I wrote last week about a group called the Vinings Exploratory Committee that is underwriting a feasibility study by the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia to gauge interest in and the possibility of a City of Vinings. I am awaiting word from those opposing the effort to share their side.
At this point, I can only tell you what Tom Ham, who is leading the effort told me when I interviewed him for the column. To charges that it is adding another level of government on the citizens, Ham says in fact it is only transferring some responsibilities from county government to the local area. One of those responsibilities is getting local control of zoning requests.
What I didn’t mention last week is that while the feasibility study is underway for Vinings, there have also been similar expressions of interest for new cities in Mableton, Lost Mountain and East Cobb. Zoning seems to be on their minds as well.
In 2019, State Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell, filed a bill that would incorporate the Mableton area. The bill was co-sponsored by state Reps. Erick Allen, D-Vinings, and David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs.
The Vinson Institute released its feasibility study for a proposed City of Mableton (or South Cobb, depending on who you talk to), last year showing the proposed city would be fiscally viable.
One of the responsibilities of the new city would be control of zoning matters. Tre Hutchins, a proponent for the incorporation says, “With the county being 750,000 residents, with it being so large, the county is a one-size-fits-all. So the zoning ordinances are one-size-fits-all. Those ordinances may not necessarily meet the needs of individual communities of interest.”
State Reps. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, and Ginny Ehrhart, R-west Cobb, are pushing a bid for a City of Lost Mountain (or West Cobb, depending on who you are talking to,) They say they want to preserve the semi-rural nature of west Cobb. One of the ways to do that is to have control of zoning issues.
“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,” Seltzer said.
State Reps. Matt Dollar and Sharon Cooper, both east Cobb Republicans, filed a bill just before the end of the 2021 legislative session for a City of East Cobb.
According to Dollar, “If those living in Marietta, Austell, Kennesaw, Acworth, and Powder Springs have that level of local control over their local community, there is the belief that people in this community should have the right to it as well, or at least have the ability to decide if they want to have a referendum.”
The first effort at cityhood in East Cobb went nowhere but this one more nearly mirrors the other current cityhood efforts. The proposed city of 50-60 thousand residents would focus on code enforcement, parks and recreation and – you guessed it – planning and zoning. Proponents said the area is at risk of over-development.
So while the desire for a stronger say in zoning matters is bubbling to the surface around the county, what does the Cobb County Commission do? They vote 3-2 to put 38 condos about 1.5 miles from the Dobbins Air Reserve Base runway. This, despite the fact that the Cobb County Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend denial of the project and over the objections of Dobbins, which says the proposed site lies within the base’s “Accident Potential Zone,” an area where crashes during takeoff and landing are most likely to occur. The Cobb Chamber of Commerce also objected, as well.
The three yeses were Comm. Chair Lisa Cupid and her Democratic colleagues, Jerrica Richardson and Monique Sheffield. State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-east Cobb, and 12 past chairs of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce have asked the commissioners to revisit a decision they never should have made in the first place.
Richardson’s told the MDJ that while she did everything she could to consider the input of Dobbins and the chamber (wink! wink!) an outright rejection of the development would have ended up in litigation, “where community input and stipulations would have been impossible.” Oh, please. Would somebody tell this political neophyte that this would not be the first time a developer sued when they lost a zoning decision.
Zoning is tantamount to a rigged game. There are a handful of attorneys who represent potential developers, know all the relevant players in county government and how and when to time their requests. Neighborhood groups are left to play defense.
Whatever happens to these proposals for cityhood, there is no question that local control of zoning decisions is driving much of the effort. The Cobb Commission’s high-handed decision to go against their own planning commission’s recommendations and put a bunch of condos in a dangerous fly zone says the cityhood people have a point.