The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, commonly referred to as the Center, is a non-governmental organization which came into being shortly after the turn of the century. It was originally funded by a local private non-profit foundation, which also owned a large tract of land in what is generally referred to as the Brick Store Community at Ga. 11 and Hwy. 278.
It was during the early 2000s that the Center began to formulate a future land use plan for Newton
County which would eventually evolve into the 2050 Plan. At the time, Newton County was one of the fasting growing counties in the nation, with the bulk of the new residential growth occurring in the western side of Newton County.
In response to the wave of growth in the western side of Newton County, the Board of Commissioners put in a minimum lot size requirement of two acres in the eastern side of the county and refused to extend sewer into that side of the county. The combination of these two acts prevented the over-development of residential growth in eastern Newton County.
In 2007 the real estate and lending boom which had fueled the exploding growth in the western side of the County collapsed, and residential growth all but disappeared. So with the issue of sprawl in eastern Newton County solved by actions taken by the Board of Commissioners and further development in western Newton County stalled by a pattern altering depression whose effects will extend far into the future, the 2050 Plan largely became a solution looking for a problem.
Despite the change of conditions on the ground, the Center continued on its quest for the formulation and passage by the Board of Commissioners of a plan to freeze growth in 62% of the geographical area of the County and funnel all the anticipated residential and commercial growth to a few compact communities, one of which is the Brick Store area. The 205 Plan was built around the concept that Newton County was to commit to a radical planning model known as New Urbanism.
Something else changed in 2008. The private non-profit foundation began to eliminate funding for the Center and convinced Newton County, the City of Covington and the Newton County Water and Sewer Authority to assume funding under an agreement by which the Center would provide consulting services to formulate, draft, present and secure passage of the 2050 Plan.
Though the date for completion was extended numerous times during the ensuing years, the Center continued to move forward on the Plan as originally envisioned in 2002 though the residential growth did not resume, and continued to bill the co-sponsors of the Plan. Finally in the summer of 2014, the Plan was unveiled in a series of public “informational meetings” facilitated by the Chamber of Commerce. The public meetings were far more infomercials for the Plan pitching it to citizens who were clearly not receptive to the governmentally intrusive program.
Finally, last Tuesday night, the Board of Commissioners passed a resolution to strip the extreme minimum lot sizes from the Plan and order the Newton County Planning and Zoning staff employees to prepare a draft of a new consolidated zoning and development ordinance for Newton County. The resolution apparently allows the consideration of the 2050 Baseline Ordinance along with the existing county zoning and development ordinances, though adherence to any of these documents is not required.
In addition, the resolution leaves open the ability of the staff to request of the Board of Commissioners the consultation with consultants, but only with prior approval of the Board after presentation of a clearly defined scope of work.
No mention was made of the Center. The staff was neither directed to consult with nor denied the opportunity to consult with the Center. Many cynics believe the broadly worded resolution was just a cover to allow the Center to continue to ramrod the final version of the new ordinance behind the scenes and to continue its funding from Newton County and the other co-sponsors. It would be sad if that is the case.
This does lead to some interesting questions. If the county’s paid zoning and planning staff are writing a new ordinance for Newton County, why would the City of Covington and the Newton County Water and Sewer Authority continue to contribute one third of the expense of operating the Center?
An equally compelling question is why did the city of Covington financially contribute for all these years to the formulation of the 2050 Plan when the City of Covington already has a very developed zoning ordinance that fits them? The 2050 Plan primarily affects the 97% of the County located in the unincorporated portion of Newton County.
Whatever the answer, and however you view the 2050 Plan, we once again have a change of condition which should affect the future funding of the Center. If the 2050 Plan has been relegated to only one resource document to be used by the paid staff of Newton County in the drafting of a new ordinance, then the services of the Center are no longer needed to formulate, draft or sell the 2050 Plan. The staff has the document and can attribute to it whatever weight they will. Hopefully, the staff and the able guidance of the Newton County Attorney can produce an ordinance to guide us for the coming years.
If the staff needs to confer with a consultant they now have the contact information to reach that consultant. With as much material as the staff now has, there should be little need to reach out to consultants for additional ideas.
As far as an ongoing commitment to share in the funding of the Center’s general operations, no public moneys should be paid to support this non-governmental think tank or any other such entity. Whether viewed as good or bad, the work product of the Center has been delivered, reviewed and reassigned. Now, the use of public funds (whether in the form of taxes, grants or user fees) to fund ongoing operations at the Center should cease. If the Center wants to continue to operate, they should turn back to their private sponsors for their funding.
Jack “Buddy” Morgan, Jr.