County forms 2050 panel

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­news.com

Af­ter four pub­lic hear­ings and scores of pointed ques­tions about the 2050 Plan, the New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers is calling for help. County Chair­man Keith El­lis told the Cov­ing­ton Ro­tary Club Tues­day af­ter­noon that a cit­i­zens’ panel will soon be formed to delve into the in­tri­ca­cies of the plan.

The panel will in­clude 13 mem­bers. Each county com­mis­sioner will ap­point one person to the panel, as will each city or town, plus the wa­ter and sewer au­thor­ity and school board.

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“We’re try­ing to find the mid­dle ground, we re­ally are,” El­lis said. “Com­mon ground can be found.”

Crit­i­cism about the plan has gen­er­ally been from op­po­nents ar­gu­ing that it is too re­stric­tive, par­tic­u­larly in its limit of one house per 20 acres in the pro­posed “con­ser­va­tion district” com­pris­ing much of the county’s east side. El­lis has said that acreage limit won’t work, but has said he wants pub­lic com­ments on what limit might. The panel is an ex­ten­sion of that wish.

“We gotta have a plan,” he told the Ro­tary Club. “We need to raise the bar in New­ton County, but it’s up to the peo­ple how high the bar is raised.”

He said the com­mis­sion­ers will be “pa­tient” with the plan and not rush its pas­sage.

Kayla Robins/The Cov­ing­ton News

“We’re go­ing to be care­ful with who we ap­point to the panel,” he said.

Prior to El­lis’ an­nounce­ment of the new panel, the Ro­tary Club heard a half-hour pre­sen­ta­tion from 2050 Plan critic Phillip John­son. The week be­fore, the club had heard a sim­i­lar pre­sen­ta­tion from pro­po­nent John Paschal.

John­son said a com­pre­hen­sive plan is needed, but the plan as pre­sented is flawed. It tries to pro­tect 62 per­cent of the county with un­re­al­is­tic land-use min­i­mums, far out of kil­ter with mar­ket de­mand. The idea of pre­serv­ing the Al­covy River is sound, he said, but it’s also “un­der con­trol” al­ready. With three-acre min­i­mum lot sizes in place and the fed­eral govern­ment ap­prov­ing a reser­voir along the river, the 2050 plan is ex­ces­sive.

The plan also calls for the cre­ation of “com­pact com­mu­ni­ties” where peo­ple can walk to work and shop. That’s not a bad idea, John­son said, but shouldn’t be forced on any­one. If home­buy­ers want to live in large com­mu­ni­ties with large lots, the mar- ket should rule.

He said pro­po­nents’ third ob­jec­tive (clean wa­ter, com­pany com­mu­ni­ties, in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity and con­sol­i­da­tion of pub­lic in­vest­ment are the plan’s four stated goals) is “disin­gen­u­ous,” as eastern New­town County has plenty of good roads al­ready. “They do ex­ist, they’re state high­ways and we wouldn’t have to build them again.”

As for the fourth ob­jec­tive, pub­lic in­vest­ment, John­son told Ro­tary Club mem­bers that peo­ple will need sew­ers and schools wher­ever the mar­ket de­mands growth oc­cur.

For John­son, the plan seems a tool pro­po­nents are us­ing to push New­ton County to­ward the world of Nor­man Rock­well.

“That is great, but that is not the way we live our lives to­day,” he said. “If peo­ple want that type (of) life the mar­ket will pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity. This is the most im­por­tant piece of lo­cal leg­is­la­tion that I’ve seen in my 40 years of pub­lic life in New­ton County. Noth­ing com­pares to this.”

“This plan, we ought to take the time nec­es­sary to get it right be­fore we pass it.”

Last week, Paschal painted a much more pos­i­tive pic­ture of the plan – ar­gu­ing in fa­vor of its four pil­lars, that the plan would save $3.3 bil­lion in pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture costs if it is adopted and the es­ti­mated 300,000 peo­ple move to the county by 2050. The plan and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing base­line or­di­nances are de­signed to be “de­vel­oper friendly,” he said, by sim­pli­fy­ing myr­iad county and town zon­ing laws and con­sol­i­dat­ing ev­ery­thing into one over­all or­di­nance.

He said there’s no hurry to adopt the plan. One pub­lic hear­ing re­mains, af­ter which plan­ners will take ev­ery­thing they’ve heard, re­write the plan as “ver­sion two,” present it again to the pub­lic for in­put and come back, in time, with ver­sion three. That will then be handed to the county and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for re­view, af­ter which each gov­ern­men­tal body will be able to mod­ify the plan to fit its lo­cal needs.

There is no time­line for the plan or any of its ver­sions, Paschal said.

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