Eastern Newton County is changing and is bound to grow.
That was the consensus of most of the over 100 people, including local elected officials, who gathered for a community meeting to learn more about the rumored development of a mega-site on the fringes of their neighborhoods.
The meeting, held at the local at Georgia Perimeter College campus, was organized by the Home Owner Associations (HOA) of four nearby subdivisions: Azalea Farms, Surrey Chase, River Cove and St. Andrews.
Organizers were quick to share that the meeting was for information only.
"Our main goal today is to give information" said David Heilesen, president of the Surrey Chase II HOA. "There's a lot of information out there, some true, some not true."
"We're not here to lobby for one side or another," he said, explaining that the purpose of the meeting was to help residents make educated decisions on how to move forward.
Heilesen, who is also president and founder of Southern Educational Consulting and Training, worked with Georgia's QuickStart program on training facilities at the KIA manufacturing plant in West Point. He said that the proposed mega-site in Eastern Newton County was considered one of the best mega-sites in Georgia, one suited for a large manufacturing/industrial company.
It would also have a major impact both positive and negative, on the social, economic and environmental life of the county. In a slide show, Heilesen showed maps of the proposed 1,100-acre site, as well as a map of the Mt. Pleasant Plan, a proposal for a new town near the Georgia Perimeter College campus, and the County's Brick Store Overlay proposal.
Another slide referenced the Thomas and Hutton Engineering Company web site, which reported that vice president Ralph Forbes and project manager Jason Chambless in the Savannah office have been working to determine access needs, how to get utilities onto the site, and compiling environmental data.
"That to me means this is more than just talk," Heilesen said.
While one resident called for a petition objecting to developing the mega-site, most expressed interest in having a voice in any future development near them. During a question-and-answer period, Levie Maddox, District 5 representative on the Newton County Board of Commissioners assured those present that there would be opportunities to express concerns at public hearings and meetings.
"Unfortunately, the world is finding us and we can't stop it," said Social Circle Mayor Hal W. Dally. "You can control what comes in or you can let it run over you. Let's do it where we can all have [a voice]. Let's work together ..."
Major concerns shared by the residents gathered included the impact on traffic flow along 11 and near subdivision entrances, property values and tax rates, and the disruption of existing rural lifestyles. Many residents expressed support of reviving the county's 2013-14 Brick Store Overlay ordinance, which would require commercial developers to adhere to aesthetically pleasing and well-landscaped guidelines and use high-quality materials in building.
The proposed site sits north of I-20 with County Route 11 forming the borders on the south and east, and spreads into the city limits of Social Circle. The 1,100 acres under consideration is currently held by three owners: Alcovy Plantation, LLC; BPV Real Estate, LLC; and a private family.
Currently, the acreage is zoned for agricultural use. That would have to change before any manufacturing or industrial site could be developed, Heilesen said.
"We haven't been asked to change zoning," said County Chairman Keith Ellis. "[The mega-site] is a long way from ever coming to be. "
Because the acreage lies in both unincorporated Newton County and within the city limits of Social Circle, the latter could annex it. If that happened, Ellis said, the commissioners would not have authority over development.
Another informational meeting will be held Saturday, March 14, 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. at GPC's Newton campus