Friday, August 12 2022

Jan. 21 – Cobb County commissioners are due to vote next week on a land deal that would change a controversial zoning decision they made last year regarding Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

If approved, the deal would swap a slice of county-owned property off Terrell Mill Road for an adjacent parcel, which was to be developed into a 38-unit condo development by Venture Communities. This would move the condominiums out of the base’s potential accident zone.

The original condo plot — which property records show is owned by SHH Partners LP — consists of approximately four acres at the end of Leland Drive, a dead-end road that runs parallel to I-75 from Windy Hill Road. County spokesman Ross Cavitt said Cobb would be divesting 4.76 acres of land he owns directly north. Each package is valued at around $1.7 million, he added.

Neither Venture nor his lawyer, Parks Huff, responded to a request from the DOJ regarding the exchange. The county, however, will use the Venture parcel to build a Transportation Department “satellite facility,” where it can house maintenance personnel and equipment. While funding is available for the facility, Cavitt added, its construction would require Board of Commissioners approval.

The land swap could yet be the latest chapter in a controversy that began in May 2021. Venture, a developer in Metro Atlanta, submitted a rezoning application early last year to build 38 condos on the plot. undeveloped. Even before a vote, the proposal drew objections from Dobbins over its location in the base’s crash potential zone.

This zone extends outward from the Dobbins runway and encompasses the area where accidents are most likely to occur when aircraft take off and land. MoD guidelines say residential development should not be built in the area. Military guidelines, however, allow industrial uses in the area, including transportation facilities.

Dobbins was supported in his opposition at the time by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. Although the proposed condos were about 1.5 miles from the base, chamber leaders argued that the rezoning approval could be a strike against the base during the process of realigning and closing the base ( BRAC). The county planning commission also recommended that the project be denied.

Commissioner Jerica Richardson, however, moved at a zoning hearing in May to approve the condo application, arguing that she had placed enough stipulations on the proposal to lessen the impact on the base. She had the support of fellow commissioner Monique Sheffield and chairwoman Lisa Cupid, and the vote was increased to 3-2 with opposition from Republican commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Keli Gambrill.

The backlash was quick. Business leaders and lawmakers urged the board to reconsider its decision in the following days, and tensions came to a head at a meeting of the board of commissioners the following week. Outlining the issues, the chamber said that Dobbins, the Lockheed Martin plant and the Georgia Tech Research Institute that form the campus in question have a collective economic impact of more than $5.1 billion on Cobb County and the Georgia.

In response to chamber leaders publicly claiming that the council had jeopardized the future of the base, Cupid accused critics of applying a double standard to the council. Past development at Cumberland had affected base operations, she said, without similar accusations flying.

Venture CEO Robert White came to the committee’s defense, writing to the MDJ: “The vote in favor was a practical judgment weighing competing interests by the committee … For (Chamber CEO Sharon Mason) or (then President John Loud) to dispute that President Cupid did not consider the safety of Cobb’s citizens obviously false and shameful.”

Cupid, Sheffield and Richardson were all firm following the heated meeting that their stance would not change.

Richardson, however, began giving further indications in July, leaking to a town hall that “active discussions” were underway about a land swap to remedy the situation. DOJ open-record requests revealed the commissioner was approached by staff of U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, over the controversy, which helped set the deal in motion.

The arrangement on the table is reminiscent of the words of Huff, Venture’s attorney, who said during one of the first zoning hearings on the issue: “Quite frankly, if our property was 800 feet north, I don’t think any of our properties would be in the (accident potential) zone.”

A successful vote on Tuesday would complete, after about eight months, that 800-foot march north.

Loud, speaking to the DOJ on Friday, said he was “tremendously grateful that the commissioners looked at options to improve a difficult situation.”

He is also confident that when the time comes for the Department of Defense to review base closures, Cobb can cite the resolution as proof of his commitment to the base.

“Our community is going to be able to tell a future BRAC down the road, as a vote was taken, we took the time to pause, and do a reset, and have a fantastic result” , he added.

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