COVINGTON, Ga. – The Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) completed the last step needed to settle a complaint filed against the county by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last week when all five members and Chairman Marcello Banes signed an affidavit certifying they had reviewed the federal Fair Housing Act.
According to a press release from county Public Information Officer Bryan Fazio, “the signatures were required as part of a Voluntary Compliance Agreement between the county and HUD following a settlement agreement concerning needed revision to the Newton County zoning ordinances, stemming from a vote on a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) in April 2010.”
According to the release, Fantastic Futures, Inc. requested a CUP to build a group home on Creekview Boulevard, which is in BOC District 3. Prior to coming before the BOC to request the permit, Fantastic Futures had the request denied by the county’s Planning Commission.
According to the release, following the Planning Commission’s recommendation of denial, along with several residents speaking out to voice concerns, commissioners voted in a 3-2 vote to deny the permit. Since the property was located in District 3, Commissioner Nancy Schulz made the motion to deny the request. According to the release, the motion to deny was based on the following criteria in the 2006 Newton County Zoning Ordinance:
1. Compatibility with adjacent properties and other properties in the same zoning district.
2. The proposed use will create unreasonable adverse impacts upon the adjoining land use by reason of the manner of the operation of the proposed use.
According to Fazio, the vote to deny the request was approved by Schulz and Commissioners Mort Ewing and Tim Fleming. Commissioners J.C. Henderson and Earnest Simmons voted against the denial.
Following the vote, Fantastic Futures, Inc. filed a complaint with HUD alleging “injury by discriminatory acts”. Fazio said the complaint was concerning the county’s zoning ordinances on group homes and not the decision made by the three commissioners, who followed the guidance of the ordinance.
According to the release, an agreement was reached with the BOC agreeing to pay $18,000 and agreeing to update the ordinance which was at the root of the complaint. According to the release, the BOC unanimously approved updating the ordinance from allowing three to six people in a group home and expanded the zoning district where a group home can be placed to include manufactured home parks, subdivisions and multi-family apartment complexes.
The sitting BOC was also required to sign the Voluntary Compliance Agreement from HUD to show that the entire board was in compliance.
According to the release, the agreement was approved in April 2016. However, Henderson was not in attendance at the meeting.
Fazio said with the Voluntary Compliance Agreement signed by Banes and Commissioners Stan Edwards, Lanier Sims, Schulz, and Ronnie Cowan Aug. 3 and Henderson Aug 4, the BOC maintains compliance and is not at risk of losing federally funded HUD grants which amount to approximately $30 million.