According to County Commissioner Bob Ott, redevelopment is on the rise 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,” he said Tuesday at a town hall meeting in Smyrna. “That’s more than the other three districts combined, so there’s been a lot of activity.”
And redevelopment means rezoning, a legal process that leaves some citizens scratching their heads. Ott spent a portion of the meeting detailing Cobb County’s zoning process.
Step One: Zoning Application is Filed and Reviewed
Once an applicant submits an application, Ott said a 90-day clock countdown begins. During this time, the applicant meets with county staff from departments like Stormwater Management and the Department of Transportation.
“Each department has their own set of criteria,” he said “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.”
Additionally, if an applicant is making a rezoning request in an area that has a master plan, like the Vinings Vision plan, the application will be reviewed to make sure it is in keeping with the plan’s guidelines.
Step Two: Planning Commission Public Hearings
After county staff have evaluated the application, they make a recommendation the Planning Commission, a five-member board comprised of representatives appointed from each county commission district plus the chairman’s appointee.
The Planning Commission meets the first Tuesday of each month except for January. At these meetings, the applicant is allowed 10 minutes to make a case for their request, then the opposition is allowed to speak.
“That is a collective 10 minutes,” Ott said. “So if you have five people in opposition and the first person speaks for nine minutes, the other four get a minute.”
Ott added that sometimes the Commission will chose to waive 10 minute time limit for a particularly contentious issue.
The Planning Commission is allowed to meet about an application twice before the body is required to vote on a recommendation for the Board of Commissioners.
Step Three: Board of Commissioners Vote
After the Planning Commission reaches a consensus, the application goes before the Cobb County Board of Commissioners. Again the applicant gets 10 minutes to speak about why their petition should be allowed and the opposition has 10 minutes to disagree.
“A lot of times what you’ll hear from the applicant is this the “highest and best use” of the property,” Ott said. “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.”
He also emphasized that members of the Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners are not allowed to express their opinions about a particular case before a hearing.
“Prior to a zoning hearing I’m not allowed to tell which way I’m going to vote,” he said. “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.”
After public comment is complete, the Board discusses the application, a task Ott said they don't take lightly.
"There are a lot of legal parameters that we as Commissioners and the Planning Commission have to considerm," he said. "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."
After deliberating, the Board of Commissioners casts their votes and the process is complete.