MARIETTA — In front of a packed audience, the Cobb Planning Commission told developers of a controversial senior living space not to return until September — and with a smaller number of units and reduced height for the project.
After months of reworking, the Atlanta-based Isakson Living returned to the Planning Commission with an updated proposal for the Isakson Senior Living development, with one-, two- and three-bedroom residences for seniors ages 62 and older.
The 53.7-acre site is off Roswell Road across from the Providence Road intersection, adjacent to East Cobb Park.
The original proposal called for 987 units, but this time Kevin Moore, a Marietta attorney who represents both the developer and the owner of the property, Wylene Tritt, said the newest site plan has a total of 748 units.
Of those units, 621 are independent living units in 3-story villas above a parking garage, and 96 are health care units.
New to the plan are 31 one-story cottages with basements, which will be placed closer to the perimeter of the land with the taller buildings collected in the center, “so it is not institutional in appearance, but residential in appearance,” Moore said.
Planning Commission Chairman Mike Terry said the significant case falling in his district is one coming with thousands of emails, many of which were in support of the plan.
“I have struggled with this for a year,” Terry said.
The Isakson Senior Living development is the first application heard for a new Cobb zoning category called continuing-care retirement community.
For the land to be zoned CCRC, Terry said the plan needs to fit the area as far as intensity and height of the development.
The buildings around the outside of the development would be hundreds of feet from Roswell Road and surrounding properties, with trees added along with undisturbed natural areas.
If the plans only have shorter buildings, Moore said it would spread out the units, placing the structures closer to the subdivisions and forcing greater walking distances on the senior residents.
Terry told Moore to return in four months at the earliest with no more than 500 units with only two- to three-story buildings, and only after providing all materials to the board at least two weeks before the case is heard again.
“I think they have their marching orders,” Terry said.
The need for senior housing
By 2020, the population of Cobb residents over the age of 65 will be more than 100,000 people, Moore said, which is up from nearly 60,000 in 2010.
The growing senior population means “Cobb County should lead the area in providing housing options for seniors,” Moore said.
Terry said more than once at the meeting Isakson Living builds quality projects and areas all over Cobb need options for senior housing.
“We all believe that is the case,” Terry said.
Robert Burke, who is an eight-year resident of Cobb and lives off Mitsy Forest Drive to the west of the proposed site, presented the Planning Commission a petition with 2,300 signatures against the development.
Isakson Senior Living would include 65,000 square-feet of common area for a health and fitness center, art studio, woodworking shop and dining facilities. Moore said there would be 119 surface parking spaces and 763 underground parking spots, with 209 employees at the site in the course of a day.
The scale would be the same size footprint as Cumberland and Town Center malls, Burke said, changing the suburban area to urban.
“The view from East Cobb Park would be destroyed,” he said.
Burke added there are large concerns about the traffic generated from a massive retirement community, compared to a single-family attached subdivision with 100 homes.
“Owning and driving a car is part of being an independent senior,” Burke said, and there are no shops, restaurants or worship centers within walking distance.
Although Moore admitted the future land use for the property is designated as low density, he said the complex would generate $1,132,000 in tax revenue, with more than $718,000 going to the Cobb school district, which would not see an increase in services needed for the retired residents. Moore added the developers will donate 9.5 acres to East Cobb Park, a corner pocket in the southwest portion of the land north of Fuller’s Park.
But Doug Rohan, who lives off Nantucket Drive, south of the proposed site, said the tract is “unbuildable” and only offered to “curry favor” with the board.
Community split during vote
The board room at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting was crowded with several people standing along the walls, filling space in the back and overflowing into a room across the hall.
The mostly east Cobb residents were anxious to hear the latest details about the proposed retirement community, and the crowd was split, with 149 people raising their hands in opposition to the plan and 97 in support.
Many of the people in opposition wore neon yellow T-shirts with lettering reading, “Is this the right development for East Cobb?” and “Protect East Cobb from overdevelopment.”
Co-first vice president of the East Cobb Civic Association, Jill Flamm, told the Planning Commission the organization was recommending denial after not seeing an updated plan in a year.
She also stated there was a lack of community meetings held by the developers, yet there were letters and phone calls placed to east Cobb residents that were heavy-handed in garnering support.
Planning Commissioner Christi Trombetti said the large amount of opposition and “emotion over the case” is due to a perception that the developer does not care about the concerns of east Cobb residents.
Commissioner Bob Hovey agreed with even more direct words, stating the Isakson Living application is the worst he has seen in his tenure on the Planning Commission. “They have aggravated the citizens and they have aggravated this board,” he said about not receiving the stipulation letter and project details until Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Another point of contention was the eight- to 10-year construction period proposed by the developer.