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Meeting on lifting moratorium cancelled
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A special called meeting at which two Newton County commissioners said they were going to vote to lift the moratorium on permits for places of worship has been cancelled.

The meeting, scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Newton County Historic Courthouse, was called off just more than 24 hours ahead of time due to safety concerns, according to Newton County chair Keith Ellis.

Newton County has heard from its share of community groups since enacting a moratorium following plans for a proposed mosque on Highway 162 and County Line Road being made public. This weekend, a militia group posted on social media that it would be in Covington protesting the proposed mosque Tuesday. The same group also posted a video on Facebook from the proposed mosque site Sunday, Sept. 11.

“This decision was not taken without careful deliberation and consideration of concerns regarding crowd control and law enforcement regarding social media postings evidencing hostilities in the community,“ Ellis said.

Newton County Manager Lloyd Kerr said the contents of the video, filmed near Hwy. 162, was the cause for alarm and the reason Tuesday’s meeting was cancelled as a precaution.

"In this case, a self-made video circulated on social media of a militia group a neighboring county, may have been trespassing on private property, and exhibiting harassing or violent behavior,” Kerr said in a statement released Tuesday.

“Unfortunately in today’s society, uncivil threats or intentions must be taken seriously.”

The moratorium was originally voted on by the board of commissioners to last five weeks. Newton County staff was to bring zoning recommendations on places of worship in front of the board during its Sept. 20 public meeting.

However, the board called for a special called meeting more than a week ago. Unless another special called meeting is scheduled, with the required 24 hour public notice, the board’s next opportunity to act on the moratorium will be Sept. 20.

District 1 Commissioner John Douglas’s made the motion on Aug. 16 that ordinances be looked at during a 5-week moratorium the BOC unanimously imposed. That moratorium came on the heels of the 135-acre project of a mosque, cemetery and possible school being announced.

Newton County Development Services issued an Administrative Use Permit to Al Maad Al Islami, Inc. in June 2015. Prior to the moratorium, Al Maad Al Islami had not submitted plans to Newton County Development Services for review. Once an applicant submits plans, they are reviewed by various county departments and divisions including Engineering, Transportation, Planning and Zoning and Fire Services, as well as applicable state agencies. Once plans are approved, the county issues permits and construction may begin.

Kerr was to present a recommendation on adding a new classification to the county’s zoning ordinances. According to a public notice placed in The Covington News that classification was for large developments of community impact and was to “ensure large-scale developments over a certain size are compatible with the surrounding community and character area, and that such developments promote the public interest and the efficient utilization of land.”

According to Newton County Zoning Administrator Judy Johnson, the amendments to the zoning will look at large scale developments, beyond just places of worship.

“We’re looking into the impact of different types of places of assembly,” Johnson told The News previously.