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SPIGOLON: Will residents remain united against multi-family developments?
Townhomes opposition
Broderick L. Johnson Sr. discusses his opposition to a rezoning request for townhomes on Fairview Road that was later withdrawn March 16. - photo by Tom Spigolon

This is an opinion.

A vocal group of Newton County homeowners took their grievances to the Newton County Commission recently after taking them to the county planning commission a few weeks before.

And if this group remains united, they could do some serious damage to the hopes of any developer wanting to build multi-family housing or large single-family subdivisions anywhere outside the cities in Newton County — if it’s not already zoned for such a thing.

The group lives in residential neighborhoods around Fairview Road, which is a two-lane thoroughfare just like most of the roads in Newton County. They convinced county planning commissioners to unanimously recommend the county’s governing body deny a rezoning for a townhome development.

They then raised the same complaints about a project in a part of the county eight miles from their homes, which almost prompted the planning commission to deny a change in the future land use map that could lead to townhome development near the Covington Airport. 

Newton County is positioned on a part of I-20 that practically begs for it to become part of Atlanta’s sprawl. 

Despite years of development that has produced plenty of additional traffic, Newton County appears to have done little preparation for what’s coming from a roads standpoint.

Yes, there are plenty of plans on the books but little in the way of wider roads.

It doesn’t help that Newton County voters turned down a SPLOST in 2020 that would have been dedicated solely to road construction.

Newton residents, especially on the west side of the county, saw lots of cheap housing erected in the 1990s and early 2000s — so much so that special zoning was put in place to require houses be built with materials that was of higher quality and appearance than their predecessors.

In fact, residents of the county’s east side used west Newton’s experience to convince county commissioners to put their own special zoning into place that sought to forestall such development.

In October, Fairview Road residents had little recourse before the county planning commission approved a plan for a 300-unit apartment complex on land zoned for multi-family development that had sat undeveloped for decades.

In February, when a rezoning for a much smaller townhome development was proposed adjacent to the apartment site, residents of the area let public officials know they were unhappy.

Surprisingly, more emphasis was placed on improving the quality of life in the area rather than the impact on future home values.

Speaker after speaker talked about the need for upgraded infrastructure, the potential for overcrowdedness in area schools, or that developers were from outside Newton County and not invested in increasing the county’s quality of life.

They talked about needing amenities for young people to give them alternatives to doing something harmful to the community or themselves.

Developers withdrew the townhome plan and said they would develop the site as a single-family subdivision — for which it is already zoned.

The same residents then stuck around and unloaded their ire against a second plan in a different part of the county that asked to change the county’s land use map and make some land zoned for industrial uses near Covington’s airport a future residential area.

Approval of a change in the county’s land use map typically has been routine and faced little opposition.

If approved, developers could seek a rezoning in the future for construction of a 227-unit townhome development on 35 acres just outside the Covington city limits on Ga. Highway 142.

Developer Jim Chapman said he was targeting his Cottages at Studio Village to seniors willing to pay up to $1,600 a month. 

He said he planned a number of amenities, and a similar complex he developed in Athens had proven popular.

But the Fairview Road homeowners complained to planning commissioners and the county’s governing board that such developments typically opened with developers intending to maintain high standards but eventually became typical rental complexes which were not properly maintained and bred crime.

They talked about the fact yet another developer from outside Newton wanted to drop multi-family housing in the county and walk away.

County commissioners approved the change.

Now, it will be interesting to see if the residents’ action portends the kind of opposition other new multi-family developments will face or if it’s a one-time event that will fade with time.

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at