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Salem Overlay tabled

COVINGTON — The Board of Commissioners recently tabled a vote on the proposed Salem Overlay, based on public feedback.

“Based on the comments we’ve heard from the public, we felt it was in the interest of the strength of this overlay that we listen to what the constituents of this area have to say and go back to the drawing table and make a stronger ordinance,” said Commissioner Nancy Schulz at the board’s Dec. 18 meeting.

The board agreed to table the matter through March and to extend the agreement with the Collaborative Firm LLC, the county’s consultant for the project.

The contract with the Collaborative Firm expired on Dec. 18. The firm will not charge the county for the balance of the month of December and will reduce its rate by about $880 per month, to $4,175 per month, for the remaining three months. Funding in the amount of $60,000 was set aside for the project, and thus far, around $50,400 has been spent.

During a follow up interview, Schulz said that a public meeting on Dec. 17 revealed the county needs to better educate the public about the overlay and how it fits in with the 2050 Plan. She said citizens had questions about what an overlay is and if it meant their property was being annexed into Rockdale County.

“Commissioner (Lanier) Sims and I both realized some specifics needed to be addressed to make a better overlay, but in general, the public needed to have more time,” she said.

Schulz said public participation in the meeting was “incredible” with the board room in the Historic Courthouse at standing room only.

“When you have that much participation from the public you want to make sure when the final document comes out that the public fully understands and fully supports it,” she said.

Schulz said it’s clear that more public education and input are needed, although there have been stakeholder meetings and a total of three public sessions.

The proposed overlay runs along Salem Road south of the Rockdale line down to Ga. Highway 81. The ordinance as currently written states that the purpose of the overlay is to encourage clusters of close knit growth to keep a “small town charm;” focus development around the intersection of Salem and Brown Bridge roads, as envisioned by the 2050 Plan and Newton County Comprehensive Plan; and to set the stage for preserving farmland and open space elsewhere in the county. Salem is one of five compact communities proposed in the county’s 2050 Plan.

The overlay is divided into three tiers: Tier 1 would be mostly residential with some neighborhood commercial uses allowed; Tier 2 would be mixed use with lighter commercial uses; and Tier 3 would be mixed use with both commercial and residential. There would also be a historic district to protect historic areas such as Salem Campground.

Several meetings have been held with stakeholders and the general public regarding the overlay. Public input included a desire to preserve the historic campground and protect greenspace; a focus on mixed-use development; interconnectivity such as bike trails and sidewalks; reasonable signage; and aesthetic development.

The ordinance also includes regulations on building facades, including consistent architectural features, building materials and rooflines on buildings facing a public street.

Gas pumps and drive-thrus would be required to be located to the back or side versus between the building and street.

For residential developments, consistent architectural features, building materials and rooflines must also be consistent. Residential entryways must be covered with a porch or other feature. Garages will not be allowed to face public streets.

Residential and non-residential areas will be required to have open space and congregating areas such as paths, ponds, plazas and fountains. Existing structures will not be subject to the requirements, only new development. Maintenance of existing buildings, such as repainting, also would not trigger the overlay standards.

The public can find more detailed information at www.salemoverlay.wordpress.com.