ACWORTH — Traffic and trees dominated the discussion at Commissioner Keli Gambrill’s town hall meeting this week at St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church.
Gambrill, who was sworn in last December, immediately opened the floor to citizens with questions and concerns.
Congestion along the corridor where Whitlock Avenue becomes Dallas Highway sparked one of the discussions.
“The county funnels all this traffic to one road, the Whitlock/Dallas corridor. There’s no other way around it when you’re coming down. And for years we have heard, ‘we’re aware and we have a traffic study. We’re aware and we have a plan,’” one woman said. “This is all the Paulding traffic as well. Everybody uses that corridor, but 10 years later and we’re still saying, ‘where’s the plan?’”
Gambrill said Kennesaw Mountain National Park is part of the bottleneck because they can’t widen the road there, but she was recently shown a plan by Cobb DOT for the intersection at Dallas Highway and Barrett Parkway that will “hopefully allow traffic to flow quicker.”
“It’s still in the planning phase. We will have a public meeting when that comes out. Again, we’re waiting to have funding to match that in order to do it,” Gambrill said.
Mars Hill Road was also a target of ire with complaints of potholes and temporary patches that residents say aren’t holding up. There are currently no plans to expand the road to deal with the increasing traffic.
Much discussion centered around whether the board can make changes to local ordinances to deal with what many residents regard as overbuilding, as well as the developers who opt to break the rules by removing all the trees on a property and accept the penalty of planting new ones because it’s cheaper and easier.
“Why can we not suspend their permits to build again in this county? When you come in and you clear-cut because it’s cheaper for you to pay a fine than it is to aesthetically maintain what we have in west Cobb, stop issuing those people permits again. Maybe if builders knew, that if you come into west Cobb and you clear-cut just so you can pay a fine, you’re not building in west Cobb anymore,” said one resident.
Gambrill said changing ordinances should be easy, but it’s not.
“The community will have input, but then also the developers will have input. And again it’s finding that balance ... I can encourage developers when they come in to preserve the trees. I can encourage those things. I can make those suggestions, and then I can follow through in hopefully getting them to do those things. I can’t force them to do it, but I can encourage them to do it.”
The number of retirement and senior living complexes being built around Cobb was mentioned as another source of frustration due to the loss of green space and the traffic they generate.
According to Gambrill, the issue with senior living developments “goes back to the green space comments. It’s the fact that you can put five senior homes per acre, where if we just built single-family residential it would be at a density of 1.1 to 1.75 (per acre).”
She would personally like to see a moratorium on the building of apartments and senior living developments but would need the support of other board members.
On the topic of seniors, the senior school property tax exemption also came up.
School board member Randy Scamihorn transitioned from being a citizen in attendance to fielding questions on school issues. He told the audience that while any changes to the exemption would need to go through the state Legislature, there are at least four school board members — a voting majority — who support leaving the exemption as it is, and that the board would not be taking action to push for changes. His statement was met with applause.
“I’m putting a lot of faith in her for the future, but there are still the political aspects and there’s only so much we can do,” said Cobb resident Kathleen Maddox afterward. “I did think it was very informative. I actually learned a few things tonight.”