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Newton planners recommend denial of truck stop development
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COVINGTON — The fate of a proposed truck stop and travel center in eastern Newton County will come before the Board of Commissioners Feb. 16 after the Planning Commission voted last week to recommend denial of a zoning change and conditional use permit for the project.

The BOC is scheduled to hear petitions from JPC Design Construction in Jackson for a zoning change for 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). The petitioner is 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.

According to the developer’s letter of intent, Phase 1 of the project would include 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 calls for 20 multi-product fuel dispensers for autos, eight fueling lanes for semi-trucks, and certified CAT Scales for semis. The convenience store site is 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.

In its analysis of the project, the county’s Development Services staff found that the rezoning request was consistent with the policies and intent of the Future Land Use Map and comprehensive plan, but the proposed use as a truck stop was inconsistent with the Brick Store Overlay and the objective of creating a small-town atmosphere in the area.

During the Planning Commission meeting, petitioner Bill Jones said he owns a similar development on Interstate 75 in Butts County and said the project is better described as a travel center rather than a truck stop.

“When you choose a place to stop for restroom facilities or for just a break in travel, you look for a unit that has the accommodations you are looking for, be it fuel, be it food, be it some limited shopping, and probably the one most important thing is restroom facilities,” said Jones.

He said the proposed development in Newton County would have 1,500 square feet of restroom space for men and the same amount of square footage devoted to women’s restrooms.

Jones said none of the signage for his existing travel center appeals to truckers. “But we found it to be the case that the trucking community, the men and women that drive those vehicles, are just as interested in a clean, nice place to stop as anybody else,” he said.

However, Planning Commission Chairman Landis Stephens wasn’t convinced by the “travel center” label.

“To me it appears as a truck stop,” he said. “I understand what you’re saying, but to me it appears as a truck stop, and my concern is the impact on the community as a whole, changing the dynamics.”

Residents of the area spoke out in opposition to the development, cautioning that it would be a magnet for prostitution, drugs and other crime. They also pointed out that there are three similar facilities about 20 miles east in Madison.

“We are not against development; we expect development, but we want quality development,” said Don Hadyk.

Hadyk also said more than 870 residents had signed a petition opposing the development.

“I think that really expresses our residents’ voices,” he said. “Eight hundred seventy people is an awful lot, and there are many more who never had the opportunity to express their opinions.”

Resident Marvin Mayner said he believes the development is designed for those traveling through Newton County but would have little benefit for residents. He added that law enforcement protection is already limited on the eastern side of the county, and a truck stop would strain those services even further.

“I urge the board members … look at what the taxpayers are saying and how they do not want this,” said Mayner. “Please protect us from this … we want growth in this county and growth is not something we want to chase away from this district, but it’s got to be the right growth.”

The Board of Commissioners conducts zoning public hearings at 7:30 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse during the board’s regular meetings, which typically begin at 7 p.m.

Jennifer Baker honored for beautifying Olde Town
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CONYERS — The Conyers Downtown Development Authority recently presented the 2020 Outstanding Achievement Award to Jennifer Baker for her efforts in beautification and artistic expression throughout historic Olde Town Conyers in the form of murals, window painting and more.

Baker, owner of The Sketching Pad, located at 924 Center St., has been creating and teaching art in Conyers since 2011. She is proficient in drawing and painting media, but watercolor and oil are her specialties. A graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Baker is passionate about creating art, sharing art with others and helping the community grow.

“The Conyers Downtown Development Authority board greatly admires the talent Jennifer Baker has shared throughout the downtown area,” said DDA Chairman Brandon Mitchell. “Jennifer and her staff’s artwork can be seen on a number of murals in Olde Town, on the fire hydrant painting project commissioned by the Olde Town Merchants Association and the Beautiful Box Project overseen by the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts throughout Rockdale County. Jennifer’s love for the arts is evident in every class she teaches and in every project she takes on to make art a vital part of the Conyers community.”

This is the sixth year the DDA has presented the Outstanding Achievement Award to a business or individual in Olde Town Conyers that has taken great care and consideration with beautification or preservation of buildings in the historic district.

The Conyers Downtown Development Authority was created by city of Conyers to be a catalyst for revitalization, promotion, development and redevelopment in Olde Town Conyers. The Conyers DDA Board of Directors consists of Jacob Bailey, Al Chapar Jr., George Levett Jr., Renee Marrett, Brandon Mitchell, Keish Momin and Ashley Rustom. The DDA meets the first Tuesday of each month at Conyers City Hall at 6 p.m. and the public is invited to attend.

Marty Jones announces retirement as Conyers-Rockdale Economic Development leader
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CONYERS — Conyers and Rockdale County’s economic development leader has announced plans to retire this spring. Marty Jones informed the board of the Conyers-Rockdale Economic Development Council about his plans in December. He has served as executive director of the organization since 2014.

Jones is a real estate appraiser by trade. He served for 22 years on the Conyers City Council before stepping down in 2011. Marty has volunteered with a number of community groups including the Downtown Development Authority, The Rotary Club of Conyers, The Conyers Housing Authority and currently serves as Chair of The Rockdale Career Academy Board of Directors.

“It is the right time in my life to step back and enjoy the next chapter with my family,” Jones said. “I have truly enjoyed my time in this position. The opportunity to work with business decision-makers from around the globe has been very rewarding.”

The CREDC is a joint partnership of the city of Conyers, Rockdale County Board of Commissioners, Development Authority of Rockdale County and the Conyers-Rockdale County Chamber of Commerce. Funding and support for the economic development organization are provided at different levels by the partners.

“Marty was the right professional at the right time,” according to Mayor Vince Evans, who also serves as chair of the CREDC. “He has brought an ‘A’ game to the table when our community needed it and will be leaving big shoes to fill in the future.”

One of the latest economic victories Jones was heavily involved with was the expansion of Pratt Industries. The new addition included $70 million in investments and 90 new positions. The company, which opened its local operations in 1990, is America’s fifth largest corrugated packaging company and the world’s largest, privately held 100% recycled paper and packaging company.

“Working with our existing industries has been exciting for me,” Jones said. “Often times the headlines are about new companies opening shop. The new businesses are extremely important to the local economy. However, typically about 70 to 80 percent of new jobs created in a community come from existing businesses. I focused a great deal of my time on listening to the companies who are already on the tax rolls and building solutions for their needs.”

Great Southern Wood is another example of a local industry expanding. The company is investing $25 million in additional equipment and buildings to create 35 new jobs. The expansion is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

“Having product in terms of land and available buildings is key to a successful economic development organization in my opinion,” Jones said. “The most visible new project has been the Ashley Capital Logistics Center. With over 450,000 square feet of space, A Fortune 100 company is in negotiations now to build out portions of the facility to meet their needs. It is an exciting time in Conyers-Rockdale for sure.”

Another aspect of economic development that was not a part of the equation when Jones joined the CREDC is the film industry. In fiscal year 2020, the film industry spent over $2.2 billion in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. And Conyers-Rockdale County was the beneficiary of some of those revenues. Local productions, housed in over 800,000 square feet of studio/production/warehouse space, include “The Resident,” CW’s “Legacies,” and “Doom Patrol.”

“Gina Hartsell has been a great partner to work with at CREDC,” Jones added. “Her work on the film industry has produced a great number of jobs and pushed money into the local economy, especially small businesses. I am very proud of the partnerships created through the CREDC with the production


“Another group of individuals I want to give a special thanks to are the elected and appointed government leaders,” Jones said. “Each one has a very tough job of balancing growth, constituent needs and many other factors. I commend them for the work they are doing and appreciate their support of the CREDC over the years.”

The CREDC board has initiated an executive search for the new economic development leader. The Chason Group, a Georgia based executive search firm specializing in economic development organizations, has been engaged to lead the process. The search is expected to take 90 to 120 days.

Newton Judicial Center to be dedicated to late Judge Horace Johnson Friday
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COVINGTON — The formal dedication and renaming of the Judicial Center in Newton County in honor of the late Judge Horace Johnson Jr. will take place Friday, Feb. 5, at 11 a.m.

Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott will present brief remarks at the ceremony, along with Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton. The ceremony will take place in the jury impaneling room, where limited seating is available. The ceremony will also be streamed into other courtrooms at the Judicial Center as well as live-streamed over the internet.

Following the indoor remarks, the ceremony will move outside for the unveiling of the new name of the building. By order of the court, the building will be closed to foot traffic from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted to rename the Newton County Judicial Center in honor of Johnson shortly after Johnson’s death on July 1. Johnson served as a judge there for more than 17 years.

In addition to being a noted jurist, Johnson was a well-known servant in the community, serving in a variety of volunteer roles.

Johnson was recognized by the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce as the R.O. Arnold Award winner in 2017 and was named the Martin Luther King Jr. Trailblazer Award recipient in 2020. Johnson was also given the Frederick B. Kerr Service Award by Leadership Georgia in 2018, an organization he served as president of in 2009.

Johnson served on a number of boards throughout Newton County, including the founding advisory board of the Boys and Girls Club, the Washington Street Community Center, United Bank of Covington, Board of Counselors at Oxford College and the founding board of Newton Mentoring Inc. He was also a member of the Kiwanis Club of Covington, serving as president in 2018-19, and helped Newton County veterans through the Veteran’s Accountability Court he started in 2016.

Johnson, who grew up in the Sand Hill community, attended Washington Street School and was among the first Black students to integrate Ficquett Elementary School. He then attended Cousins Middle School and graduated Newton High School.