But the sudden shift in market conditions has caused a new problem: As pent-up demand for new homes soars, developers are vying for each last bit of developable land in popular areas like east Cobb.
That means some residents could trade their wooded views for a straight line of sight into a new neighbor’s backyard. Others could soon see their quiet, tree-lined residential streets turned into a thoroughfare for construction vehicles.
Planning commission members say the return of packed agendas and meetings that last from morning to well into the afternoon are a sign Cobb’s economy is improving. But the growth that comes with an expanding economy is a headache for some.
Karen Dedier is a resident of the Hedgerow neighborhood in east Cobb where a subdivision is planned for a small plot of land inside the neighborhood. This kind of “infill” development will require construction crews to travel daily on her small street where children play outside. It’s the only access into the 10-acre undeveloped property that soon will be a 20-home subdivision selling in the high $400,000s to high $500,000s.
She says once construction, expected to take 2½ years, is completed, it will bring property values up and add funds to the local homeowner’s association.
In the meantime, though, she has concerns. “Not only are you disrupting the families in general by having all this traffic coming through that we’re not accustomed to, but you have to think of the children,” Dedier said. “We know everyone. We wave. These people don’t live here. They’re not going to have the same vested interest.”
New home demand increasing
Not every new subdivision that has been before the Cobb Planning Commission will be built in east Cobb. The commission has approved rezoning cases for residential developments, like one that will be located near the intersection of Stilesboro and Kennesaw Due West roads near the Marietta Country Club in west Cobb. Others have been approved in south Cobb, Kennesaw and other parts of the county.
But east Cobb still seems to be the hottest draw.
“East Cobb was one of the first areas that emerged from the recession, so it has the most activity right now,” said Rob Hosack, county community development director.
Jill Flamm, president of the East Cobb Civic Association, says the county as a whole is popular for its low tax rates, but east Cobb is particularly attractive for the education its residents enjoy.
School rankings and property values are some of the highest in the county, but that reputation for maintaining a high quality of life has been attracting developers for some time, leading to high-density living and little green space left to develop.
“When I came into office (in January 2011), I thought District 3 was pretty much built up,” said JoAnn Birrell, who represents northeast Cobb.
She soon learned differently when multiple rezoning cases for new housing communities were coming across her desk.
“I think builders will tell you that they are choosing to take new risks in areas with the best schools and highest demand (and) lowest inventory,” said Christi Trombetti, a planning commission member.
Stipulations can keep neighbors happy
Dedier says she knows her life will be disrupted as construction happens practically in her backyard, but she can’t put blame on a homebuyer for wanting to live in the same area her family resides in. Though her home isn’t a new development, many buyers are looking for brand new houses, and that’s difficult to provide in an area where most land already has a purpose.
“I also think, though, that east Cobb is older, and it’s an established area and a lot of people want a new house,” Dedier said.
Ralph Stokes lives near a new development off Woodlawn Drive at Lower Roswell Road.
He, too, attributes demand for housing in east Cobb to its schools and says he’s happy to have new neighbors because the development improved the quality of the neighborhood. New homes replaced older houses with large and sometimes overgrown lots.
“To add really quality homes, you add to the community,” Stokes said.
As developers look to fill a demand for more housing in east Cobb, planning commission members and county commissioners are paying careful attention to input from neighbors.
Bob Hovey, a member of the planning commission, says when all parties agree to stipulations, life gets easier.
Stipulations can include anything from a mandate to include sidewalks with a development, requesting shortened construction hours, instructions on the intensity of streetlights and where to place them, or a requirement to include landscaping that acts as a buffer between homes and a new development.
“They also immortalize the agreements, protecting all parties if an applicant flips the project to another developer,” Hovey said. “No one can say, ‘They never told me about that.’”
Hovey says stipulations vary widely depending on the type of development. For construction of day cares or private schools, traffic related to student drop-offs and pick-ups are a concern. Some local historians may request that earthworks — historical artifacts like Civil War trenches that become part of the land — are protected.
These stipulations come about through conversations with developers, neighbors, the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners. Those talks, Hovey says, are vital.
“I may or may not agree with all of the things they bring up, but I consider the extra eyes on the case an essential part of my job,” Hovey said. “It helps me to be sure I don’t forget to consider some aspect of the case. Stipulations almost always result from these discussions.”
Ensuring appropriate development
Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents southeast Cobb, says his priority when considering infill developments is taking care of people who already call the neighborhood home.
“The people on the outside were there first,” Ott said. He says it’s important to make sure developers keep in mind an area’s atmosphere.
One of many developments going up in Ott’s district is an 11-lot project inside the Atlanta Country Club at the intersection of Chattahoochee Plantation Drive and Atlanta Country Club Drive. The homes have already been sold, though they are not finished, and sold in the $1.1 million and $1.5 million range.
Susan Walker lives across the street from the new homes and wasn’t on board in the beginning.
“At the time, I didn’t know,” Walker said. “I couldn’t envision it.”
Now, she’s more at ease. Developers have constructed a wall and erected landscaping that keeps her from staring into her new neighbor’s home. “It certainly doesn’t hurt my house value,” Walker said of her home built in 1981.
Ott handles zoning applications differently than other commissioners and requires developers to meet with him before filing a formal application. He asks them to meet with neighbors and area civic groups to gauge their reaction to the project.
He maintains that’s what it takes to make sure developments don’t change the character of a community negatively.
“The trick is to come up with a configuration that respects what’s around it,” Ott said.