The Cobb Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to deny an application filed by the students’ landlord to allow the five tenants to stay in the three-bedroom home. The living arrangement is in violation of a county ordinance that limits occupants of a single-family home to just two unrelated adults.
The application had been recommended for denial by the Cobb Planning Commission earlier this month.
Commissioners said Tuesday they are sympathetic to the plight of the five women who rent the home and their landlord but feared allowing the students to remain in violation of county code would send the wrong message.
It was just two weeks after the tenants moved into the home — purchased by the landlords as an investment rental property — that neighbors called the county’s code enforcement division to complain that too many people were in the home and too many cars were parked outside.
“The code is in place for a reason,” said JoAnn Birrell, a commissioner who represents the area. “The code was adopted for situations like this, and I do sympathize with you for your investment in a home and trying to recoup your costs on that.”
Birrell argued it would set a precedent if the tenants were allowed to stay.
Commissioner Lisa Cupid called the situation unfortunate and said Cobb has a lack of desirable rental housing.
Cupid said approving the application would not set a precedent, but ultimately voted in favor of denial.
“I don’t necessarily believe that by allowing these women to stay in this home it opens up Pandora’s Box or sets a slippery slope,” Cupid said.
That statement was backed up by county attorney Deborah Dance when Cupid asked her opinion.
“It would be my opinion that granting a (special land use permit) would not necessarily set a legal precedent particularly if you articulate the reasons,” Dance said.
Commissioner Helen Goreham represents northwest Cobb, and the majority of KSU is in her district. Goreham claimed the ordinance limiting occupants is needed.
“There has been a constant challenge up in this area to balance the university and the surrounding neighborhoods,” Goreham said.
Goreham praised the homeowner for purchasing the property and improving it, but said it’s important to preserve the “nature and character of the single-family home neighborhood.”
“I say kudos to the owners of the property for cleaning up but perhaps you could add to the community by selling this property so it’s a single-family homeowner,” Goreham said.
Cobb Chairman Tim Lee said university administrators understand the county’s position and told two of the five tenants at the hearing they knew the university’s housing situation when they chose to attend Kennesaw State.
“The decision to go to KSU is a decision of choice,” Lee said.
Future of a neighborhood
The ordinance limiting the number of residents in a home was created to target illegal immigrants in south Cobb, but some Kennesaw State students have found themselves the subject of scorn from neighbors under the rule.
Jackie Jones told commissioners she didn’t know she was breaking the rules when she signed leases with the students to live in the home on Westover Trace in Acworth, near Wade Green Road and Interstate 75. The house next door and the home across the street were also rented at the time she bought the property, Jones said.
She hadn’t considered renting the home to college students, but when a previous tenant left, about 75 percent of the inquiries she received were from students, Jones said on Tuesday.
With about 25,000 students and just 3,500 on-campus beds, there’s a need for housing in the university area, she said.
“I think it’s very probable that thousands of KSU students are living in the surrounding neighborhoods,” Jones said.
Jones was impressed by the attitude and responsibility of the women she opted to rent to.
“These are nice young girls,” Jones said. “They don’t deserve negativity.”
She admitted there was likely some chaos as the five tenants moved in but said she didn’t think they caused “any kind of deterioration of the neighborhood.”
Neighbors disagreed and showed photographs of the cars of the residents and their guests parked on the side of the street.
“If multiple adults are allowed to live in single family housing, we will lose our sense of community,” said Cindy Peterson, who has lived in the community for 28 years.
The neighborhood had problems in the past, Peterson said, with a home rented to college students that displayed large fraternity letters on the lawn.
But Peterson argues she isn’t unfairly targeting college students.
“In 20 years when these women have children and homes of their own, they will understand our need for continuity,” Peterson said.
John Ellis has lived in the neighborhood for about 30 years and is an alumnus of KSU. Still, he wants his community to stay the way it is.
“My contention is ignorance, apathy and indifference should not be a reason for changing this law or approving this particular petition,” Ellis said.