Dear Editor: I have seen multiple articles, letters to the editor and editorials in the past few months regarding the development of Newton County. Overlay plans, town centers, consultants - all the buzzwords with which I am familiar. You see, I moved to Covington from what it appears we are trying to become.
Growth is a necessary part of any community. However, growth also comes with a price tag affixed and the price we are willing to pay will not be determined today or tomorrow - it will be determined years from now. It appears fine to add a new Walmart to the intersection of Salem and Brown Bridge Roads because it brought jobs and tax revenues (maybe), but what else will it bring? I can suggest two things that it might bring from personal experience.
First, it will bring other commerce. While you may think that is a good thing, I caution you to take a ride in Conyers from Dogwood Drive to the Target store. I'm pretty sure that if you make that trip at any time of the day you will find it frustrating, even maddening. Traffic, red lights, multiple driveways and entrances to manipulate, delivery trucks - that is the result of ‘planned' commercial growth.
Can't happen here, you say? Planning and zoning, you say? There is a reason that zoning boards have meetings, and planning commissions "revise" their current plans - aren't we about to review the current, and approved, overlay to include widening Salem Road? That was a plan, right?
Second, it will bring blight. Not today, of course but it will come. In our previous residence, we were three miles from a Walmart store that convinced the town council to give them a 10-year tax abatement in exchange for the jobs and income taxes the store would generate. Ten years and one day later (metaphorically), they moved five miles down the road and made the same deal with the next town. Today, that original big box facility sits vacant - a barren reminder of the "cost" of growth.
There is a shopping center on Salem Road, out near Kirkland Road which sits partially-vacant. Is that a sign that we need more commerce? There are stores all along Hwy 278 that are closed or vacant - were they in a terrible location? Or are we reaching for something we really don't need because someone else has it...or worse, because that is "the way it is done."
When a business comes in and starts throwing around words like jobs and revenues, our leadership - under the pressure from constituents - have no choice but to listen. We, the public, are responsible for holding them accountable because they act in our interest - that is the role of elected officials. What happens falls on our shoulders.
The price we are willing to pay will be realized when we are not willing to pay it any more. When residents begin fleeing because they can't stand the noise and congestion, the scales might fall from our eyes and it will be too late.
Development should make a community better for the long term, not just address short-term murmurings using textbook answers. What we need is a vision to make Newton County a desirable place to live and raise a family - not a simple extension of the Atlanta sprawl.
While it may become more convenient to go to the inevitable Target store down the street than travel to Conyers, I would much more enjoy the tranquility and peace that comes from living in the country and enjoying God's creation.
I know - I've lived in both.