The Johnson Ferry Urban Design Plan was adopted by the Cobb Board of Commissioners in 2011 and put into the county’s comprehensive plan, a document that serves as a long-term planning guide for the county. Now, commissioners are considering a set of design guidelines based on that plan to encourage developers to follow the community’s vision.
The design plan and guidelines aim to create a walkable and biking-friendly community and were created after a series of meetings with residents and business owners.
But some argue it’s not their vision.
“I think somebody had a conclusion in mind before this thing ever got off the ground,” said Larry Savage of east Cobb.
Local effort or international influence?
Jan Barton, also of east Cobb, alleges the plan isn’t being driven by local effort but an international move toward more sustainable living. She points toward a non-binding United Nations initiative to create more sustainable, walkable and biking-friendly communities, called Agenda 21, that some Republicans and tea party members say will lead to a loss of local control.
“We have a bunch of people outside of Cobb County telling us we should be urban and suburban,” Barton said.
She likes her community the way it is and doesn’t want it to become more urban.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Barton said.
Savage says he didn’t have a chance for input so he’s using the approval of the guidelines as a chance to speak out and thinks most people still don’t know about the plan.
“If I wanted to be urban, I could move and be done with it and not spend years rebuilding my neighborhood,” Savage said.
Commissioner says he included public
Bob Ott, who represents southeast Cobb and Johnson Ferry Road on the Board of Commissioners, takes the blame for causing confusion by putting the word “urban” in the plan. He says urban design is a type of planning for developed communities, like suburban Cobb, and does not necessarily mean a move from a suburban neighborhood to an urban neighborhood.
“This is not a sustainability plan. … It is at the worst an attempt to improve the design and aesthetics of Johnson Ferry Road,” Ott said.
The design guidelines include specifications for developers about aesthetic elements like landscaping, sidewalks, traffic lights and trash cans. The guidelines are optional and will be taken up by commissioners at a meeting next month. Plans call for reducing the width of lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet and dedicating one lane to solely local traffic with a lower speed limit.
The goal, he says, was to find things that were detrimental to redevelopment along Johnson Ferry Road. Developers may choose to build on undeveloped land because it can be cheaper to purchase than existing properties that need infrastructure upgrades. That can lead to urban sprawl, Ott said.
He touted the process of developing the plan, saying a stakeholder group met routinely and public meetings were held to gauge input from more than a hundred participants. He says he did his part to ensure the community was involved.
Barton says she did not attend any meetings. Savage said he attended some but did not participate.
“Now I’m paying closer attention and I’m very upset about what’s happening to my county, particularly east Cobb,” Savage said.
He calls into question the people chosen to serve on the steering committee and said they are “hand picked” because some have ties to the influential East Cobb Civic Association which Ott was president of in 2003.