County Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents southwest Cobb, says she didn’t begin to notice the challenges the areas faces until after she moved to her home off Six Flags Drive. Seeking a suburban location with quick access to downtown Atlanta, the value of housing and low density neighborhoods piqued her interest.
“It seemed ideal,” Cupid said. “What we fell in love with once we moved here were the people.”
But soon, derelict buildings and blighted properties began to catch her eye.
“There just seems to be a lack of upkeep,” Cupid said.
She’s still in love with the community she now calls home and touts attractions like Six Flags Over Georgia and the Silver Comet Trial as assets the area can build upon. The real catalyst, though, she says, for growth and improvement will be the people.
“We need to better develop our assets and tell our story,” Cupid said.
Addressing high crime rates
Cobb County Police Department Precinct 2 covers southwest Cobb, including Austell and Powder Springs, and has the highest crime rate in the county.
Precinct Capt. Jeff Adcock told a packed room last Thursday his precinct covers 75 square miles and 61 apartment complexes. Splitting between three shifts each day and accounting for vacation and sick days leaves fewer officers on the streets than he’d prefer.
Through the end of June, the precinct received 30,757 calls for service. Officers had made 1,807 arrests by the end of June and issued 7,388 citations.
Among locations of concern are the Austell Road and Pat Mell Road area and Six Flags Drive.
Six Flags Drive has long been a source of contention for south Cobb residents.
Cupid was visibly upset at a Board of Commissioners meeting July 9 when she asked her fellow commissioners not to support transferring an alcohol license from one owner of the Marathon gas station, at 340 Six Flags Drive, to another owner.
The shopping center that is home to the Marathon has been a source of crime for years, Cupid said, and she is ready to see a change.
“You don’t live there,” Cupid told the commission. “I live off Six Flags Drive.”
Adcock recommended approval based on improvements the hopeful license holder made to the property and the alcohol license transfer passed the commission with a 4-1 vote with Cupid the lone dissenter.
It’s true that shopping center has been a hotbed for crime, Adcock told residents at the town hall meeting later that day.
Officers noticed suspicious activity at the Food Mart that shares a shopping center with the Marathon and ultimately obtained a search warrant for the store.
“We were making a lot of arrests and it wasn’t solving the problem,” Adcock said.
They found makeshift crack pipes for sale inside the store along with small bags typically used to hold marijuana, Adcock said, and learned drug dealers were paying store clerks and the store owner to allow them to sell drugs inside the store. The store’s business license was taken and the owner arrested.
Adcock told residents he wants to pursue creating a drug-free commercial zone in the Six Flags Drive area that, if approved, would mandate additional sentencing for drug related crimes and ban individuals convicted of crimes involving drugs from the area for two years.
Cupid maintains it’s going to take a holistic approach to curb crime in south Cobb. Development needs to be encouraged, schools improved and the quality of life boosted.
“To just say I want to eradicate crime is insensitive to the larger issue,” Cupid said.
South Cobb schools don’t hold up to their east and north Cobb peers when looking at a new state ranking system, the College and Career Readiness Performance Index, more commonly called CCRPI, began by the Georgia Department of Education earlier this year as an alternative to the Adequate Yearly Progress system used under No Child Left Behind.
The system ranks schools on a multitude of factors including achievement of students and preparation for college or the workforce. The highest ranking high school in southwest Cobb on the state’s CCRPI scale is McEachern High School, the most western and northern school in southwest Cobb, in Powder Springs with a score of 79.5. The rest of the area high schools have rankings of 63.3 for South Cobb High School, 68.2 for Pebblebrook High School and 68.7 for Osborne High School.
That’s compared to the county’s highest ranking schools located in east Cobb, each with a 94.4, Walton High School and Lassiter High School. Other schools fall somewhere in the middle, like Wheeler High School with a 79.1 in southeast Cobb and 88.9 for Allatoona High School in north Cobb.
Cupid says it’s not fair to judge a school, or its students, based on test scores.
“It doesn’t do justice to the children who are achieving,” Cupid said, remembering a conversation she had with a constituent whose children attended southwest Cobb high schools and are now attending prestigious colleges.
Area private schools, like Whitefield Academy and the SAE School set to open this fall, are attractions for parents, Cupid said.
South Cobb was the first area in the county to be developed because of its proximity to downtown Atlanta and, as a result, has some of the oldest homes and commercial buildings. Some have fallen into disrepair and are a blight on the community.
Cupid says she’s reaching for the “low hanging fruit” like enforcement of county property ordinances.
“The quality of life and quality of the people is not reflected,” Cupid said, referring to derelict properties.
Encouraging redevelopment will take creativity and public-private partnerships, Cupid said.
Getting there can be as simple as picking up the telephone.
A developer recently purchased three apartment complexes, Cupid said, and the deal all started with a phone call.
“It may seem complicated, but I think a lot of doors can be opened by simply communicating, or I’ll even go a step further and say advocating, our area,” Cupid said.
The area is still feeling the effects of the Great Recession that all but brought development to a halt, said Ford Thigpen, president of the South Cobb Business Association.
“There are less developers and the existing developers are nervous about starting new projects.” Thigpen said.
Still, there are attractions to be proud of.
There is more land available in southwest Cobb to develop and its proximity to the rest of metro Atlanta is attractive to industry and homeowners alike.
Daren Favarote owns The Snowman, a food truck based in Mableton, and says some struggles with redevelopment could be solved by making it easier to start a business.
“The process applying to get licenses to pretty much do anything is just so absolutely ridiculously unnecessary,” Favarote said. “They put up so many hurdles.”
Cupid says there could be room to explore making things easier for entrepreneurs.
Some incentives already exist. An opportunity zone is in place near Six Flags giving businesses job tax credits if they hire at least two employees. The Board of Commissioners will consider another tax incentive program at its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at 100 Cherokee St. when the board takes up the creation of an enterprise zone for south Cobb.
It’s the points of pride for south Cobb like Six Flags, Mable House Barnes Amphitheater and the Silver Comet Trail that should take the focus, Cupid said, and serve as a testament to what the area can become.
There’s no one answer to changing south Cobb’s image, Cupid said, calling it the “billion dollar question,” but she’s convinced a large part of that answer lies with residents.
Neighbors volunteer their time to improve where they live and civic groups take up issues trying to better the community.
“Those are the things that unite us,” Cupid said.