Ott began the meeting, attended by about 180 people, talking about area transportation projects, but that focus quickly turned when residents voiced concerns about the project proposed for a 53.7-acre tract off Roswell Road next to East Cobb Park.
Atlanta-based Isakson Living, a firm with family ties to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), has planned the development for seniors 62 and older.
The firm will go before the Cobb Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners in October to request rezoning allowing it to develop the site as a senior community. Because it is not zoned for that kind of use now, the board must approve the rezoning for it to become a reality.
During the town hall meeting at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church off Lower Roswell Road, Charles Lehr, an east Cobb IT consultant, asked Ott why residents should believe their concerns will be heard in light of the political connections of the investors.
“Why should we believe ... any concern by the community will be given any sort of consideration?” Lehr asked, as residents attending the town hall erupted in applause.
Ott told the crowd the law prevents him from publicly stating his opinion before the Board of Commissioners votes on the zoning, but he vowed to represent his district.
“Political connections don’t mean anything to me,” Ott said. “Last names do not matter.”
He encouraged people with concerns to email him lists of their questions or complaints.
“Just know everybody gets a fair statement especially in this district,” Ott said.
The MDJ asked Isakson’s office to respond to concerns about his involvement in the project.
“Sen. Isakson has absolutely nothing to do with this project,” said Isakson’s spokeswoman, Lauren Culbertson.
The project isn’t popular with many east Cobb residents.
Lauren Brockman, an east Cobb resident who works in international sales, polled the room toward the end of the meeting, which lasted about two hours.
Only two people signaled their approval of having the center at the proposed location.
The zoning that Isakson Living is seeking, continuing care retirement community, is allowed in what Cobb considers to be high-density, intensely developed areas such as apartment complexes and shopping centers.
Lehr said moving more than 1,000 residents into the community would have a similar impact.
“I think that qualifies as intense,” Lehr said.
Robert Burke, a software developer, asked Ott to specify the criteria that will be used in the zoning decision.
But Ott said he couldn’t do that because it might indicate his opinion on the zoning case.
“There are so many things that go into zonings,” Ott said.
The Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners looks at the size, location and character of the proposed zoning and its potential impact on traffic.
Rezoning applications that get denied sometimes end up in court, Ott said, and that means commissioners have to be careful to base their decisions on evidence the zoning would have a negative impact on its surrounding areas.
It’s the additional traffic that such a project would generate that has some residents up in arms.
Bill Hudson, a retired dentist, says vehicles in that area already experience delays, especially on weekends.
“I’m just wondering how traffic flow is going to be affected by this,” Hudson said.
Ott said that many homes “can’t help but affect traffic.”