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Developer seeks damages after Newton board denies $15M travel center
Formal complaint claims county commission's action was discriminatory
Truck stop site
A site planned for a convenience store that was formerly planned for construction of a travel center at I-20 and Georgia Hwy. 11 is viewed from a nearby business. - photo by Image courtesy of Google

COVINGTON, Ga. — A complaint states Newton County should cover the monetary losses caused by the board of commissioners denying a rezoning and not allowing construction of an east Newton travel center.

Landowner Jack P. Davis of Athens and applicant JPC Design & Construction LLC of Jackson filed a legal action in Newton County Superior Court asking a judge to reverse the Newton County Board of Commissioners’ Feb. 16 denial of the rezoning and seek damages for loss of income that resulted from the action.

The company sought to rezone the undeveloped 46-acre site at I-20 and Ga. Highway 11 from a mix of Agricultural Residential (AR) and Highway Commercial (CH) to CH on the entire tract.

JPC, which is an affiliate of Jones Petroleum Co., valued the travel center at $15 million in documents filed with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in 2020.

It is asking for damages it says it will prove at trial is “for the amount by which the value of the subject property has been diminished and reduced” by requiring that the land remain under Agricultural Residential (AR) zoning.

In the March 18 petition and complaint, JPC said it was damaged economically because AR zoning does not give it "any reasonable, viable economic use of the property." 

AR zoning limits development to single-family housing on large tracts of land.

The 46-acre site is at the southeast corner of I-20’s Exit 98 near Georgia State University-Perimeter College’s Newton campus, north of Hub Junction and the Brick Store historic site.

A BP station and convenience store already operates across from the proposed travel center site.

The legal action filed March 18 stated the commissioners’ denial was “contrary to the decades-long pattern, practice and policy” of the county government and board of commissioners “to allow commercial uses within the general area of the subject property and the general development trend of the surrounding area away from single-family uses.”

They allege the commissioners’ action violated the state and U.S. Constitutions because it “discriminated against (JPC) in favor of owners of similarly situated properties located nearby” which the county had allowed to develop commercial uses at the I-20 exit.

The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause guarantees the same protection under the law enjoyed by similar persons or groups.

Plans submitted in early October call for a travel center valued at $15 million, including a 24,900-square-foot commercial travel center with convenience store, 16 pumps with 32 fueling positions for passenger vehicles, and eight diesel fueling lanes for tractor-trailers.

Restaurants with drive-through windows, such as Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts, also are planned, said JPC owner William “Bill” Jones.

He said the project would create about 150 jobs and generate about $3 million in annual tax revenue for Newton County. 

However, the JPC site is within an overlay zone that imposes restrictions on new developments in addition to those already required in existing zoning laws.

County Development Services Director Judy Johnson said the planning staff believed a travel center would be inconsistent with the overlay zone's intent to create a “small town” atmosphere.

Davis and JPC also allege they were given only five minutes on Feb. 16 to present all their evidence supporting the plan.

They said there was no evidence presented to commissioners at the same meeting “that supported denial of the rezoning application or the conditional use application.”

The legal action also states commissioners "exceeded the scope of the authority granted to them, as the governing authority of (Newton) County” to zone property.

The denial was not "substantially related to the public health, safety, morality and welfare” so the action "was contrary to their constitutional authority to impose restrictions on real property, it states.

It stated the commissioners should have imposed “reasonable conditions” as already listed in part of the county zoning ordinance if they had concerns about the project being a “truck stop.”