Covington planning commissioners recommend against rezoning rental areas

COVINGTON, Ga. – Covington Planning Commissioners are recommending denial of a development containing rental-only homes after hearing warnings about a likely traffic jam on its only access road and the negative impact of a densely developed development on the adjacent neighborhoods.

It comes as Covington City Council members consider an ordinance to regulate these investor-owned and ‘build-to-let’ developments.

Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend City Council deny a rezoning request from former Mayor Ronnie Johnston and McGinnis Ferry Development Group to build 113 homes on a 33-acre lot on McGuirts Bridge Road near US Hwy. 278 at the east end of town.

Johnston requested a rezoning from the Neighborhood Residential District 1 (NR-1) classification to the NR-2 classification which allows for denser development.

Overall density would average 3.5 units per acre, well below the maximum of 12 units allowed in the NR-2 zone. However, the homes would be located on 50-foot-wide lots of approximately 12,000 square feet each and would surround undeveloped areas including a lake and buffer zone.

The undeveloped, mostly forested site is adjacent to the Eastside Trail and the Wildwood and Neely Farms developments which are already zoned for RN-2.

It is also adjacent to Fairfield neighborhoods outside the city limits with lots averaging about two acres each.

Johnston said he has owned the land since 2014 and has received several offers over the years to sell it. However, he said the McGinnis Ferry developer had planned a housing estate which would be well maintained and not allowed to fall into disrepair.

“If this is going to happen, these people (McGinnis Ferry) aren’t very smart because they’re going to invest a lot of money,” Johnston said.

He also said there is a great need for better quality rental housing to serve both workers in local industries and young people who are unable or unwilling to buy new homes in today’s market.

“I really believe this could be a great project for Covington,” Johnston said.

However, planning staff said in notes to commissioners that access would come from McGuirts Bridge Road which is an “undersized minor road and is in addition to the existing limited options that turn off the main road, Highway 278 “.

“It would cause approximately triple the amount of traffic passing through an unsignalized intersection to turn left onto Highway 278 towards Covington.”

Potential harm to the public “would arise from the introduction of a higher density pattern in a neighborhood with predominantly lots of two acres and larger,” they wrote.

“It would be an increase in intensity and traffic,” the staff said in their analysis.

“The as-zoned parcels would allow for a neighborhood of approximately 50 lots, which would still represent an increase in intensity for surrounding properties in Newton County. This allocation is possible without a zoning application and is the minimum lot important in Covington’s ordinance.

He said there had been a “resurgence of denser single-family development and multi-family development throughout the city in recent years” but such plans were in areas already designed for them – such as downtown Covington or Neely Farms – or Along the Roads “that can handle the growth.”

“This property is in an older, larger established neighborhood that has limited access. Due to the current zoning of the property allowing reasonable use and transition between surrounding neighborhoods and access issues through the established neighborhood of Newton County, staff recommends denial of the application.”

A large group of neighboring residents – many wearing red shirts – attended the meeting. Many told the commissioners that they opposed the construction of a densely developed housing estate that would significantly increase traffic.

Tony Harris of Todd Drive said he had lived in his house for 36 years. Johnston’s plan is on former Callaway property that he said many considered “part of the neighborhood,” he said.

Harris suggested Johnston build a development with homes on larger lots that will be owner-occupied.

“This type of development will have a huge impact on us,” he said. “We are all quite old and we don’t want to move.”

Fairfield Drive’s Greg Maloney said Johnston could build 30 owner-occupied homes on the site and “still make a good return on investment”.

Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend that City Council refuse the rezoning at its meeting on Monday, September 19.

In a separate action, the planning commission voted to recommend council not extend an existing zoning overlay area to a 21-acre parcel between the Cricket Frog Trail and Turner Lake Road.

Developers have planned a mixed-use development comprising 145 apartment units, 84 townhouses, a park and a future single-family section on the long, narrow site facing Turner Lake Park.

However, commissioners pointed to the current traffic congestion on Turner Lake Road and other factors, such as the impact on area schools, before voting 4-3 to recommend denial.

Commissioners voted to recommend a rezoning application for a proposed distribution center at 10665 Hwy. 278.

The developers requested that the 18-acre site be rezoned from NR-1 to M2 (heavy industrial) for the construction of a 259,000 square foot building.

The site is north of Peachtree Academy and a church. It is also adjacent to Lochridge Industrial Park and would extend this industrial area to the south.

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