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Covington council denies permit for potential Hwy. 278 oil change business

COVINGTON, Ga. — An application for a special use permit to open an oil change business on Georgia Hwy. 278 was denied by the Covington City Council during its regular meeting Monday, Jan. 4.

The council also elected to table items that included discussion and a public hearing for to rezone property at 9155 Jackson Highway from NR2 (Neighborhood Residential District 2) to NR3 (Neighborhood Residential District 3) for “proposed future development;” discussion of requests for proposals for broker services for employee benefits; and discussion of the first reading of an ordinance amending the city’s “Electric Service Tariff.”

In a meeting that lasted nearly two hours, the council spent more than 30 minutes discussing a proposal for a special use permit to allow Toxaway Automotive to establish a “quick oil change facility” between Quik Trip and Chick-fil-a on Georgia Highway 278 in Covington.

City staff and the Planning Commission recommended approval of the business; however, members of the city council were split.

Councilwoman Susie Keck voiced her concern with the business’ potential number of entrances and exits. According to the applicant’s plan, business patrons would be required to enter and exit through the parking lot of Quik Trip (Quik Trip owns the property and would have leased the property to Toxaway), in which Keck and others were concerned about traffic flow.

“The traffic congestion right now , turning into QT is horrible,” Keck said. “And I can’t imagine adding another business into that entrance and exit — I actually avoid it because I think it’s an accident waiting to happen without another business added.

“I think the business is beautiful; I think the building is beautiful, but I think it needs to be somewhere else other than that intersection,” she said.

Owner of Covington Pro Lube Jennifer Rutberg spoke against the oil change business being allowed to locate on Georgia Highway 278. She said it had nothing to do with bringing a similar business to hers into town. Rutberg said in 2018 she was told she could not locate to Ga. Highway 278 due to future development plans the city had in place. No council members recalled such discussion, but Rutberg then alleged former mayor Ronnie Johnston and another individual were the ones to tell Rutberg locating to 278 was not an option for her — the council was never involved. 

Rutberg also voiced her concern around the potential traffic congestion.

When the item came to a vote for approval, the council remained split 3-3 (Councilwoman Fleeta Baggett, Councilman Don Floyd and Keck opposed). Mayor Steve Horton broke the tie and voted the merit application down 4-3.

The council went on to pass all but three items on the agenda, as the council elected to table a rezoning public hearing concerning “future development” and discussions on employee benefits and an amendment to the city’s electric service tariff.

The public hearing and discussion to rezone the 21.5-acre property at 9155 Jackson Highway was unanimously tabled to Feb. 1 after City Manager Scott Andrews requested the council to wait on results from a traffic study planned for the area.

According to city records, Keith Bauer of KCG Development requested the city to rezone the property owned by “Estate of William Malcolm/Wayne Malcolm.” While city staff currently recommends approval, members of the Planning Commission voted 7-1 in favor denial.

The property owner and applicant intend to rezone the property to develop “quality entry level workforce singe-family and townhome housing;” however, specific plans for the property’s future development were not disclosed. The property in question has remained vacant for more than 20 years, according to the applicant, while surrounding property has been developed.

The topic of employee benefits for city workers was also put on hold after the council elected to table discussion of soliciting bids for broker services for health and ancillary benefit programs.

Prior to the meeting Monday night, city staff had planned to review the process during a work session, but those plans were changed due to an increase in local COVID-19 cases and the recent holidays.

After brief discussion, Councilman Kenneth Morgan made a motion to table the discussion and schedule a work session as previously planned. Members of the council voted 4-2 in favor of tabling the item. Baggett and Floyd opposed, each saying they “did their homework” and were ready to make a decision. 

A third item concerning the topic of potentially amending the city’s electric service tariff was also tabled after Assistant City Manager Freddy Morgan made the request. He said there were questions asked by city staff and council members that he was not able to get answered in time for the meeting. The council then honored his request and unanimously approved to push the issue to a later date.

The council held a special meeting Thursday, Jan. 7, at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the broker services for employee benefits and the first reading of an ordinance to amend the electric service tariff.

After discussing possible alternatives, Horton said Thursday that city staff recommended the current RFP process for broker services be declared void and the city retain the broker services of its current broker until the fall when the issue can be revisited. Horton said the staff’s recommendation was based on its concern of “timing issues with the upcoming insurance renewal review” and the “possibility for bidding out a new insurance.” The council unanimously approved the staff’s recommendation.

The council also approved the first reading of an ordinance to amend the city’s electric service tariff. Assistant City Manager Freddy Morgan confirmed the amendment would not affect residential rates.

“We found a couple items that needed to be updated,” he said. “The first one was in our time-of-use rates that needed to be updated on demand charges. The additional ones were some wordage that we needed to clean up, so we chose to do all of this at one time.”

The council unanimously approved the first reading. After 30 days, a second reading must be approved before amendments take effect.