Around 30 people, some retirees of the city, turned out for a town hall meeting hosted by the Covington City Council at Covington First United Methodist Church on Monday night.
The informal event was the first joint town hall meeting hosted by the city, bringing together both east and west wards of the city. Last year two town hall meetings were held — one for the east ward and one for the west.
Topics discussed Monday night included the traffic lights on the Square, city code enforcement, parks, laws governing golf carts and the possibility of a gazebo on the Square.
Council Member Mike Whatley, Post 2, East, addressed comments about the removal of traffic lights on the historic downtown Square, saying the lights were turned off “to see how we could route traffic easier and to better serve the community. Thus far, there have been more positive than negative remarks.”
In May, the city turned off traffic signals at the corners of Floyd and Pace streets and Monticello and Washington and Monticello streets, replacing them with stop signs. Whatley said the intersections seemed to function like a roundabout.
“Everybody here knows it’s getting more congested [downtown] and it seems to help traffic flow better,” he said. “It lets people know coming into town that it’s a pedestrian friendly town. It takes time to get used to, and it’s not going to be done overnight.”
While some members of the audience remarked that they had observed drivers barely stopping at the intersections, others said the removal of the lights seemed to improve traffic flow.
When asked, Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said there had not been any accidents at the intersections.
“The Square is an evolving situation. We’re trying to figure out additional ways to handle the traffic on the Square,” Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. “This isn’t us taking darts and throwing them at a board. There have been studies done.”
Johnston said one of the problems with the two traffic lights on the Square had been that drivers tended to look up at the lights, not at the intersection or pedestrians.
“I encourage your input,” he told those gathered. “We are trying to tinker to make sure we have the safest place on the Square.”
Tuesday morning, turning lanes directing traffic off the Square were being removed by city employees.
Stricter code enforcement
When complaints were made about the increase in code enforcement, City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said the council had requested stricter enforcement. Council Member Hawnethia Williams, Post 2, West said, “If you really think about it, if we didn’t have some type of ordinance, things would get out of hand.
“We all live here in Covington and we all want quality of life,” Williams said. “We try to do the best we can for everybody ... We try to do things with compassion.”
Williams invited residents to share concerns with council members, the city manager or mayor.
Offering an update on a park proposed for the Covington Mill area, Knight said the city had budgeted $100,000 for a park in that location, along with improvements to Academy Springs Park. The work would include playground equipment for different aged children at both parks and a pavilion. She said the city was looking for grants to help defray the cost of the park improvements.
Golf Cart laws
Cotton reviewed the laws governing the use of golf carts in the city. The laws include:
• Prohibition of golf carts on State Routes, like Highway 278;
• Prohibition on any street with a speed limit above 35 miles per house;
• Obeying all motor vehicle and traffic laws;
• Obtaining a $15 permit from the CPD;
• Meet safety standards, including a working horn and turn signals, intact windshield and rearview mirror; and
• Operated by a licensed driver
Feedback on gazebo
Council Member Josh McKelvey, Post 3, East, asked those in the attendance about their thoughts on a potential gazebo on the Square. Two years ago, he said, a citizen’s committee had recommended the installation of a gazebo on the Square, which the council later voted against building due to budget considerations.
Earlier this year, Newton Federal Bank had considered donating the money to build the gazebo, but the board later withdrew the offer after hearing objections to the project by Smith. McKelvey said he wanted to know if people supported the idea, provided a corporate sponsor could be found.
By a show of hands, at least half the audience opposed the idea of the gazebo, some expressing concern about how an aesthetic change to the Square would impact film and television production and damage the grass and trees. They suggested building a gazebo at Legion Field Park.
Those in favor said they thought a gazebo could add to the charm of the city.
Johnston announced three major economic development projects in the works for Covington:
• Project Landmark, a $30 million hotel just off the Square, which will bring in about 100 jobs and is expected to break ground in the next few months;
• Project Phoenix, a mixed use commercial development called Covington Town Center that includes a proposed movie theater, 264,000-square-feet of office space, 760,000-square-feet of retail space, over 18,000-square-feet of restaurant space, an 840-room hotel plus green space and preserves; and
• Project Three Ring, a $110 million movie studio that will, according to Johnston, rival Pinewood Studios in Fayatteville and bring in an estimated 1,500 jobs.
“This council has recruited and landed over half billion dollar investment in our community and almost 3,000 jobs,” he said. “We’re moving forward. I believe Covington is one of the hottest small business opportunities in the state.
“It’s a great place to live and a great place to do business,” he said. “I believe we’re on a path to have a community of excellence in every possible way.”