The comprehensive plan and future land use map is updated by the county every year to identify development trends for the next 20 years. On Tuesday morning, the Board of Commissioners approved many amendments to the 2014 plan at a public hearing.
Georgia law mandates governments at the local, regional and state levels coordinate a plan, which Commissioner Bob Ott said is a signal to developers on how the county hopes to develop a section of land.
For instance, commissioners adjusted the labeling of a 1.2-acre property on Anderson Farm Road, near the corner of Powder Springs Road and the East-West Connector.
The property was rezoned in 1999 for a self-service storage facility, and then rezoned in order to build a childcare center. However, the site located between a bank and a self-storage facility remains empty.
On Tuesday, the board voted 5-0 to change the future land use from industrial to a community activity center, which is a distinction for properties that can meet the needs of several neighborhoods by constructing office buildings and department stores.
The comprehensive plan not only addresses how each property might be used better in the future, but also gathers many parcels together to describe the development needed for an entire area based on investments already being made.
For instance, approximately 75 acres along the Cumberland Parkway and Atlanta Road area, down to the Interstate 285 interchange, was on Tuesday’s agenda.
Ott said the direction of the area has been influenced by the announcement of a 162,000 square-foot WellStar Vinings Health Park breaking ground this year and opening by early 2016.
The 2014 comprehensive plan specifies for that area, “mixed-use developments, medical office and professional office uses should be encouraged.”
Family farmer against change
County staff advised the public and the Board of Commissioners that owners of properties under consideration can continue to operate under the existing zoning. The comprehensive plan is only a guide for the future.
However, the guide can go against the wishes of property owners who are concerned about changes to the future use of their land.
Andy Bray works on his family’s farm on Oglesby Road, east of C.H. James Parkway, just south of the Powder Springs city limits.
To the north and west of the property are residential developments, and to the east is a flood plain that encroaches on a farm. Or as Bray described to the commissioners Tuesday morning, a “swamp area” with animals.
“I am probably one of the very few farms (in Cobb) that makes my living on the land,” Bray said.
The farm is owned by Bray’s grandmother, 94-year-old Frances Keener, who said she moved from Mississippi in 1962 when she married a “Georgia boy.”
The farm houses cows, goats, pigs and chickens, while growing corn, beans, peas and cabbage.
“Things you can eat,” Keener said.
Bray told commissioners he did not want the future land use of the farm to move from industrial to residential.
He said if more residents moved into the area, they would complain about the noise and smell of the farm, so the industrial designation is a better fit.
Ott told Bray Cobb moving the label from industrial to low-density residential means the county wants even less development in the area.
Bray said he is worried that if his grandmother dies, the 23 acres would fall under residential. But staff assured him that if he owns more than two acres, he is allowed to have livestock.
Bray questioned why the future use designation has to be changed if he does not plan to sell the land. He plans to farm the land for the rest of his life.
“This is all a bunch of legal nonsense to me,” Bray said.
Resident wants opposition heard
Bray was not the only resident concerned about Cobb’s plans to develop a piece of green space into a residential area.
At the Jan. 7 meeting of the Cobb Planning Commission, Tom Finnegan spoke against the comprehensive plan, which relabeled two parcels of land near Mabry Road, north of Shallowford Road in east Cobb, from a park and recreation distinction to low-density residential.
The combined area of 21.43 acres sits empty, except for a canopy of pine trees, but 10 acres was rezoned in July to build a 20-unit single-family housing subdivision.
Finnigan’s home in the Hedgerow neighborhood on Singing Post Lane sits just north of the green space, which, according to the future land-use map, should be kept as a public park, a nature preserve or golf course.
Finnigan said he bought his home in the 30-year-old neighborhood two years ago, not realizing the area adjacent to where his street dead-ends would be sold for development.
Staff said at Tuesday’s meeting that in the 1990s, Gov. Roy Barnes started a green space program where counties received funds to protect undeveloped properties. Land owners were given tax breaks for 10 years.
Now that the tax abatements have expired, there is no limit to the use of the private property that was never owned by the county, Chairman Tim Lee said.
Finnigan said the future land use map should be a straightforward document indicating the direction of development in an area.
As a person purchasing a home in Cobb, “should I really be asked to read further or do more due diligence?” Finnigan asked the board.
Finnigan also questioned why the property was sold for development before the future land use map was changed, adding the developer must have known the neighbors could not stop the change.
Lee told Finnigan a developer purchased the land knowing there would be no legal stance to keep it as green space.
He said the new owner requested the zoning change in July for the new development, and not allowing the change would mean denying a landowner’s property rights.
“We are almost obligated to change it,” Lee said. “That may not be necessarily what you wanted to hear.”
Homeowners want green space
Emma Estabrook, who lives one street over from Finnegan on Hawfish Court, said she has lived in her house for 26 years.
Estabrook said orange strings are being wrapped around the trunks of trees in the wooded area, signs that the impending development “all of a sudden is becoming very, very evident.”
“I think that this land at one time qualifying for a green space program says a lot,” Estabrook told commissioners. “Shame on us and shame on Cobb County” for not saving the property from development.
Cobb has purchased green space with voter-approved funds in the past, Lee told Estabrook. There is also a focus by commissioners on the preservation of trees with an ordinance for developers “that is one of the toughest in the region.”
Lee said state law strongly supports property rights, but at least the homeowners in Hedgerow “got another 10 years of green space.”
Finnigan told commissioners he was at the meeting to help the planning process and not “just be a squeaky wheel.”
But he said the neighborhood has contacted a lawyer to advise them on the development, which Finnigan says will drive down property values in the area.
Finnigan also said residents of Hedgerow plan to make an offer to buy the portion of the land that does not have a future subdivision attached to the property.