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Jail fees charged to city of Conyers to increase

CONYERS — Conyers will see an increase in the amount it pays to house suspects at the Rockdale County Jail following approval of an amendment to the detention services agreement between the city and Rockdale County.

Under an agreement forged in May 2017, the city had paid $36 per inmate per day. That amount had increased to $40 per day in 2018, but there had been no increase since then.

Conyers Police Deputy Chief Scott Freeman told the City Council Wednesday night that the county had proposed a new rate of $50 per day, which he said was reasonable as other municipalities in the area are paying $75 per day to their respective sheriff’s offices.

Freeman said the cost increase was due primarily to an increase in the cost of medical care at the jail, in particular because of the mental health services that are now provided to inmates.

Freeman noted that the jail can house as many as 750 inmates, although the population is now significantly less due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the inmate population is currently about 140. The city had just two inmates at the jail last month.

The council approved the new agreement unanimously. Rockdale County has already approved the agreement.

Covington City Council approves amendment allowing 275 townhomes at Covington Town Center
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COVINGTON — With a 350-unit apartment complex already planned for construction at Covington Town Center, which was originally slated to be an upscale shopping center at the corner of Alcovy Road and City Pond Road, the Covington City Council approved a text amendment at its Feb. 15 meeting that will allow The Foxfield Company to add 275 more townhouses and change their design standards.

When it was first approved in January 2017, Covington Town Center was initially touted as a commercial mixed-use complex that would include 78 acres for retail rental space — 264,000 square feet for office space, 770,470 square feet for retail and restaurants, 52,500 square feet for entertainment space such as a movie theater, 5.2 acres for two hotels, and 18.2 acres of green space. (To date, two hotel projects are currently under review, and they are nearing the sale of an anchor grocery store.)

But within six months, Harry Kitchens, president of The Foxfield Company, the South Carolina firm that is developing the property, stated that due to pressure from potential commercial clients wanting to see more population density in the area, they needed to build multi-family housing, or apartments, on a portion of the property. The corridor mixed use zoning and overlay district the council approved allows for multi-family housing.

After more than a year of securing commercial loans and equity investments, along with a waiver of $1.5 million from the city for water and sewer tap fees, permit costs and electrical infrastructure costs for the project, Elevation Development Group broke ground in December 2020 on The Cove apartment complex.

Less than two months later, Kitchens was back with a request for the council to amend its Covington Town Center overlay to allow 275 more residential units and to modify the city’s design standards for townhomes. Kitchens said the townhomes will give the development two different type of residences with two different price points.

“I think (this) is very much needed to support the jobs that you have brought to this community,” said Kitchens, “and we need to retain those people to live within Covington.”

Design standard changes requested with the amendment include:

♦ Minimum square footage will increase from 1,300 square feet to 1,500 square feet.

♦ Smaller setbacks than current standards.

♦ Only one entrance/exit door, rather than a front and a rear door as required in city ordinances.

♦ Deletion of the 200-square-foot private yards required by the city.

♦ Slab on grade townhomes will be allowed, rather than a step up from the ground required by the city.

♦ Front entry garages, rather than rear entry garages required in city ordinances♦ .

The changes will apply only to Covington Town Center and not to other townhome developments in the city.

Covington planning staff recommended approval of the text amendment with the note that the development will be adding more residential units “in a predominantly manufacturing area, which can have conflicts from noise, traffic, and manufacturing outputs... Steps should be taken to offset any potential negative impacts of adjacent uses through the use of enhanced, natural vegetative screens and prohibitions on truck traffic cutting through the project.”

Following a public hearing where no one spoke against the text amendment, the council approved the change by a vote of 5-1, with Fleeta Baggett casting the dissenting vote.

Newton commissioners unanimously deny rezoning for truck stop
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COVINGTON — Hundreds of residents of eastern Newton County breathed a collective sigh of relief Tuesday after the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to reject a rezoning request that would have allowed construction of a truck stop/travel center.

Bill Jones, who owns and operates a similar facility on I-75 in Butts County, had asked the county to rezone 46.12 acres at the intersection of Ga. Highway 11 and Interstate 20. Part of that tract is already zoned CH (highway commercial) and part is AR (agricultural). Jones was asking that the entire property be zoned CH and that a conditional use permit be granted to allow development of a large truck stop/travel center. The property lies within the Brick Store Overlay zoning district.

During a public hearing on the rezoning, Jones told commissioners he has business ties to Newton County, having purchased Anderson Oil in 1982 and another company from C.P. Allgood. He said he has developed a number of convenience stores int he market, particularly in the rural portions of the county.

Jones said his proposed development at the intersection of Ga. Highway 11 and I-20 does not conform with the typical “truck stop.” He said when developing the facility on I-75 “we set out to build a facility on the interstate highways that would be attractive to family units that travel up and down the interstate. You know, when you are traveling, the mama in the group is going to decide where you are going to stop, and that is going to depend on what kind of facility is available to them on the interstate highways.”

After three years of research, Jones said the Butts travel center was developed for the “motoring public.”

He added that large clean restrooms are a focus of the facility and that there is a separate entrance for “ladies and men who drive the trucks … they have a separate retail area and shower facilities.”

“I don’t think if you ever took the time to go visit this facility, you would come away with a negative connotation in your mind about the facility itself,” he added.

According to the developer’s letter of intent, Phase 1 of Jones’ project would have included a 24,500-square-foot building with a convenience store and fuel sales for automobiles and semi-trucks, along with Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway fast food restaurants. The plan called for 20 multi-product fuel dispensers for autos, eight fueling lanes for semi-trucks, and certified CAT Scales for semis. The convenience store site was designed with 153 parking spaces for automobiles. There would also be 10 parking spaces for RVs, buses and commercial trucks and drive through lanes for the Burger King and Dunkin Donuts. The semi-truck parking lot would have 120 parking spaces.

Phase 2 of the project, listed as future development, would include big box retail space with nine individual tenant spaces.

During public comment in opposition to the rezoning, former commissioner LeAnn Long said she had visited the facility in Butts County and noted that it is located in an “industrial area” and not in an overlay district like Brick Store Overlay, which includes Georgia State’s Perimeter College campus and a number of residential areas.

Wayne Pugh, a resident of River Cove subdivision and owner of a small LTL trucking firm, said a truck stop or travel center should not be located across the street from a college or within 1 to 1 1/2 miles from neighborhoods.

“That is just absolutely absurd,” he said.

Pugh also pointed out that there would be a good amount of runoff from the paved areas at the truck stop. That water would contain oil, fuel, and other contaminants that would pollute the nearby wetlands.

Pugh also said there would be noise pollution and fumes from idling trucks, which he said are toxic and can cause cancer. Other concerns he listed were drugs and crime attracted by truck stops, increased traffic congestion on Ga. Highway 11 and increased demands on infrastructure at the intersection with I-20.

Pugh said he had 915 signatures from Newton residents on a petition opposing the truck stop.

“We are crying out to you to oppose this truck stop, please,” he said.

At the close of public comment, District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards, in whose district the truck stop would have been located, made a motion to deny the rezoning request. Edwards said his decision had nothing to do with Jones Petroleum or any other truck stop. He said the Brick Store Overlay, along with the Almon Overlay and the Salem Overlay, were created more than a dozen years ago to encourage the type of growth the communities want.

“A truck stop or travel center … is just not in keeping with what we are trying to create in the educational village-type atmosphere in that area,” said Edwards.

Edwards’ motion to deny the rezoning was seconded by District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason.

A companion request for a conditional use permit for the property was not heard because the rezoning did not move forward.

Newton approves $3 million loan for new landfill cell
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COVINGTON — A new cell at the Newton County Landfill will soon be under construction following approval of a $3 million loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners approved the loan at its Feb. 2 meeting. The loan will be repaid through tipping fees and other revenues generated by the Newton County Solid Waste Management Authority, which operates the landfill.

Solid Waste Manager Kevin Walter said construction of the new landfill cell could begin as early as March and is expected to be completed by September. The new cell will not change the footprint of the landfill, something that residents in nearby neighborhoods have opposed.

The contract to construct the cell has been awarded to Peed Bros. Inc. of Butler. The cell will be lined and will have a leachate collection system to prevent groundwater contamination.

The new cell will be the second large project undertaken at the landfill by Peed Bros. In 2018 the company began mining waste from Site 1, an old, unlined cell that is closed. Once fully excavated, the cell can be lined and reopened.

Walter said the excavated waste from Site 1 and solid waste currently being collected in Newton County are being placed in the cell at Site 2. That cell, he said, is expected to be full in another year, which is why it is necessary to construct the new cell. Once the new cell is completed, Site 2 will be covered and closed.

Walter said the new cell is expected to last between three and five years.

The landfill has an overall life expectancy of 60 years remaining, he said.