At his Tuesday town hall meeting in Smyrna, East Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott heard from citizens concerned about a proposed rezoning at the location of the former TGI Friday's restaurant on Powers Ferry Road for a RaceTrac gas station and convenience mart.
The commission was to have heard the formal request at its Tuesday zoning hearing. But the matter is still pending before the Cobb Planning Commission, which delayed a vote at its Sept. 6 zoning hearing.
The rezoning request comes from Mountainprize Inc., for land at the northwest intersection of Powers Ferry Road and Windy Ridge Parkway. The next Planning Commission rezoning hearing is Oct. 2.
What follows is a transcript of the questions posed to Ott and his answers on the subject at the town hall meeting.
Citizen: I’d like to know your views on rezoning 1955 Powers Ferry Road, it used to be a TGIFriday’s, for RaceTrac.
Ott: Prior to a zoning hearing I’m not allowed to tell which way I’m going to vote. At a zoning period right up until the public comment period is closed, we’re not supposed to have an opinion. That doesn’t mean that I don’t, I just can’t say it.
Citizen: What sort of support do you need from the area so we can make a difference if we don’t want it?
Ott: Regardless of which side you want to take, let’s talk about how the zoning process works because there is actually a lot of interest in District 2. Just over the last two years in District 2 there has been over $400 million worth of projects: $250 million in commercial and $150 million in residential. That’s more than the other three districts combined, so there’s been a lot of activity.
What happens is an applicant comes in and typically files a zoning application, which starts a 90-day clock. It will work its way through various pre-planned review processes with county staff. There are some certain criteria that they have to show. What normally happens is it gets put into the zoning analysis book. When it gets into the book the various different departments—DOT, storm water, things like that—do their review. There are certain criteria. If there is a master plan like there is over on Powers Ferry, then that’s another level of scrutiny that gets looked at.
Then what happens is it goes before the Planning Commission, which meets the first Tuesday of every month with the exception of January. Each side gets 10 minutes. The applicant gets 10 minutes and the opposition gets 10 minutes to state their case. That is a collective 10 minutes. So if you have five people in opposition and the first person speaks for nine minutes, the other four get a minute.
Both sides get to present their side. What the applicant is doing is they’re presenting why it’s good for the community, why it would meet the master plan, land use categories, zonings. All these things the applicant is presenting. Typically what the opposition is coming in for is presenting how it’s bad for the neighborhood or the community, how it doesn’t meet the land use plan.
Of course, it’s important to have as many people as you can there. However, just having people there doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re going to get the vote you want. There are a lot of legal parameters that we as Commissioners and the Planning Commission have to consider. Basically it goes all the way up to the U.S. Constitution. If our decisions are deemed arbitrary or capricious, which basically means we’re winging it, then we lose in court.
We look at other precedents, other zoning or other legal rulings, that have determined if we have gone astray. The bottom line is you have to look at the zoning, look around the area.
A lot of times what you’ll hear from the applicant is this the “highest and best use” of the property. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, that is not a legal argument to force us to do a zoning. There is nothing that says every single property owner has to have the highest and best use. We cannot deny you access to your property and we cannot take from you. Those are the kind of things we have to present.
What happens is the Planning Commission has three different choices it can make. It can continue it, which means they didn’t hear it at all in the public hearing, they can approve it or deny or they can hold it. The Planning Commission is allowed to hold a zoning hearing twice. After that it has to go on to the Board of Commissioners.
Two weeks later it goes to the Board of Commissioners and it’s basically the exact same process: 10 minutes for the applicant, 10 minutes for the opposition and then there’s discussion for the board. That’s basically the process.
Citizen: It said in the DOT recommendation that they recommended no access to Windy Ridge Parkway, but it did not address if there should be access, which there is currently from that property, to Windy Ridge Connector. I don’t know if they consider that the same street or if they’ve separated. Maybe the DOT should look at that.
Jane from DOT: We were OK with the access that’s currently there.
Ott: Let me clarify, it’s a little bit of semantics. Staff in the back, they have very specific instructions and guidelines that have been put in place by the commissioners. So if someone comes in and applies for something that does not meet the future land use map—the county has two maps. There’s a future land use map, which is a broad brush kind of description of where the Commissioners think different areas of the county should go. Examples are low-density residential, which is a certain number of units per acre, medium-density residential, high-density residential. For example where you folks live is high-density residential, but it’s actually in another category called a RAC, a Regional Activity Center.
So each on of those land use designations has different zoning categories. The best way to describe zoning is a yardstick with one end being ultra low-density rural residential and the other end is heavy industrial. In the middle, you cross over from high-density residential to low-rise office. What happens is you have these zoning categories that go into the land use categories.
DOT looks at the guidelines—whether be federal guidelines, state guidelines or county guidelines—access, site distance, and there’s just a list of things they look at. They look at each road, is it a local road, is it a connector road, is it an arterial? They look at the amount of right of way, because depending on the category of road will determine whether or not one of their stipulations or conditions is that the applicant donate some land to try to get to the right of way that we like to have on that road.
Each department has their own set of criteria. Storm water look are there any streams that we have to protect? So that’s why it’s a 90-day process because it takes staff time. They’ll go out to the site. They’ll meet with the applicant and things like that. So when Jane makes comments, those are not necessarily her personal opinion, those are just a set of criteria that she is reviewing and she just comments on them.
The reality is that the two folks from District 2 who have to sit down and kind of look it all over and make heads or tails in Mike (Terry) with the Planning Commission and me with the Board of Commissioners.
Terry: The attorney for the applicant is holding a series of meetings for the neighborhood. I encourage you to attend those and ask these specific questions.
Citizen: This will be the only 24/7 operation in the area. A few years ago, the master plan said the goal was to make new businesses destination locations and not pass-through locations. I think we’re going to have a traffic problem.
Ott: Those type of comments, those are the ones you make for the zoning hearing.