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County to plan future of Salem Road
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County officials view the Salem Road corridor as a commercial driver and future home to its own pseudo-city, and they've embarked on an in-depth planning process to clarify that vision.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to pay The Collaborative Firm, an Atlanta-based planning group, $40,450 to help develop a zoning overlay for the Salem Road corridor, from the Rockdale County border to Ga. Highway 81.

The overlay will plant out future development by identifying how future development should take place. For example, certain areas will remain purely residential, while other areas will be commercial or mixed-use commercial and residential. In addition, the portion of Salem Road between Kirkland and Brown Bridge will be a town center, an area that is similar to a city in terms of its density and commercial mix, but is not officially incorporated.

As part of its contract, The Collaborative Firm will facilitate and hold several meetings with area residents, business owners and other stakeholders to gather their opinions and visions for the future of the corridor. The firm will also collect data about the area, hold meetings with county officials, attend public hearings and create a final document.

The county completed a similar plan for the Almon/Crowell Road corridor in March 2010.

Commissioner Mort Ewing said Tuesday that this is the third time the county has considered an overlay district for Salem Road, including an original attempt in the late 90s.

"I think that had we been successful on the other two occasions, we would not have some of the problems that we are dealing with out there at this point," Ewing said. "I'm pleased that we appear to be very near the point of moving forward with this overlay."

Scott Sirotkin, director of the department of development services, said Tuesday the plan is to start work on the overlay next month and to work for eight months.

The Salem Road town center is one of four such centers planned in the county, not including the Covington. The others will be developed along Almon Road, Oak Hill Road and at the Hub Junction, the intersection of Ga. Highway 11 and U.S. Highway 278. The idea behind the town centers is to direct future growth and development into specific, dense areas, so that the majority of the county can be reserved for agriculture and conservation.

In other board news, the health inspection office in the Newton County Administration Building, 1113 Usher St., will reduce its hours by 50 percent and will only be open 2.5 days a week, because of a lack of demand, said Chairman Kathy Morgan Tuesday. If business picks up, the office could be opened full time.

The board also approved seeking bids to repair High Point Forest Drive, which has been damaged because of a failing retention pond that caused a sinkhole.

The county hoped to repair the damage last year, but all bids came in too high at around $200,000, while the budget is only $100,000. A new design has been created, and the board voted to bid out the project once again with the hope bids are within the approved budget.