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.

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I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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