East Cobb Civic Association’s new president has big plans
by Rachel Gray
April 17, 2014 04:00 AM | 4991 views | 3 3 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
East Cobb Civic Association President Lee O’Neal and co-first vice president Jill Flamm look out of Lower Roswell Road. The new Sterling Estates development is in the background. The ECCA is trying to bring individual home owners and other associations together to promote and maintain the community in east Cobb, including the lifestyle and camaraderie that drew residents to the area.<br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
East Cobb Civic Association President Lee O’Neal and co-first vice president Jill Flamm look out of Lower Roswell Road. The new Sterling Estates development is in the background. The ECCA is trying to bring individual home owners and other associations together to promote and maintain the community in east Cobb, including the lifestyle and camaraderie that drew residents to the area.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
MARIETTA — An association that has shaped east Cobb for more than 30 years says the group’s future advisory role is more about the details of small projects, not broad changes to the well-established area.

Still, critics of the East Cobb Civic Association, which formed in 1982, say the group has met with government officials and developers too much behind closed doors.

The ECCA started with representatives from 12 subdivisions, but now the association represents almost 90 subdivisions, as well as individual members, composed of about 10,000 homes.

Although a term is only one year at a time, the president of the ECCA can serve multiple years tied to votes by members after a recommendation by a nominating committee.

Both Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott and Georgia’s Attorney General Sam Olens were past presidents of the ECCA.

The ECCA’s newest president, Lee O’Neal, started his first term in January. O’Neal moved to Georgia nine years ago from the suburbs of Dallas, an area he said is similar to east Cobb, without the trees and hills.

Jill Flamm, the former president of the association who served four terms and was on the ECCA’s board of directors before taking the head position, will continue to serve as a co-first vice president.

Flamm, who calls herself a Chicago transplant, said she knew nothing about Georgia before moving to Cobb 24 years ago.

“Our real estate agent said this is where you want to live, period,” Flamm said, because of the great school system, the quality neighborhoods and the low crime, secure area.

Even though O’Neal said the quality education in east Cobb is the “anchor,” one of the newest highlights is the area’s dining scene.

“It is really becoming a vibrant place,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal said east Cobb is no longer just a place to come home to at night after a day of work or fun in Atlanta. O’Neal said there is even a growing trend of “east Cobbers,” like himself, working from home.

Of course, the most buzzed-about topic is the planned $672 million baseball stadium for the Atlanta Braves. It will be built on 60 acres of undeveloped land in an otherwise urban area at the intersection of Interstates 285 and 75 near Cumberland Mall.

O’Neal said ECCA members have the same concerns expressed by many Cobb residents about increasing traffic volumes and security.

“We will work with county officials to make sure the ballpark is an asset,” O’Neal said.

At 7 p.m. April 30, Mike Plant, executive vice president of business operations for the Braves, will discuss the organization’s move to Cobb at the East Cobb Government Center on Lower Roswell Road.

East Cobbers active in community development

The ECCA officers say the community is an area with affluent professionals and executives who can be sensitive to property values and quality-of-life issues, such as crowded schools and street congestion.

In east Cobb’s “heyday,” Flamm said the ECCA would be involved in 300 specific zoning cases a year, which required a dedicated group to keep track of the filings and look at site plans.

Now, there is not as much land to develop, so the focus is more on the redevelopment of the existing infrastructure.

“It is making that small parcel fit into the surrounding neighborhood,” Flamm said.

ECCA acts as resource for residents on the zoning process and the rules of Cobb’s code enforcement.

Even though the projects may not be as numerous or as large, the ECCA still plays a role in helping neighbors with the details.

For instance, Flamm points to 40-year-old subdivisions that are replacing boundary walls, even though residents may not know the permits required.

“We can act as a conduit for that situation,” Flamm said.

But O’Neal said even as an intermediary, the ECCA should not mitigate squabbles by neighbors over a barbecue pit in a backyard.

“We don’t want to get involved in too many variances,” O’Neal said.

Seeking a united front

O’Neal said residents of east Cobb are astute and understand economics and “what makes sense.”

Whether it is a discussion about having enough room for fire trucks to maneuver, the type of street lights to be used or if a new development will fit in with the surrounding aesthetics, O’Neal said the ECCA does not want residents to have regrets about not speaking out.

“But the last thing anyone wants is a fight at the podium,” O’Neal said.

Flann said it is best for a developer to initiate a conversation with the ECCA board of directors before a zoning case is filed and the yellow signs go up in a yard.

If these conversations happen beforehand, the development plan and zoning request hearings are smooth with “a united front,” Flamm said.

Joseph Pond, a community activist with the Backyard Chickens Alliance, said he had issues with the ECCA in the past. He said the group did too much of its work with developers and politicians in the shadows.

“And this gives them an unfair advantage over average citizens,” Pond said.

Pond said he now lives in the Canton and Sandy Plains Roads area north of Marietta, so he has not heard of any changes in the ECCA or how the new president might operate.

“From what I understand, they have backed off a lot from their lobbying efforts,” Pond said.

Pond said a change in leadership can be positive to bring the group back to its “core values.” And he applauds community groups that unite homeowners’ associations to give neighborhoods a needed voice.

“I think civic associations are wonderful things,” Pond said.

An older population with options

O’Neal said as the county is building out to other areas such as west and south Cobb, areas in Marietta and east Cobb continue to age.

“There are a lot of changing dynamics in Cobb County,” O’Neal said.

People who are part of the aging Baby Boomer generation are moving out of their large east Cobb homes that require too much maintenance, but these residents do not want to leave the area.

“There is a growing demand for various forms of senior living,” O’Neal said.

One such option is Sterling Estates, a $22.5 million senior living community on Lower Roswell Road with a 96,000-square-foot main building housing 90 suites, in addition to the site’s six cottage duplexes.

“That particular development had a rocky start,” Flamm said about the Planning Commission first recommending denial almost two years ago and the developer initially withdrawing the request before the Cobb commissioners could vote.

After many meetings by the developers and ECCA members to hash out details, the issues were resolved.

“And it went through without a hitch,” said Flamm, although the approval came with a long letter of stipulations.

The Sterling Estates example represents a trend in the influx of developments aimed at seniors demographic.

The most recent example is the controversial Isakson Living development, a proposed community for seniors on 53.7 acres off Roswell Road adjacent to East Cobb Park.

The rezoning hearing to place the property under a new category, continuing-care retirement community, has been postponed for months by county staff.

The contention is over the appropriate population density. The proposal has already dropped from the original 837 independent-living units and 150 health-care units to 749 independent-living units and 94 health care units.

There is still a lack of “firmed-up plans,” Flamm said, so the ECCA will not take a position on the development until more information is presented and filed with the county.

Flamm said she spoke to the attorneys representing Isakson Living last month and saw an informal interim site plan, an update to the one filed in November.

“This is a big project that is one of those you need to take your time with,” Flamm said.

Flamm assigned case managers for the Isakson Living project who will make a recommendation to the ECCA board. But Flamm said the decision about support will not be “done in a box.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
April 18, 2014
Joseph Pond is as well qualified to be in politics as Miss Piggy or Kermit the Frog. Please don't waste your vote on this clown.
Just Wait
April 17, 2014
ECCA, preserving East Cobb's snobbery since 1982.
April 17, 2014
Joseph Pond described here as a "community activist" without mentioning the fact that he is running for District 3 commissioner. Could it be that someone wants to protect the incumbent by not giving her opponents free publicity?
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