KENNESAW — A year after a split decision to annex a hotel property into the city limits, the Kennesaw City Council unanimously voted last month to deny a billboard designed for the site. 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 Mack Dobbs and Jim Owens roads.
After battling its way through multiple Planning Commission meetings, the height of the proposed digital billboard was decreased from 45 feet to 35 feet from the base of the structure to the top of the sign.
According to a document submitted to the Planning Commission by American Outdoor Advertising, which would construct and own the billboard, the average height of a billboard on Cobb Parkway is 46.5 feet.
One looming concern about the digital billboard stemmed from its placement atop a 15-foot hill.
Kennesaw’s City Council had a public hearing about the needed approval before a permit for the sign could be granted by city staff.
Although Mayor Mark Mathews did not have a vote, he was concerned about the design plan.
“There were a lot of issues with the overall site,” Mathews said.
There are 24 billboards within the city limits, and Kennesaw’s sign ordinance was passed to reduce the amount of billboards.
“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.
American Outdoor Advertising owns billboards in Hiram and Powder Springs, but not in Kennesaw, so the company could not offer a trade.
Mathews said when the possibility of erecting a digital billboard on the commercial property was discussed a year ago, he hoped an advertising company would offer to subtract an existing structure on Cobb Parkway to make the deal.
“From that stand point, I am very disappointed,” Mathews said about the unsupported plan.
Councilman Leonard Church, a former mayor of Kennesaw, said even if a different advertising company proposed a plan to build at that same spot on the hill with an agreement to take down other signs, it would not change his stance.
“If it is digital, it is going to be an issue,” Church said.
Kennesaw chooses to be neighborly
Along with the height contention and lack of an offer to take down an existing billboard, the placement of the new digital sign required another variance.
Kennesaw’s sign ordinance states the structure must be in a commercial or industrial zone no less than 300 feet from a residence. The suggested placement is 200 feet from two nearby homes in unincorporated Cobb. Church was not sure why all the council members were in agreement to deny the billboard request, but for him it came down to the proximity of the residential houses.
“I am getting tired of going against our code,” Church said. “Unless it is a hardship, and I didn’t see a hardship.”
Still, the short distance was already approved as a variance on the property’s zoning when it was annexed a year ago.
At that time, former Councilman Jeff Duckett and current Councilman Tim Killingsworth voted to approve the variance and annexation of the hotel into the city limits, with former Councilman Bruce Jenkins and current Councilwoman Cris Welsh opposed.
At the time, the late Councilman Bill Thrash was battling cancer and therefore absent from the meeting. Mayor Mark Mathews broke the tie and the variance for a future billboard passed 3-2. The variance on the distance to a residence is tied to the property, not the business owner, according to Planning and Zoning Administrator Darryl Simmons.
But there is a five-year deadline for construction to be completed before the variance is lifted, and one year has already lapsed. Before the vote, Mathews said the original variance only allowed the business owner to apply for the permit.
“It did not in any way approve the billboard or the construction of the billboard,” said Mathews, who added there was no guarantee or assurance a digital billboard would be approved at the location in the future. Arun Patel, who sat in the audience but did not address the council, moved to Cobb from India in 1969 and built his business 13 years ago, which is 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 an increase in property taxes. Marty Williamson, a representative of American Billboard Company who addressed the City Council, said he became involved in the property after the variance and did not know about the contention.
“I am sad there is controversy. It is not what I like to do,” Williamson said.