COVINGTON — Mt. Pleasant, the long-awaited “college town” development at Georgia State University’s Newton campus, will have to wait at least another 30 days before work on the project can begin. Newton County’s Board of Commissioners voted last Tuesday to table a vote on requested zoning modifications to give District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards time to communicate with his constituents on what the development will bring to their district.
About 60 residents of eastern Newton County attended the commissioners’ meeting to express their concerns about the development. Apartments that will be included in the project and the potential for increased traffic were chief among those concerns.
The Mt. Pleasant project has been on the books since 2007, but development stalled during the recession. Originally, plans called for development of as many as 750 residential structures and some commercial buildings on about 230 acres. The approved plans allowed for 322 attached or multi-family residences.
Since 2007, however, owner Rob Fowler and developer/designer Randy Vinson have modified the plans to reduce the amount of acreage to be developed to 55 acres and the total number of residences to 267, including 190 multi-family units. The remainder of the land has been placed in a conservation easement, making it unlikely that it will ever be developed.
The modified design for Mt. Pleasant calls for development to be closer to the college campus than previously envisioned. Ingress and egress would be from Ga. Highway 11; from the parkway leading to Georgia State, off Ga. Highway 11; and from Cedar Lane, which connects to U.S. Highway 278.
Despite the fact that the number of multi-family units to be developed under the modified plan has been reduced by 132, Edwards noted that his constituents remain concerned.
“My constituency has spoken real loud to me — especially over the last couple of days,” said Edwards. He added that his campaign promise to District 1 residents was to work to preserve the rural nature of the district. “I have a responsibility to manage District 1 to the best of my ability and to represent my constituents.”
Chairman Marcello Banes noted that the zoning approved by a previous board allowed development of multi-family housing in the area.
Edwards asked if apartment residents could be restricted to college students, but County Attorney Megan Martin said that would not be possible unless the apartments were constructed by the college.
While all but one commissioner — J.C. Henderson — approved tabling the zoning modification, all expressed some degree of support for the project. Edwards qualified his support saying, “I don’t think we are opposed to progress, but we are opposed to what apartments can bring,” he said.
District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan, who lives nearby in the River Cove subdivision, pointed out that the area is growing and will continue to grow, particularly since the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority is building a wastewater treatment plant about 5 miles east in Stanton Springs. The new Eastside High School is under construction just a few miles west, and traffic will inevitably get worse, he said. He noted that, without the modifications, the property could be developed as approved in 2007, which would bring greater density and even more traffic.
District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason said he thinks the project is “a great idea.”
“Newton County is growing rapidly,” said Mason. “There are people moving here in droves, and I think we have to get to a point where we have to begin to focus on the economic development of our county and not block every single thing that comes before us, because we’ve got to grow, we’ve got to build, we’ve got to establish.”
District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said the project is “a step in the right direction, considering how real estate is changing.” However, she said she thought postponing a vote on the zoning modifications was reasonable.
Henderson opposed the delay, saying, “You are going to vote it up or vote it down.”