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Commissioners vote to deny new development
boc 12/5
Commissioners vote to deny FLUM amendment for new development in a 3-2 vote

NEWTON COUNTY – While many developments have broken ground in Newton County, one potential development will not be joining them.

On Monday, the Board of Commissioners denied an amendment to the future land use map in a 3-2 vote that would have been the first step in allowing a mixed-use development between Hwy. 278 and Hwy. 142.

The group, Sockwell Corners. LLC, sought to amend the future land use map in these areas to allow a community oriented residential development (C.O.R.D.) spanning 159 acres. This C.O.R.D. was set to bring residential, commercial and retail growth to the area.

The project includes a number of residential areas including condominiums, townhouses and single-family detached residences. Additionally, the development would include a town square with a number of businesses surrounded by green spaces and recreational areas.

“The growth is coming,” said Randy Vinson, a representative speaking on behalf of Sockwell Corners LLC. “Your comprehensive plan has projected a great deal of growth over the next couple of decades. So how do we accommodate that growth without destroying the rural character and the small town character of Covington while we grow?”

Vinson believes that answer lies in this proposed mixed-use development and not in the two-acre lot minimum that is currently in place in the Alcovy river watershed.

“You can’t grow across the farmland on two-acre lots and maintain that rural feel,” said Vinson. “It’s going to feel like a subdivision throughout the entire county and everybody is going to be dependent on an automobile to get to everything that they need to do. If we can develop a compact, pedestrian-friendly mixed use village at this location as the comprehensive plan recommends, we feel we can accommodate the growth.”

But the main hold up for commissioners was the fact that this would break the two-acre minimum that was set in place. Additionally, no sewer access, nor a traffic study were available for the project at the time of the application.

This was the main point of concern for District 2 representative Demond Mason.

“I’m a firm believer that growth follows sewer,” Mason said. “So for me, I think that my biggest issue with this particular site is to ensure that we have sewer access – and from what I’m hearing at this particular time, that is not possible.”

District 1 representative Stan Edwards is also of the idea that sewer access would not be possible in this area for some time.

“I’m not exactly sure who’s doing the talking with the city of Covington, but I had a confidential conversation two weeks ago and that sewer is not within five years of being ready for that area,” Edwards said.

While the commissioners had concerns about the potential development, several citizens had concerns of their own during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

“If we invite this many people in without the appropriate infrastructure and the public services and the school system that is able to accommodate them – we will be in worse shape than we are in today,” Laura Berterem said.  “We have not been able to address our previous growth, and I am concerned that if we continue to build without first planning on how to increase access to transportation, health services and financial assistance, the county will lose its battle to establish a healthy, inclusive community.”

“The community does not want to see the slow erosion of the thing that makes this area special,” Kim Shue said. “People are very concerned over the quality of life and the type of town that overdevelopment will turn this special place into.”

A motion was made by District 5 representative, Ronnie Cowan to deny the amendment of the FLUM and seconded by Edwards.

District 3 representative Alana Sanders then asked the applicant to return to the podium to get clarification about the sewer issue.

“The sewer business is a smoke screen to deny our project after you [the commissioners]  just approved the Morgan Farms [project] and the Morgan Farms are exactly situated in the same situation we are,” said Tommy Craig, an attorney representing Sockwell Corners. “If you postpone your vote for 30 days we will come back in here with a letter that is being prepared right now by the city to clear up the question of sewer availability.”

When asked if Morgan Farms and this development were in the same situation as far as sewer availability, Craig said the two were “apples to apples” in comparison.

District 4 representative, J.C. Henderson, then made a substitute motion to table the FLUM amendment vote for 30 days, which was seconded by Sanders. This was later changed to 60 days after director of development services, Shena Applewhaite, stated that it must be tabled for 60 days due to the need to re-advertise.

The substitute motion to table the FLUM amendment failed in a 3-2 vote.

Following the failure of the substitute motion, the original motion to deny the amendment to the FLUM passed 3-2 with Sanders and Henderson opposing.