In a bid to preserve the semi-rural nature of west Cobb, a trio of lawmakers have proposed a new city — one that, if approved in a referendum by would-be residents, would be the county’s seventh city.
“This idea of preserve west Cobb … that’s the vision,” state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, told the MDJ in an interview Tuesday that included Reps. Ginny Ehrhart, R-west Cobb, and Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, as well as west Cobber Scott Johnson. “The city of Lost Mountain is the means by which… that can be advanced.”
Ehrhart plans on filing a bill this session that would detail the city’s boundaries and services and, if approved by the legislature, establish a referendum that would go before voters in November 2022.
The city of Lost Mountain would span from Paulding County in the west to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in the east, and from Stilesboro Road in the north to Macland Road in the south, according to Setzler. Between 66,000 and 70,000 people live in that area, he said. The area includes Harrison, Hillgrove and Allatoona high schools.
Exact details have yet to be finalized, the lawmakers said, and they will solicit community input in the weeks ahead. Reeves, Setzler and Ehrhart would each represent at least part of the would-be city should it come to fruition.
The push to create a new city in west Cobb comes a little more than one year after a similar effort in east Cobb fizzled. The lawmakers leading the push for a new city in west Cobb say they have learned from the mistakes of that previous attempt.
Among those mistakes, they said, were a lack of transparency and lukewarm support from elected officials.
“There will be no unanswered questions, and there’ll be no speculation about motivation for this,” Ehrhart said.
“We’re all in,” Setzler added.
PROCESSCreating a new city in Georgia is a two-year process. The state legislature works in two-year cycles, and cityhood referendum bills must be filed in the first year. Proponents must also conduct a feasibility study analyzing the details of the proposed city and whether it would be fiscally sound.
In the second year of a legislative cycle, lawmakers vote on the bill; if it passes, a referendum goes before voters who live within the borders of the proposed city.
The lawmakers said they have already spoken to the University of Georgia about conducting a feasibility study, which could begin as early as next week. It will take about four months to complete, they said.
A “significant portion” of the $20,000-$30,000 fee the university charges for feasibility studies has already been pledged, Ehrhart said, and supporters have set up an LLC, Preserving West Cobb, that will raise money for the remainder. Johnson, who serves on the Georgia Board of Education, will be the organization’s executive director. Its website will go live Wednesday and it will host a virtual town hall next week.
ORIGINSThe idea of a city in west Cobb goes back several years, the lawmakers said.
In 2014, Bob Weatherford won the race to succeed retiring Helen Goreham, the long-serving west Cobb commissioner known as the homeowner’s advocate.
To the chagrin of Weatherford’s constituents, Setzler said, the new commissioner supported several developments that chipped away at the area’s semi-rural character.
“There did emerge, I think, in the minds of many people of a divergent view of what west Cobb should look like,” Setzler said. “You know, should west Cobb build out, as it were, in a way that looks much more like east Cobb or Smyrna, or should it preserve its more wooded setting?”
That question was answered in 2018, Setzler said, when Weatherford was ousted by Keli Gambrill, who Setzler described as an advocate for low-density growth.
Interest picked up steam, however, after Democrats took control of the county’s governing board in November, the lawmakers said.
“There’s been candidates campaigning countywide that have clearly said, ‘my campaign’s based on more industrial in west Cobb, higher-density development, ... (a) countywide transit focus,’” Setzler said. “It’s absolutely within someone’s right to have that vision. Is that the vision for west Cobb? We believe the answer is no.”
“Personally, I think that we are at a bit of almost a Weatherford-esque crossroads again in west Cobb,” Ehrhart said. “I think we’re facing a commission that perhaps does not share the same vision.”
THE VISIONResidents of the city of Lost Mountain would also benefit from greater representation and, in the lawmakers’ words, “simplicity.”
“We’re not trying to create a mega city with mega services,” Reeves said. “We want to keep it simple.”
The lawmakers envision the new city being run by an elected council.
“They’ll be paid, but … it’s not going to be a high pay, big benefit thing,” Setzler said. “We’re not talking about a city with an inordinate number of employees.”
Although the city would have a city hall, it would be in an existing building, Setzler said, rather than a “large, multimillion-dollar SPLOST project.”
“It’s not all about the city government and their plans and schemes,” he continued. “We don’t envision mayors and council members running on these grand agendas.”
Ehrhart said the city’s charter could be written in a way that would make the city “difficult to grow, in the sense of the bureaucracy of it.”
Any would-be city must offer at least three services, according to state law. In addition to planning and zoning, the city of Lost Mountain would handle trash and code enforcement, Ehrhart said.
“We’ve not heard that citizens from west Cobb have complaints about their police,” Setzler said. “We think policing is going fine, we think public works is going fine.”
Johnson said he hopes the city would not have to levy an additional tax to cover its cost of operation, but added he would know more after the feasibility study is finalized.
The lawmakers addressed some of the issues they expect cityhood opponents to raise.
Opponents of east Cobb cityhood slammed that movement for attempting to impose another layer of government on area residents.
“This is not a growth of government,” Ehrhart said Tuesday. “Yes, we are creating another entity, but we are simply looking to pluck the decision making on certain issues that affect west Cobb and put them squarely in the hands of west Cobb.”
Those who’ve called for more density in Cobb say increasing housing stock could make buying or renting a home more affordable. Ehrhart predicted criticism from that camp as well.
“Just like you can say, ‘what about the person that’s looking for apartment housing,’ you could also say, ‘what about the young family that’s looking for two acres to build a home and raise their family?’” Ehrhart said. “One need is no greater than the other.”
Advocates of east Cobb cityhood decided to retreat and regroup in December 2019, vowing to return this year, although no bill establishing a referendum on east Cobb cityhood has been filed to date. A similar push for cityhood in Mableton attracted less controversy, but also failed to advance. That bill has not been refiled either, though advocates insist they have not dropped the issue.
On Tuesday, the lawmakers pushing for a city in west Cobb said they were not involved in other cityhood efforts. Setzler said he was supportive of those efforts, however.
“In a county of 800,000 people, the idea that you have one local representative to represent 200,000 people and three of the five people that literally make every decision about your backyard, you can’t vote for ... it’s a dynamic that arguably should have been fixed 20 years ago,” he said.