Billboard bickering: Kennesaw council still debating electronic edifice
by Rachel Gray
April 18, 2014 04:00 AM | 2826 views | 2 2 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
M-Star Hotel owner Arun Patel, who moved to Cobb County 45 years ago, has asked the Kennesaw City Council for permission to erect a digital billboard on the property where he built his hotel 13 years ago to help offset the taxes he is required to pay after being annexed into the city and rezoned. <br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
M-Star Hotel owner Arun Patel, who moved to Cobb County 45 years ago, has asked the Kennesaw City Council for permission to erect a digital billboard on the property where he built his hotel 13 years ago to help offset the taxes he is required to pay after being annexed into the city and rezoned.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
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KENNESAW — A contentious decision to annex a hotel property into the city limits a year ago still has Kennesaw’s City Council debating if a digital billboard should be erected at the site along Cobb Parkway.

At Wednesday’s work session, city staff presented a design for a billboard to be erected on the northwest corner of the M-Star Hotel at 3027 Cobb Parkway, on the west side of the city between Mac Dobbs and Jim Owens roads.

The property was annexed from unincorporated Cobb into the city on May 20, along with a variance to allow an electronic billboard to be placed near two single-family homes.

A year ago, former Councilman Jeff Duckett and current Councilman Tim Killingsworth voted to approve the variance, with former Councilman Bruce Jenkins and current Councilwoman Cris Welsh opposed.

At the time, the late Councilman Bill Thrash was battling cancer and absent from the meeting. Mayor Mark Mathews broke the tie and the variance for the future billboard passed 3-2.

As part of the variance, the final design of the billboard must be approved by the new council, starting with a recommendation by the Planning Commission.

During a discussion at the Feb. 5 meeting, the majority of the Planning Commission members were concerned about the size of the billboard.

Since then, the height was decreased from 45 feet to a maximum of 35 feet from the base of the structure to the top of the sign.

The Planning Commission recommended approval on April 3 with a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Craig MacNaughton opposed. Three members of the board, Fred Moore, Jeff Powers and Doug Rhodes, were absent.

Councilwoman Debra Williams said at Wednesday’s work session the members of the Planning Commission were not happy with the outcome of the vote on the controversial property.

“They still are not comfortable with this,” Williams said.

The council will host a public hearing on the billboard’s design Monday evening. The permit process would also require approval by Georgia’s Department of Transportation.

Mathews said granting the variance would only give the business owner an opportunity to apply for the permit.

According to the presentation by American Outdoor Advertising, the company would “provide one segment every other rotation or minute for the City to use as it wishes.”

Councilman: Billboard violates ordinance

Part of the concern about the billboard design stems from its placement atop a 15-foot hill.

According to a document submitted to the Planning Commission by American Outdoor Advertising, which would own the billboard, the average height of a billboard on Cobb Parkway is 46.5 feet.

There are 24 billboards within the city limits, but Kennesaw’s sign ordinance is supposed to reduce the amount of billboards.

Councilman Jim Sebastian referred to the city’s code Wednesday evening, saying the new digital billboard is violating the ordinance.

“Any sign containing an electronic display which is 70 square feet or larger in size shall only be allowed as conversions of existing sign faces on parcels adjacent to the right-of-way of Cobb Parkway and I-75,” the code states.

Along with this contention, approval of the design would place the digital billboard near two homes. The sign ordinance states the structure must be in a commercial or industrial zone no less than 300 feet from a residence.

Simmons said it is 20 to 25 feet from the back property line of the hotel to the neighboring homes. The billboard would be two-sided, with displays on both sides facing west and east.

Although these residents live in unincorporated Cobb, many council members are worried placing the billboard so close would make the City of Kennesaw a bad neighbor.

Extra tax revenue for city

In 1969, Arun Patel, 61, moved to Cobb from India and built his business 13 years ago, now part of the M-Star Hotel chain.

Patel said when his property was annexed there was an understanding the revenue from the billboard would be needed to help pay property taxes.

Eileen Alberstadt, a familiar face at city meetings who has lived in Kennesaw for 10 years, said she heard one of the adjacent houses is for sale.

The other homeowner is a woman who suffers from seizures and migraines, which could be triggered by the moving light of the digital sign, she said.

Patel said he is not asking for a billboard to hurt anyone.

“It is not going to bother them, or do anything to them,” Patel said.

Alberstadt said annexing the property was not a good deal to begin with, and questioned if the decision was for more tax revenue.

The lines keep moving further and further out, Alberstadt said, referencing the 53 acres of county land on Barrett Parkway that was recently annexed into the city limits for a large shopping center anchored by Whole Foods Market.

“I like our boundaries where they are. You are taking away our quaint little city,” she said.

Comments
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Bruce Jenkins
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April 18, 2014


The major problems I have and continue having with this annexation are two major issues. First, we have a sign/billboard reduction vision, an agreed upon direction from the Council to reduce billboards in our city. This is clearly not the direction we need to proceed with allowing another to be placed. If a stipulation could have been agreed upon, by staff researching opportunities to reduce three or more of the existing billboards I possibly would have considered not opposing it. Secondly, I wasn't comfortable (even though legal didn't object) with an annexation having stipulations to future development with especially questionable or controversial implications, such as challenges to existing codes and impact on future property values of residential property. This annexation to me was a "land-grab" situation, and not referencing established Council vision for the city. Annexation into our City should be an honor and welcomed without stipulations (at least ones that do not redirect or change our vision as residents for our City). Clearly staff's direction is "grow at all costs" is the procedure that they are continually following. Our (City Council) "goals" to grow (increase the total taxable or benefit(s) land areas to existing residents) the city were given to staff, however they did not include "trading thirty pieces of silver" for our City's behavior toward our county unincorporated neighbors. We must understand that advertisement or billboards have had there positive impact to share business opportunities, however we agreed we have enough to this obligation in our city and need to address long term impact of our decisions on property values. IF we are to be good stewards of our tax digest, and actually want to take care of existing revenues, then it is safe to assert we need to protect them from possible depreciation(s) if it is within our power and can be done with following consistent procedure. I hope that a compromise can be created to help this business owner and not add to any incursion of growth on established neighborhoods. This is what I believe is "smart growth".
Be Careful
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April 18, 2014
This is simple.

If putting up a new billboard violates the city sign code, DO NOT PUT IT UP!!!

If a new billboard would be within 300 feet of a home, DO NOT PUT IT UP!!!

Why is that so difficult to understand???

But yet again, we have the MAYOR and his yes man making deals with property owners to get what they want, rules be damned.

Remember the pawn shop debacle?

Mark and Tim are the last "good ole' boys" on council. Next election cycle it is TIME FOR THEM TO GO!!!!!!!!!
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