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IDA looks to rezone 160 acres heavy industrial
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The Covington Planning Commission recommended approval of a request by the Industrial Development Authority to annex 160 acres of county residentially-zoned land along Ga. Highway 142 and Airport Road and rezone it to city heavy industrial.

The industrial development authority requested the annexation and rezoning because it said that, in today's economic development world, land must be zoned industrial before the state will market it to prospective industries. Authority member Frank Turner Jr. said the city has a dearth of available industrial land, and the parcels in question would adjoin to the existing large Covington-Newton County Industrial Park.

Residents from the areas surrounding the land packed city hall for Tuesday night's planning meeting, with a handful speaking before the commission to declare opposition to the rezoning, expressing concerns about the affect on the environment, property values and traffic.

Mike Traylor, who lives adjacent to the property on City Pond Road, presented a petition of around 90 signatures from area residents opposed to the rezoning. He said he was concerned that there would not be enough of a buffer between the industrial property and his land. The buffer was set at 50 feet by the commission.

Other residents expressed concerns about traffic. According to city officials, a traffic study cannot be ordered at this time, because no one knows what kind of company will locate on the property. Traffic patterns for a distribution company would vary greatly from those for a manufacturing or office company.

The commission voted 4-1 to approve the annexation and rezoning, with planning member Greg Shy opposed. Shy said Wednesday he was opposed to the rezoning because of his concerns about traffic. He said he supported industrial growth but residents along Ga. 142 already have enough trouble entering the road.

Member Eula Hardeman had actually signed the petition in opposition to the rezoning. Members Michael Geoffrey and Paul Oeland, who are both lawyers, huddled with Hardeman and Chairman Lee Aldridge during the middle of the meeting to determine how to proceed.

Oeland said that he didn't know whether Hardeman had to recuse herself from the vote, but gave Turner a chance to offer objections. Turner said he believed that members should have not made a decision before the meeting, but offered no formal objection. Aldridge asked Hardeman to recuse herself because of a conflict of interest, at which point Hardeman left the room and did not return until after the meeting.

Hunter Hall, chamber of commerce president, spoke in favor of the rezoning and said that the county lack of industrially-zoned land has previously cost it the opportunity to compete for prospective industries.

He said he understood residents concerns, but this property would allow the county to grow jobs.

Planning member John Travis, who voted in favor of the request, said the city's future land use map called for this property to be zoned industrial and said that the city can add restrictions when a specific company is considering locating on the property.

However, only business in the assembly, commercial office, distribution and research fields will be allowed, Turner said, preventing the location of any companies that would lead to noise or environmental pollution.

After the meeting, Traylor said he wasn't pleased with the outcome, because his tranquility would be disturbed but he understood the need to grow jobs.

The city council will have the final say on the annexation and rezoning and is expected to consider the matter at its Dec. 6 council meeting.