COVINGTON, Ga. — Despite a little pushback from one council member, a special use permit to construct more than 200 townhomes as part of a large-scale, mixed-use development off Covington Bypass Road was approved Monday.
Covington City Council members voted 4-1 to approve the permit for Taylor Weaver, who is planning to build 227 townhomes as part of a previously reported 200-acre mixed-use development project called The Quarry at Neely Farms. In addition to the townhomes, developers plan for 330 houses located within two single-family detached neighborhoods, 39 upscale estate homes, several condos and apartments, a variety of retailers and restaurants and an amphitheater, all surrounding a quaint quarry.
As first reported in May, local attorney Phil Johnson, who represents Neely Farms Family Limited Partnership LLLP, said the development could generate a more than $350 million impact in Newton County. Site plans for the project have drawn comparisons to Avalon in Alpharetta.
Councilwoman Susie Keck cast the only dissenting vote for the townhomes proposal. Her reason was largely due to the lack of green space.
“I’m all in favor of townhouses,” Keck said. “I was glad to be part of agreeing and bringing them to Covington. I’m not happy with the ‘row’ look. To me, with six units to a building — I know that you can have up to 10 units per acre, per code — but it would be so much better to have more grass, which would require less density.”
A partner developer of Taylor Weaver briefly addressed Keck’s comments, saying the townhomes were designed specific to the city’s codes and requirements, which ultimately led to a lack of coveted green space.
Keck then asked if the city’s code could be amended to accommodate for more green space.
“I want it to look like a community,” Keck said. “I don’t want it to look like army barracks, and that’s how I feel it looks.
“I know that we put in new zoning for townhomes,” she added. “We didn’t really discuss what the zoning was. This was our first townhome community to come before us, and I see what we’re requiring and I don’t like it. If this is what we’re requiring, I don’t like it. Covington is a quaint, Southern town, and — I need grass there. I need breaks. I don’t need roads.”
Eventually, Keck put forward a motion to approve the special-use permit with the added condition that there only be eight townhomes per acre, rather than the planned 10 per acre, which would have totaled 181 townhomes — 46 less than the original proposal. However, her motion later died for a lack of a second.
Council members Don Floyd, Anthony Henderson, Kenneth Morgan and Hawnethia Williams each understood Keck’s reasoning, and some of them even agreed that more green space was preferable. But because every code and zoning requirement had been met, and proposed conditions were also being addressed, the four believed “moving the goal post” now wouldn’t be the right thing to do. Councilwoman Fleeta Baggett was not present for the meeting, as Mayor Steve Horton said she was recovering from a recent surgery.
The council then moved to approve the original proposal and OK the special use permit with the following conditions from city staff and the Planning Commission:
• Covington Bypass/Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. intersection approval by GDOT prior to obtaining a Land Disturbance Permit (LDP) & construction complete prior to issuing a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) for any building.
• Road entering Scenic Parkway must meet minimum remoteness.
• Onsite amenities are required to be installed at 60% completion of units.
During the time for a public hearing, Johnson provided an update on the intersection approval from GDOT. He said after the developers’ traffic engineer further reviewed initial plans for a roundabout, it was determined traffic flow wouldn’t be helped much due to sizable neighboring developments underway. Johnson said the engineer was currently drawing plans to make it a “signalized intersection” and include left-hand turn lanes.
“It’s not what we had originally wanted to do … but the traffic engineer and DOT thought that this [signalized intersection] was a better solution,” Johnson said.
On the issue of increased traffic and growth, Horton said he and other city staff members recently met with Newton County Schools Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey to seek input on how the district may be affected by the increasing number of developments happening within the city.
“The city engineer provided the school system a detailed list of what we believe that are developments that will occur within our city, some along this corridor,” Horton said. “In talking with the superintendent … though she didn’t really voice any concerns to begin with about capacity, as we continued to talk she did voice some concerns for development within what she called the east side, east-Newton school areas, and I think she specifically mentioned the bypass road.”
Horton said in that same conversation, Fuhrey shared that capacity at the elementary schools and middle schools were manageable, but high schools had the fastest growing numbers, and one had already reached its capacity.
“In spite of the concerns, I don’t think they were willing to say stop or restrict development from their standpoint because, as she said, you just didn’t know how people were coming or not coming with a development,” Horton said.