Salem Overlay nears vote

COVINGTON -- Commissioners heard a description of the proposed Salem Overlay at a work session Monday night. The ordinance will go before the Planning Commission on Nov. 27 and before the Board of Commissioners on Dec. 18.

The overlay runs along Salem Road south of the Rockdale line down to Ga. Hwy. 81. The ordinance 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 bikes and sidewalks; reasonable signage; and aesthetic development, said Alex Fite-Wassilak, urban designer with the Collaborative Firm LLC, the county's consultant for the project.

The ordinance will require that all streets inside the overlay be public to prevent developers from creating substandard streets, Fite-Wassilak said. Sidewalks will be required on both sides of all streets and traffic signals required where curb cuts or new roads connect to Salem and Brown Bridge roads.

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 porches or other features. 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.

Commissioner Mort Ewing expressed concern that the overlay does not take into account the widening of Salem Road, or at least specifically the number of lanes the road will be widened.

"It appears to me in order to have a successful overlay, we must include the alignment of the road, whether it's going to be two lanes, four lanes or six lanes," he said.

Fite-Wassilak indicated the Georgia Department of Transportation has not yet clarified that.

"In an ideal world, we would note that from the beginning," Fite-Wassilak said. "Unfortunately with the timing of this project and the way this project has been handled by the DOT, this has turned into an unideal situation."