Jackie Jones pleaded with commission members Tuesday to grant a special land-use permit allowing their five tenants to remain in the home on Westover Trace in Acworth, near Wade Green Road and I-75.
She and her husband, Michael, did not know they were in violation of Cobb’s ordinances, Jones said.
The couple purchased the two-story home in October 2010, which had been empty for two years. Jones said they invested in the house, remodeled it and intended to rent it.
The five students share the home’s three bedrooms and a basement. Two tenants are sisters who share a master bedroom and one tenant lives in the basement.
Four of Jones’ five tenants attended the meeting. Each tenant addressed the board, told them where they are employed and their field of study. Residents opposing the application also spoke saying they feared their neighborhood would turn into “fraternity rows.”
Planning commissioners unanimously voted to deny the request, but recommended giving the students until the end of December to vacate the house. The homeowners will get another chance to make their case when the Cobb County Board of Commissioners hears the case at 9 a.m. Oct. 15 at 100 Cherokee St., Marietta.
The Board of Commissioners has the final say.
Only two unrelated adults allowed under a roof
Cobb County code says only two unrelated adults are allowed to live in a single-family home regardless of the size of the house. The ordinance was created to target neighborhoods in south Cobb where multiple families lived in a single home.
Christi Trombetti, who represents the area on the planning commission, praised the Jones family for purchasing and upgrading the home. It was apparent, she said, both the landlord and tenants were trying to do the right thing.
Still, Trombetti said she couldn’t support the application.
“We can’t judge our applications necessarily on the people we meet,” Trombetti said.
The recommendation for denial drew an emotional response from the four tenants who attended the meeting. One tenant cried audibly and said she could not afford to live elsewhere.
“Certainly, it would be easier for Michael and I to ask the girls to move out. … We understand that people want to keep their house and neighborhood nice and we feel that we have done that,” Jones said.
They had never considered renting to college students, but they received an overwhelming response when the home was put on the rental market after its first tenant moved out of town. The tenants moved in this summer.
“We were very impressed with them,” Jones said of her tenants. “They all have jobs. They all are serious college students. We were very impressed with their sincerity.”
Growing pains at KSU
About 25,000 students attend KSU and the university has only 3,500 beds available on campus, said Michael Sanseviro, dean of student success.
But he said there isn’t a housing shortage because off-campus apartments provide options for students.
“While there was an historical shortage and we once had very long waiting lists for on-campus housing, with the recent introduction of new off-campus housing marketed to students, there appears to be an ample supply of student-designed housing to meet the current demand for KSU,” Sanseviro said.
The university doesn’t encourage one kind of off-campus housing, like apartments or rental homes, for students who opt not to live in dorms. Sanseviro said it’s important for students to choose the lifestyle that fits their needs.
No one should be discriminated against, Sanseviro said, but students should be held to the same standards as all other Cobb residents.
“We understand the concerns of neighborhoods to maintain a certain quality of life and maintain competitive home values, and we are committed to supporting strong and mutually beneficial ties between the university and the community,” Sanseviro said.
Losing community or adding to the economy?
Though a petition to allow the tenants to stay received support from neighbors, some nearby homeowners voiced their opposition to allowing more than two unrelated students in the home.
Cindy Peterson told the commission that she has lived in the neighborhood for 28 years and she’s “fiercely proud of it.”
But she’s worried about losing a “sense of community” if students are allowed to live in homes in excess of the county ordinance.
“Being so close to KSU, if we allow multiple residents in our homes, we will become fraternity rows,” Peterson said.
Another neighbor, John Ellis, told commission members he was soured on an experience he had in the neighborhood with college renters. He said garbage piled up outside the home and cars of visitors lined the road.
Dea Daughenbaugh lives nearby and said she has a daughter who graduated from KSU and holds the college in high regard. But she is concerned about setting any precedent that would allow students to live in the house.
Rooms aplenty, if you can afford them
One opponent suggested the roommates move into West 22, a new housing complex targeting KSU students near Cherokee Street.
That’s just not possible, said Caitlin Abshier, who lives in the home with her sister and three other roommates.
The five students pay their landlord $1,350 each month. That comes out to $205 from each student. West 22 charges between $599 and $715 per tenant.
“I know that the law was created to prevent illegals from living together and, unfortunately, it affects college students because we’re trying to get the cheapest rent we can,” Caitlin Abshier said.
She’s a senior business management major who owns a natural bath products business, Revive Bath and Body, that is sold in 15 local stores. Caitlin Abshier says she and her roommates aren’t destroying the quality of life in their neighborhood.
“I know that typically the stereotype is partiers and they think we’re going to move in and ruin their community,” she said. “That’s not our goal. We haven’t thrown any parties and we don’t plan to throw any parties.”
That’s because they want to get away from the party scene, said 19-year-old Elizabeth Wheeler, who lives in the home.
“We really wanted to get out of a party atmosphere … now they’re kind of forcing us back into traditional college living,” Wheeler said.
It’s a form of discrimination, Wheeler said.
“We didn’t understand why the government was able to tell us where to live when they don’t tell anyone else where to live,” she said.