the 2050 Plan was a critical piece for the future of Covington and Newton County and it needed to be put into play.

"I believe with all my heart that we're getting ready to have our own growth boom in Newton County and in the city of Covington," Johnston said. "I believe this is one of the most important things we can do because if we don't put this in play, then we don't have a way to control some of the building."