The Kennesaw City Council was unanimous in its desire to bring the Green Roof Inn into the city, but when it came to approving a variance that would allow for an LED billboard on the northeast corner of the property, it split.
The council voted 2-2, with council members Bruce Jenkins and Cris Eaton-Welsh against, to approve the variance with conditions. The mayor cast the deciding vote in favor.
The council voted unanimously to rezone the property from county general commercial to city general commercial and to annex the 1.8 acres from Cobb County into the city.
Owned and operated for the last 13 years by Arun Patel, the 40-bedroom, two-story hotel is on Cobb Parkway near Jim Owens Road.
Though Kennesaw’s planning commission voted 3-2 to recommend the variance be denied, Zoning Administrator Darryl Simmons took the unusual step of recommending approval with the condition that construction on the billboard is completed within five years or the variance is voided. In addition, the final design of the billboard must be approved by both the planning commission and the mayor and council prior to issuing sign permits.
At the meeting, Simmons acknowledged the possibility of constructing the billboard was part of an incentive package to come into the city. The council also unanimously rezoned and annexed two neighboring properties west of the motel, which includes Shemin Nurseries.
“The applicant has not at this time selected a billboard company that would spearhead the design,” Simmons said. “The stipulation allows the planning commission to look at the final design to make sure that the intent of what we’re trying to do is in compliance.”
Mathews said the condition sets a “time clock” on the property owner, rather than just allowing for a variance that follows the land.
Simmons said the existing tree line on the property will absorb some of the anticipated glare from the electronic billboard, which is about 200 feet away from the nearest home on New Rutledge Road in unincorporated Cobb. The city has standards for billboards, LED technology and illumination and height requirements, which the applicant will be held to, he said.
In unincorporated Cobb County, a company looking to install an LED billboard must remove three full-size non-electronic billboards as part of the requirements, or remove six half-size billboards, spokesman Robert Quigley said.
Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh asked why the planning commission denied the request. Simmons said a majority of the members had questions about the final design, including height and level of illumination.
The nearest LED billboard is 2,100 feet away on Cobb Parkway at Watts Road. Welsh said she previously had a home on Main Street, about 500 feet from that billboard.
“In the winter months, it completely illuminated our entire front yard,” she said. “That is a significant concern for me.”
Councilman Bruce Jenkins said he could clearly see Kennesaw Mountain from the hill where the sign would be located. By not following a sign moratorium the city voted on in 2010, Jenkins said the city would be “sending a mixed signal” to residents.
Welsh echoed his sentiments regarding the moratorium.
“We knew that we set the tone for this community,” Welsh said. “Now, we want to bring in another digital billboard and give them a variance and be very poor neighbors from what I see to Cobb County residents at the expense of trying to annex at any cost. … I would absolutely love to have them in the city, but I don’t want to do it at the expense of putting in a billboard.”
Mathews argued that the purpose of the moratorium was to give the city a chance to revise its ordinance governing digital billboards.
“That moratorium was in place so we could draft an ordinance and we could adopt standards and incorporate and regulate the use of digital billboards within the city limits,” he said, noting the moratorium has since been lifted.
Councilman Tim Killingsworth said it was “shortsighted” to think the city was voting on a billboard, as the variance would only allow Patel to pursue the option. Patel would still need approval from not only the city, but likely also from the Georgia Department of Transportation and Cobb Department of Transportation.
Cheryl Durham, who lives in a home adjacent to the property, was one of six nearby residents who spoke out against the sign variance. Durham said she believes the billboard will be an obstruction and worried her investment of $25,000 into renovating her home would be diminished.
“I’m just concerned mostly about my investment and the possible change,” she said.
Harold Hill, who lives with Durham, said he did not want a billboard directly behind his home with the lack of a visual barrier.
“Less than 200 feet? Ain’t that much of a borderline,” he said of the distance between his home and the billboard. “In the wintertime, that’s nothing.”
June Rathbone, another neighboring resident, called LED billboards an “eyesore” and a potential safety and health risk.
“If you’re already on your cellphone and you’re driving it is a huge distraction. It is a huge danger,” she said.
Rathbone said she lives with chronic headaches and believed the electronic lights may trigger seizures.
“There are patterns, there are lights, that if I look at them too quickly, I can feel myself going into a seizure,” she said. “And I’m only one person with a problem.”
Krisellen Bass Wilson said she can see into the motel’s first floor windows from in her house. Wilson went on to say on weekends, she sees headlights through her blackout curtains.
“That makes me wonder the impact of those LED billboards,” Wilson said.
The applicant, Arun Patel, said the purpose of requesting the variance was to see whether it would be worth investing the money to look into getting an LED billboard because he wanted to see if the council was comfortable with the installation.
“We don’t know if we have got the opportunity even,” Patel said. “Before we consider something and bring it to the panel for approval, we are going to work on that first, how we can minimize the illumination of the sign.”
In other business, the Kennesaw Youth Council made a presentation to Suzie Thrash, Kennesaw Mountain High School faculty adviser and wife of councilman Bill Thrash, and North Cobb High School faculty adviser Deborah Tumins, for their dedication to the program.
Thrash told the audience that “time is coming near” for her husband, who is in the final stages of terminal cancer and was unable to attend the meeting, She asked everyone to say a prayer for her husband.
“If he could have been here, he would have really loved it,” she said. “We thank you all so much for everything.”