Smyrna Planning & Zoning board votes down rezoning for Spring Road apartments

renderings of proposed development submitted to Smyrna Planning & Zoningrenderings of proposed development submitted to Smyrna Planning & Zoning

The Smyrna Planning and Zoning board has again moved to deny rezoning for a proposed development near SunTrust Park on Spring Road.

Last month, it was a mixed-use development proposed by Westplan Investors at 2800 and 2810 Spring Road that would include 310 multifamily units, up to a 12-story hotel, 80,000 square feet of office space, 11,000 square feet of retail and a parking garage. This time around it’s a project that would replace a building occupied by Cumberland Community Church a few blocks to the west at 3110 Sports Ave.

That application calls for 325 apartment units, 3,000 square feet of retail in the form of a coffee shop and 7,000 square feet of “live/work space” in which a resident would live above an office to use for business. But it won’t be happening if the planning and zoning board has its way.

“Mixed-use is difficult, it shouldn’t be easy and it’s not easy,” said planning and zoning board member Tom Bartlett in moving to deny the rezoning request. “I’m not against apartments, I’m against unsmart development and poor development.”

Following Bartlett’s motion, Smyrna’s planning and zoning board voted 7-0 to reject the rezoning application. The vote is only a recommendation and Smyrna’s city council will have the final say on July 16, but given Monday night’s vote and a recommendation to deny from city staff members the odds of approval appear slim.

There were plenty of points to be made from both sides during roughly 90 minutes of input and public comment about the proposal. The project is especially crucial for members of Cumberland Community Church, which is in the process of moving to a new location at the corner of Church Street and South Cobb Drive and needs the rezoning in order to finalize the sale of its old property to JLB Realty LLC.

“The delay is costing us thousands of dollars that we do not have,” said lead pastor Alan Scott, who said his church counts 1,100 members. “I support the zoning application of JLB.”

Several church members also spoke in favor of the project, saying they had given it considerable thought and prayer, while those in opposition said the church had simply sold to the highest bidder without consideration for how redevelopment would affect the area.

Developer JLB Realty refers to the proposal as a mixed-use project, but city staff felt it was more accurately described as an apartment complex given that 97 percent of the space would consist of multifamily units. The 12.5-acre site is currently zoned general commercial and would need to be rezoned as mixed-use conditional.

“Staff’s opinion is this is basically a development of an apartment complex and not really a development of a mixed-use.” said Ken Suddreth, Smyrna’s Community Development Director. “Approval of this request would break with past policy.”

Smyrna and other Cobb cities have moved away from allowing straightforward apartment complexes since the 1990s, preferring apartments accompanied by retail and office space when allowing them at all. Recent projects such as Jonquil Village, Belmont Hills and The Battery Atlanta fit the mixed-use bill.

Attorney Kevin Moore, the attorney representing JLB, argued in favor of the Sports Avenue proposal. Moore said there is a Burger King, Indian restaurant and extended-stay hotel already in front of the property, adding to its mix of uses, and that the presence of the church’s former building also affects how the property can be redeveloped. Moore also said the apartments would not significantly affect traffic on Spring Road.

Following presentations from Suddreth and Moore there were 45 minutes of public comments from 24 speakers inside a packed Smyrna City Hall. Thirteen spoke in favor of the rezoning,m with the remaining 11 opposed.

Most of the opposed speakers brought up the additional traffic the apartments would bring, along with the potential for crime that comes with apartment complexes. Those in favor said it’s what’s best for the church and noted that there are limited development options based on how far back the property sits from the main road.

In the end, the project was rejected 7-0, and now moves forward to city council on July 16 unless JLB and Cumberland Community Church decide to pull their application and try a different tactic.

Derek Norton, who represents the area on the Smyrna city council, expressed doubts the project will go for a vote in its current form.

“It’s great to see so much Smyrna citizen engagement, they are very passionate and vocal about this proposed rezoning,” he said via email. “With a staff recommendation of denial and a unanimous 7-0 denial vote by the planning and zoning commission it’ll be interesting to see if JLB proceeds with bringing the proposal to the city council. If and when that happens both sides will be considered and I’m sure there will be continued engagement by Smyrna residents who want to make sure their voices are heard.”