Kevin Isakson, director of sales and marketing for Isakson Living, maintains the community his company has proposed for east Cobb could set a good example for other developers looking to build under a county zoning category tailored to senior developments that has never been used.
It all comes down to the debate over the appropriate population density for Cobb County. The proposal, originally calling for 987 units, has received wide-ranging opposition from residents alleging that’s too many units and will create traffic problems.
Isakson Living is trying to build the community under a Cobb zoning category called continuing-care retirement community, but in November, the Cobb Board of Commissioner placed a moratorium on that zoning until April 1.
The moratorium was meant to give commissioners time to meet with county staff and business leaders in the senior living industry and make recommendations on how the zoning category could be improved.
All tracts of land in Cobb have assigned zoning categories. When developers want to build something that isn’t allowed under the land’s current zoning, they must request a rezoning from the county.
Developer touts scaled-down proposal
Isakson told the MDJ in November he felt the zoning category should be allowed to stand and his development should be approved.
“My opinion still remains the same. I don’t feel as though the code needs to be changed. I think ours is an appropriate use of this land,” said Isakson, son of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Plans from Isakson Living originally called for a 987-unit residential development on 53.7 acres off Roswell Road adjacent to East Cobb Park.
The development, to be called Isakson Senior Living, would feature one-, two- and three-bedroom homes for seniors ages 62 and up. Homes were to range up to 2,500 square feet with four-story buildings on top of a parking garage.
Isakson touted the changes the company has made since it first introduced its proposal and received blowback from much of the east Cobb community.
The population density has fallen by 15 percent, dropping from the original proposed 837 independent living units and 150 health care units to 749 independent living units and 94 healthcare units.
Undisturbed land area has increased by 2 acres from 21 acres to 23 acres.
“We’ve also increased the total green space to over 70 percent of the development, so more than 40 acres,” Isakson said of the areas of the development that would encompass both untouched land and landscaped areas.
The height of the buildings has also been reduced from four stories to two or three stories in some areas.
Isakson says he understands the position the county is in and wants to continue to speak with county staff and residents about how the development could be improved.
The company has met with residents of Indian Hills, Independence Square, Hidden Hollow and Misty Forest neighborhoods.
“Those are the key neighborhoods in the most immediate area,” Isakson said.
He also hopes to meet with the East Cobb Civic Association soon.
Jill Flamm, president of the association which represents about 9,000 homeowners, says she hasn’t met with the group since it revised its proposal, but appreciates that the county is taking more time to consider the zoning.
Ott: Zonings take time to get right
Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the area, says the committee that helped put the continuing-care retirement community zoning in place has been brought back.
“So the idea was if it’s going to be reviewed, why not review it in the same way it was created?” Ott said.
But because Isakson Living has a pending rezoning application, it can’t be a part of the review process. Ott said that’s unfortunate, because the company was involved in the original creation of the zoning and is a large senior community developer.
He’s not sure if the committee has met yet, but said it won’t just be considering whether or not to discontinue the category. It will be looking at ways to improve the category in the future.
Ott points to other zoning categories that took years to perfect.
Both the open space community and conservation subdivisions categories, which promote green space in neighborhoods, were tweaked after being originally put on the books, Ott said. Conservation subdivision was eventually done away with, but open space community remains intact.
Ott looks to the residential senior living category as an example of how the continuing-care category under consideration now could move forward.
Residential senior living also caters to seniors-only developments but is made for communities that are on a smaller scale than Isakson Living’s 843-unit proposal.
It’s a “commonplace” zoning now, but it took a few years to get there, Ott said.
“I remember sitting on planning commission with seniors coming in and saying we want this,” Ott said. “The issue was seniors wanted affordable senior housing … but close to where they live. They didn’t want to be put on some arterial street.”
Seniors wanted to be able to get the care they need, Ott said, and still shop at the same grocery store and see the same doctors in their neighborhood.
“The senior living issue is real, but it takes time to get it right,” Ott said.