Seventy years ago, Cobb County had so much land that large plots for sale generated little interest — even at the bargain price of $70 an acre. Such was the glut of property.
Tracts of 50 or more acres just a mile or two from the main shops were common three generations ago. Cobb families could be purchase them for less than $5,000. They are an impossible find in today’s market.
Nowadays, Cobb residents are lucky if their modest townhome costs 60 times that price and their twice-daily commute to work or school doesn’t exceed half an hour in traffic.
The persistent growth of the county has seen its land parcels carved up into smaller lots and sold off over the decades to accommodate the influx of people, businesses and services.
As a result, there are just 10 sections remaining in Cobb County that are 100 acres or more and owned by a single person or entity, according to county records.
So what’s left?
The latest county estimate, as of November 2019, shows there are 26,559 acres of undeveloped or underdeveloped land in Cobb, which represents around 12% of the county.
However, just under 6,000 of those acres are classified under federal regulations as wetlands or floodplain, meaning they’re not suitable for development.
Accordingly, Cobb has just over 20,000 acres of “developable” land left, representing about 10% of Cobb’s 220,800 acres.
To put this into perspective, that 20,000 acres is six times the size of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.
Most of the developable land is in Cobb commission districts 1 and 4, covering the western half of the county, where the percentage of developable land is around 14%.
In the east, in Cobb’s districts 2 and 3, no more than 5% of land is considered developable.
So is Cobb County ‘full’?
While there are a few spots of open land, much of the acreage is not being marketed as potential development sites for commercial activity, according to Dana Johnson, executive vice president of economic development at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
The MDJ asked Johnson what options, if any, a company would have to develop 50 acres of currently undeveloped land in Cobb.
“Most of the 50-acre properties are in west Cobb,” Johnson said. “That is an area where residential is the predominant land use type.”
The chamber doesn’t actively promote residential development, so it is not concerned with the west Cobb sites, Johnson said, citing some smaller options elsewhere that are more likely to attract new business development.
“There are a few sites in south Cobb and Town Center/Kennesaw that are 25+ acres and are in areas that are appropriate for office and industrial development, but they are limited in quantity,” he said.
Today’s scenario for a relocating company is more likely to redevelop land than to find virgin acreage, Johnson said.
In addition to the 20,000 acres of developable land, Cobb boasts around 14,500 acres, or just over 15,000 football fields, of designated parkland, county records show. This equates to around 6.6% of all Cobb land.
Of the county’s four districts, only District 1 in northwest Cobb has more than 10% parkland.
District 4 in southwest Cobb has the least amount of parkland, at around 2.2%.
The county’s short list of single-entity owned properties of 100 or more developed acres includes both public and private land, an amusement park and four golf courses.
The largest of the properties by far is Riverwood At Wildwood, a neighborhood in Vinings spanning 1,540 acres.
The next largest property is 191 acres in Austell on which the Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park is located.
There is a 167-acre section of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area owned by the National Park Service along the river above Cumberland, and a 105-acre public property in Acworth owned by Cobb County comprising dog parks and recreation trails.
Nearby is a 111-acre parcel that includes Allatoona High School.
The golf courses on the list are Marietta Country Club in Kennesaw, Governors Towne Club in Acworth, Dogwood Golf Club in Austell and City Club Marietta off Powder Springs Street.
The Williams family farm and stables on Hurt Road in Smyrna, spanning 106 acres, is the only family property on the county’s 100-plus acres list of single entity-owned sections.
Chad Williams, whose grandfather G.B. Williams first bought the family land in 1949, has researched the history of the property, and also combed county records to identify how many similarly large family-owned properties still exist locally.
Although the Williams farm is unique within county records because it’s still got a single tract of over 100 acres owned by a single entity, there are at least five other Cobb families whose members individually own adjoining properties that collectively amount to 100 acres or more. This is what Williams, a financial analyst, has found, compiling a list of 60 different properties in total owned by these five families, comprising around 1,000 acres.
According to Williams’ research and county records:
♦ The family of the late George A. Montgomery has the largest collection of properties, spanning just under 300 acres on 21 parcels near Laura Lake and the intersection of Bells Ferry Road and Interstate 75 in north Marietta. This land is in woods and family houses but used to also accommodate horses.
♦ Former Gov. Roy Barnes and his family own just under 200 acres on eight parcels in the vicinity of Brown and Holloman roads in south Powder Springs on which cattle is grazed, according to Williams.
♦ The Bentley/Summerour family has about 182 acres on 18 parcels near Bentley Lake Road and North Marietta Parkway in northeast Marietta, plus some adjacent commercial property that brings the total family-owned land to around 206 acres.
♦ Almost 145 acres of timberland on five parcels is owned by the James H Bennett Trust, or the Bennett family, in the Holloman and Brown roads area of south Powder Springs.
♦ The Still family has just under 120 acres on multiple parcels along Macland Road in north Powder Springs, which is operated as a family farm attraction with a five-acre maze and other activities. The Still property has been in the family since 1837 and is probably one of the oldest single family-owned tracts in Cobb.
Williams has also researched the sale of large land parcels in Cobb over the last decade, taking note of a dozen sales totaling 1,063 acres for $59.4 million.
These recently sold properties, ranging in size from 22 to 141 acres, were mostly in the west and south of the county, where county land maps show the highest concentration of developable land is.
Single entity owned properties of 100 acres or more in Cobb:
1. Riverwalk At Wildwood neighborhood, 1540 acres in Vinings.
2. Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park, 191 acres in Austell.
3. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, 167 acres above Cumberland.
4. Marietta Country Club golf course, 159 acres in Kennesaw.
5. Governors Towne Club golf course, 156 acres in Acworth.
6. Dogwood Golf Club golf course, 152 acres in Austell.
7. City Club Marietta golf course, 111 acres in Marietta.
8. Allatoona High School, 111 acres in Acworth.
9. Williams family farm, 106 acres in Smyrna.
10. Cobb County property, 105 acres in Acworth.