County considers demolish-and-develop plan for blighted parcels of south Cobb
by Sarah Westwood
June 11, 2014 04:00 AM | 5783 views | 13 13 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
 A pedestrian walks by a boarded up and chained commercial property that has become an eyesore on Powder Springs Road, south of MacLand Road in Cobb County. <br> Staff/Kelly J. Huff
A pedestrian walks by a boarded up and chained commercial property that has become an eyesore on Powder Springs Road, south of MacLand Road in Cobb County.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Robert Wilson, 52, has lived in Mableton for 10 years and can’t find work.
Robert Wilson, 52, has lived in Mableton for 10 years and can’t find work.
County officials are weighing proposals to jump-start growth in aging south Cobb neighborhoods starting this fall.

“Our intent is to try to accelerate the redevelopment process, as opposed to just waiting for it to occur naturally,” said county Chairman Tim Lee, who noted the redevelopment process won’t be as effective if it continues at its current pace.

One major proposal on the table is a plan to purchase dilapidated properties in south Cobb, demolish them and sell the land in an effort toward revitalizing the area.

The practice is known as “land banking,” when parcels of vacant or abandoned properties are acquired by public or private entities to bring the property back to productive use, generating tax money.

South Cobb often lags behind the other three corners of the county in terms of safety, economic growth and education, officials say. In 2013, police and fire officers responded to 735 emergency calls along a single stretch of road in the region, said county spokesman Robert Quigley. That road — Six Flags Drive — hosts one apartment complex, known as a “priority redevelopment site” that alone drew 237 responses. He said the county could save $34,889 in public safety dollars every year if action was taken on the priority redevelopment site.

Lee said he considers land banking a potential panacea for south Cobb’s challenges.

“I think it’s a viable option for any area that has circumstances that make it a viable solution,” Lee said.

Dana Johnson, deputy director of the Cobb Community Development Agency, said the main priority of any such effort would be to rid the area of tax delinquent properties.

The Cobb Board of Commissioners would need to create a land banking authority, Johnson said. The county has also discussed whether the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority could take on a similar role.

“The goal on this is to set the stage for south Cobb where private investment can easily flow to help transform the community,” Johnson said. “Our interest is to really just use whatever actions are necessary to make sure private capital flows to our area of Cobb as opposed to other areas.”

The exact mechanism used to fund the efforts has yet to be decided.

“We’re just looking at our options at this point,” Lee said.

The chairman said money for the project could come from a wide range of sources — such as bonds, special districts or county reserves — but decisions about funding sources are still in preliminary stages.

“(The South Cobb Redevelopment Authority is) exploring the ways in which they could do it,” Johnson agreed.

The mission, he said, would be to clean up south Cobb by purchasing, not condemning, blighted properties.

Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents south Cobb, said she has heard the discussion about increasing the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority’s role and thinks a type of land banking “is a viable option.”

The most recent efforts by the community group have included a marketing campaign to rebrand the area known for its high crime rates and dilapidated properties.

Cupid noted the effort has inspired many studies and plans for south Cobb.

“Waiting on the market to move on its own is not going to give us the kind of results people are looking for right now,” she said.

Initially, Cupid said any money for land banking would come from federal grants.

“In the end it all comes down to money,” Cupid said. “To land bank properties, you need to have some resources to use for that effort.”

Even though it would not begin as a Cobb-funded project, Cupid said the effort will take all of the county pouring attention and money into south Cobb.

She said south Cobb requires a large amount of resources for public safety and code enforcement, which is not met by tax money generated from shuttered businesses across the region.

If selling large acres of land drives redevelopment in places such as Mableton and Austell, then the southern portion of the county could also one day meet “the quality of life people expect in Cobb,” Cupid said.

Cupid said she has been heavily involved in the development of south Cobb, but mostly through the zoning process, which occurs one parcel at a time, one building at a time.

Cupid said it’s time for a large measure to produce results across multiple vacant strips of land, which could “change the look at an entire corridor and change the community in a much broader scale” if it was successful.

In November, Marietta residents voted a $68 million property tax hike into effect in order to fund a similar strategy along crime-ridden Franklin Road.

Since then, the city has purchased two complexes under the redevelopment bond, totaling $20 million, including the 386-unit, 25.2-acre Woodlands Park complex and the 348-unit, 24.3-acre Flagstone Village Apartments. City officials plan to raze the complexes and sell the land to developers in order to revitalize the region.

Lee told the Marietta Daily Journal in January that South Cobb Redevelopment Authority officials view Marietta’s move as “reconnaissance” to gauge the true cost and impact for redeveloping the Six Flags Drive corridor in a parallel manner.

South Cobb residents are “looking for gathering places,” Cupid said, including restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters and miniature golf courses.

On a larger scale, Cupid said Mableton and Austell should benefit from having a large tourist attraction such as Six Flags Over Georgia, which should spur the development of hotel and conference center space.

Cupid said quick access to downtown Atlanta and proximity to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport should also be a pull for “Class A” professional office space.

And even though south Cobb is more of the industrial part of the county, Cupid noted local residents need accounting offices, legal services and banking options.

Still, the region continues to be plagued by economic stagnation and elevated crime rates. The best way to tackle some of those issues is to “remove blight,” according to Johnson. He said this type of remediation can sometimes necessitate tearing down failed structures to make way for fresh ones.

Johnson described a strategic partnership between the county and the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority as a possible solution to the problem.

Officials said the private sector would also play an important role in whatever action they take. Lee listed several steps the county was taking toward stimulating economic growth in struggling quarters, such as job credit opportunities and incentive ordinances.

Johnson agreed the goal is to bring south Cobb’s struggling commerce “back to a market reality.”

One south Cobb resident said jobs have yet to return to the region in the wake of the recession.

“I want it to grow. The economy took a real bad hit,” said Robert Wilson, 52, who has lived in Mableton for the past 10 years.

Wilson said relief will take a county-led effort because local businesses do not have the money to invest.

“It is just going to be slow building. People just don’t have money these days,” Wilson said. “(The county) is going to have to do some real searching to find what will work for us.”

— Rachel Gray contributed to this report

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June 14, 2014
Like it or lump it, South Cobb is the sewer of Cobb County. All counties have their sewers and South is the sewer for Cobb. South Cobb is what started Cobb County. I know how neighborhoods become sewers--I live now in a neighborhood that would become a sewer if not for the few that stand up against and protest against the ones that would make it a sewer if they only could. I drove around the neighborhood I grew up in Mableton, a model neighborhood when it was first built much like the Cleavers in Leave It To Beaver. What I saw was 6-foot fences erected even in front yards, Rottewilers in front yards in dog runs; most certainly a neighborhood I would most definitely not feel free to roam the streets in today as I did in yester-years. South Cobb needs the help of advisors of people that have oversome deterioration--talk to people in Detroit that are trying to bring that city back. South Cobb is beyond help of local people. Be bold and ask President Obama to help personally. If elected members are too cowardly to be this bond, let me know. I have no problem with being that bold. And boldness works.
Mom comment
June 12, 2014
The rot and decay of corridors like this in Cobb County are due to 40 years of basically no zoning. Connected Developers being able to build apartment complex after apartment complex. Shopping center after Shopping center with out of control signage pollution. Big box approvals after approval,abandoned by the Wally worlds Everytime their lease expired and demographics moved West or North. Combined with keeping the residential code and inspections at a minimum that the entry level houses built in this area can not sustain a tornadoes nor do they even have a 30 year mortgage life span. A minimum building code should be designed to build houses that have a life cycle of 100 years with moderate annual maintenance. The $400-$600k houses entry level in east Cobb are above minimum code. They are designed and built to last 50- 100 years. Houses in South Cobb built in the 80's 90's are in such poor quality many neighborhoods should be torn down. The poor quality material is rotted and needs to be torn down.

The Business leaders need to be looking at the bold plan that the city of Brookhaven is doing. Brookhaven has proposed that they be approved to have their own state approved K-12 Charter school. parents will be able to choose actual classroom or virtual. ( they have simultaneously applied through Dekalb). Why? Brookhaven realizes that they can not wait on Dekalb to fix Cross Keys High school and it's feeders, some of the most diverse and lowest performing I. Dekalb. Also ones Dekalb ignores in splost. charters can also require more parent performance, uniforms, discipline. Brookhaven is also saying that responsible parents should not be stuck having to spend $23k to send their children to private school.

Cobb county school district has effectively abounded the schools from Campbell High school west. Even though Smyrna and Vinings has the highest potential for middle to upper middle class neighborhoods. But first it needs a good school option free of gangs. The section 8 housing needs to go. Most fail to meet the code. ( I have done walk throughs for RTI's who have bought them out of town, the shape of even the sample units ( which you know are the best ones, are shocking and unfit for occupation) . These need to be torn down with numbers reduced and market rate apartments mixed with 10% or less for low income reserved? An area must have multiple income levels to survive.

New charter schools, which have discipline as a priority. Then tearing down section 8 houses, unoccupied shopping centers. Etc...
June 11, 2014
This is exactly what is needed to revitalize South Cobb. The private sector doesn't want to invest in an area and be surrounded by blight. By eliminating the blight you can turn properties that are draining the county resources (police, fire, code enforcement, etc.) into properties that are positive for community. The investment will pay a big dividend to the citizens of Cobb County in the end. Invest Atlanta has been doing projects like in Atlanta for years and it has had a huge impact. I applaud the Board of Commissioners for stepping up to the plate to address the problem. For too many years a band aid approach has been used with little impact. A bold step like this is needed.
June 11, 2014
Goldstein is certainly related to these two infamous East Cobbers, but he's right. Every time the government takes a small piece of our liberty in the name of public safety, we lose far more. Remember when Tom Murphy said "We'll never just pull anyone over for a seat belt violation"?

Then there's the militarization of the police...
June 11, 2014
King (LEE) and his Chamber cronies.

Just Wait
June 11, 2014
If the county really wants to improve the area, first remove all the low rent, section 8 apartments on Six Flags Drive. Without a place to stay, the criminal element will find somewhere else to terrorize. Remember THOR, Target Hardening/Opportunity Reduction?"
June 11, 2014
You could have put the Braves stadium site in this "blighted" area or over near Six Flags. Instead you decided to put it in one of the already seriously congested locations in the area.
Cobb Watcher
June 11, 2014
As a long time resident of the area its obvious where the problems areas exist. The commissioners allowed to many low quality, low end developments to be built over the last 15 years. Next come up with a solid 10-20 year plan for redevelopment focusing on quality companies who actually manufacture products, not warehouse or wholesale cheap foreign made junk. Take an active role in forcing commercial building and residential property owners to adhere to higher design standards in renovating or maintaining properties, lets rid the community of garish color schemes and hokey signage. Focus on code enforcement regulations in all subdivisions without "active" HOA's to address maintenance issues that bring down property values. Register rental properties, not to charge fees, but to identify trends so as to bolster Owner/Occupant rates in a given area, 30 percent rental in any given community is too much! I could go on all day....but whats the point, the Braves Stadium seems more important and doing the bidding of the Chamber of Commerce by the majority of Commissioners..... I sense more lip service is all we'll actually hear or get....
Epic failure
June 11, 2014
You will never revitalize South Cobb because of the demographic there. The crime is high and it is all black and low income. People need to start putting money into educating the black demographic and make them accountable. You can put restaurants and shopping centers all you want. I surely would not feel safe to go in that area. Spend as much as you want, but until you change the attitudes of those whom have ruined the area, you won't see results. Ever school that demographic shifts to as the majority, becomes a failing school. They need to get it together!
June 11, 2014
That money for education HAS been thrown to THAT demographic. For years.

Unfortunately, a too large segment of THAT demographic represents a culture that has no appreciation or respect for educating oneself or self-sufficiency.

No amount of money thrown will ever overcome that.

As a result, and sadly, the too large segment of THAT demographic will remain dumb enough to be swayed by whatever promise the hucksters promise for their vote.

Get 'em too smart and they might start actually thinking for themselves. That can be very dangerous for some people political aspirations.

Joseph Pond
June 11, 2014
It is not the function of local government to engage in private business. Lee is Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, not the Chairman of the Board of a private company. STOP speculating with our tax dollars!
June 11, 2014
Mr. Pond, if it were only a mere public entity pretending to be a private entity it might not be so bad.

But, Lee has every intention of forcing the sale (or seizure) of these properties so that his crony’s in the chamber of commerce can snap the properties up at fire sale prices.

Lee is structuring a robbery of lawful property owners...for the benefit of monied chamber cronies.
casual observer
June 11, 2014
Maybe South Cobb could become a massive chicken farm.
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