14 August 2016

[tpc] - Sunday Check-in: Talkin' Mosque in Newton Co; Covington Zoning Inconsistencies

The Chronicles
14 August '16

Howdy, fine people. Hope all is well out there.

So the big news this past week here in the home county, obviously, was when the Newton Citizen ran an article revealing the fact that land has been bought in the western part of the county for a proposed Mosque, Muslim School, Cemetery, and possibly a residential area. By all accounts, the Mosque and cemetery, at least, are done deals as they don't require zoning approval. 

The land, approx. 135 acres, was sold by Neely Family Farms to Al Maad Al Islami last August for the sum of $1.3 million. The registered agent for Neely Family Farms is Phil Johnson, who recently unsuccessfully ran for Newton Co. Chairman. According to multiple accounts, Mr. Johnson also acted as an Attorney/Agent on this deal. That's almost a $10,000 price per acre.

The timing on this is also a concern for many. Why didn't this news break back in May of last year when Neely Family Farms tendered the original letter of intent? Why not in August of last year when it sold? Why did the news not break at any point this year until now? Like back in the Spring, or around the month of May, or at least in July? The concerns and questions many have is whether or not Phil Johnson's run for BOC Chair, or the opening of a new business by the Neely family, had anything to do with it. It seems like a fair question.

The Citizen also ran a follow up piece where John Douglass and Keith Ellis were both quoted. Keith, especially, had some pretty strong words:

“As news broke concerning this Muslim development, I was surprised to find that zoning changes would not be made,” Ellis said. “The board may have to address a conditional use permit (for a proposed school on the site). Given the opportunity, if it is constitutional, I would oppose the request. My first knowledge of the development led me to the Tax Assessor’s website. There I found who the previous owners had been. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Money talks!”

Damn, Keith...tell us how you really feel.

This has now made state headlines as WSB has apparently covered it, and also the national level with reports by Freedom Outpost and The Washington Standard.

We'll be following up on this one, and I hope to be able to try to reach out to Judy Johnson, zoning administrator for Newton Co., within the next day or two.

City of Covington: Different Rules for Different Folks? 

Last year a local business and property owner started to allow cars to be parked on his corner lot at Hwy 278 and John Williams Hwy, right next to the Waffle House by Sonic. That didn't last long as, apparently and allegedly, the city of Covington informed the owner that parking cars there violated the city's zoning regulations. The cars went away.

Fast forward a couple of months, and a multitude of cars - at times a hundred or more, allegedly owned by Ginn Motor Co., started getting parked in the shopping center parking lot (Martin's Crossing)just across the corner, maybe about a hundred yards or so as the crow flies. Same zoning, as far as this writer can discern, but no demand by Covington to remove the cars. This has been going on for many months. After talking with a few folks, the consensus view is that this is typical C-town - one set of rules for a select few, a different set for the rest of us.

It reminds me of how the city recently - allegedly - revised some of their zoning ordinances for a new local business on the Covington by-pass after previously enacting and requiring dozens of businesses to adhere to a stricter standard in the same corridor. Again, it seems like who you are makes all the difference. As a born and bred C-town boy, I've been seeing stuff like this all of my life. But in this day and age, it seems as if antics like these, if true, need to go away.