MARIETTA — County commissioners were given 485 reasons to rethink last month’s decision to close a southwest Cobb produce stand. And Tuesday, they backed off in a big way.
Also Tuesday, commissioners rejected staff and planning commission recommendations in allowing a Powder Springs woman to open a group home for special-needs residents 55 and older.
The Board of Commissioners unanimously rescinded its June 19 decision to deny a land use permit request for Smith’s Produce, located at 4509 Austell Powder Springs Road, in a 5-0 vote. Then, after a brief presentation from owner Jeff Smith, Chairman Tim Lee and southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott switched their votes from last month, joining commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Woody Thompson, whose district includes the fruit stand, in a 4-0 vote to give it a two-year land use permit while letting it stay open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham abstained from the vote.
The county has been requiring the store to close at 6 p.m.
Goreham made the initial motion to rescind last month’s vote and voted to go along with vacating the decision. But she then recused herself due to a perceived conflict of interest because her assistant, Annette Friant, who lives across the street from the produce stand, was the only person to speak against the stand’s land use permit last month, just before commissioners voted 3-2 to give the produce stand until the end of the year to close.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Smith thanked Goreham for her actions, saying her vote to deny the permit at the earlier meeting had been a conflict. Afterward, he said supporters of the fruit stand, who put 485 signatures on a petition, made the difference. Those signatures were on top of the 247 he had turned in before the June vote.
“The voice of the people spoke, because they’ve been getting royally harassed,” said Smith, who took over the stand with his brother after their father, Charles “Paw Paw” Smith, died of a brain tumor on Dec. 4. “And we’re thankful that they did the right thing. I have 485 signatures that are voting people. If they had voted against me today, there would have been problems for them because I have customers. They’re out for blood, but not me. I just want to go away and be quiet.”
Charles Smith owned the fruit stand for 29 years and had successfully applied for and received a new land use permit every two years. When his sons applied for a new permit earlier this year, it passed through staff and the Cobb Planning Commission, only to be derailed before the Board of Commissioners.
Friant spoke against the produce stand before the Board of Commissioners after not addressing planning commissioners two weeks earlier. When the Board of Commissioners again took up the issue Tuesday, Friant was not in their meeting room, and no one else spoke in opposition.
Lee, who is one of two commission members facing a primary election challenge on July 31, said the produce stand’s operations were made clearer to him since the June meeting.
“I felt that it now met the criteria for issuing a land use permit,” Lee said.
Ott said that he had initially been led to believe that the Smiths’ property had been zoned commercial and then they went back and zoned it residential in order to pay lower taxes. But he later learned that the fruit stand itself, which is connected to Charles Smith’s former house, had always been zone residential, and the elder Smith had purchased an adjacent commercial lot and rezoned it residential.
“I went down to the fruit stand to see the operations, it just did not seem like it was invasive on the community,” Ott said. “I kind of got a better picture from what we initially had.”
Ott said he apologized to the Smiths for the inconvenience caused by having them come back before the board.
Last month, Thompson motioned to allow the Smiths to extend the land use permit for one year, with hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., before that motion lost with a 3-2 vote. This time, he motioned to let the stand stay open until 8 p.m., with a two-year land use permit.
“I just gave it some thought, especially since I saw the outpouring of approval from the community,” said Thompson, who is facing five Democratic challengers in the primary. “And quite frankly, we’ve never had any complaints on them. I was down there yesterday at 2 or 2:30 in the afternoon, and there were customers coming in and out even at that time.”
As for the group home, even though the planning commission voted 4-0 on July 3 to recommend denying registered nurse Edith Page’s request to open her Top of the Line facility in a seven-bedroom house at 4712 Meadows Road in Powder Springs, saying the county was re-evaluating its policy on group homes, the Board of Commissioners approved a land use permit 5-0, which will allow her to open the home for up to eight people for a year.
Page had withdrawn a request to open another group home at her home on Brownsville Road south of Powder Springs the day before the planning commission’s February meeting. But staff didn’t realize the request had been withdrawn until after the meeting. The planning commission went ahead with a hearing, at which 19 people showed up in opposition, and voted 5-0 to recommend denying her request.
Opposition concerns in February ranged from the possibility of residents with violence issues living in the home to the location of the home’s driveway in a floodplain.
But no one showed up to oppose Page’s new request at either the planning commission or Board of Commissioners meetings this month. She even presented a petition with 70 signatures in support of her group home.
On Tuesday, Page said her group home, which had previously been located at another site in Powder Springs, assists veterans and others in urgent need of care.
“I see my work as a ministry and not merely a business,” Page said.
She showed a three-minute video promoting Top of the Line’s programs, including teaching mentally challenged residents how to cook for themselves and training them to use computers.
Thompson said he went against the recommendations because Page had appeared to “cover the bases” on her application. But, after the meeting, Thompson said he was unaware that Page was arrested in June a misdemeanor simple battery charge.
According to a magistrate court warrant, Fred Sewani, owner of the Austell Food Store at 5565 Austell Powder Springs Road, said he was meeting with Page on June 12 in the store’s parking lot to discuss a “civil issue” when Page “forcefully grabbed” Suwani’s wrist and snatched a check he was holding. Sewani immediately located a police officer in the same parking lot and reported the incident, according to the warrant.
Page was arrested June 19 and released on $1,000 bond that same day.
According to the Cobb solicitor general’s office, the case is still unresolved.
“It doesn’t sound like it was too awfully bad,” Thompson said when notified of Page’s arrest. “I probably would have consulted the county attorney on that first.”
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