Special land use permit recommended for Lost Mountain Nursery

Cobb County Planning Commission deliberates on Lost Mountain Nursery SLUPCobb County Planning Commission July 3 2018 hearing (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Lost Mountain Nursery

The Cobb County Planning Commission recommended that Lost Mountain Nursery be granted a special land use permit to operate on Poplar Springs Road at Dallas Highway without an existing requirement that they renew their land use permit every two years. The long-time garden center had requested a rezoning from R-30 single-family residential to Neighborhood Retail Commercial (NRC). The recommendation was made at the commission’s July 3 hearing.

Presentation by the applicant’s attorney

Attorney Kevin Moore represented the applicant.

Moore said, “I’m here on behalf of Lost Mountain Nursery in this application, which is an application for rezoning, though the presentation I’m about to give you is not going to sound like a typical presentation where we’re requesting a rezoning.”

“This property (has been) operated as a nursery by this owner Ms. (Teena) Barnes for 32 years, who bought it 32 years ago.”

He said it was already operating as a nursery for15 years previous to its purchase by Barnes, and he suspects it might have been some sort of landscaping or nursery business even earlier.

“It is a business that is not only welcome in the immediate surrounding community, it’s enjoyed by that community. It adds to it.  If you’ve been there … Pikes Nursery it is not. It is a long-time business owner, runs a wonderful community-based, neighborhood-based, nursery in the location.”

Moore said the property had previously been granted a temporary land use permit that had to be renewed every two years, even though it was a permanent business. Barnes didn’t realize that she was required to renew every two years.  He said rezoning to commercial wasn’t the real intent of the request.  The purpose of the request is so that Barnes can operate on a permanent legal basis without having to remember to file for the temporary permit every two years.

“I’m here on behalf of Lost Mountain Nursery in this application, which is an application for rezoning, though the presentation I’m about to give you is not going to sound like a typical presentation where we’re requesting a rezoning.”

He said designating the long-time permanent business as temporary makes the business vulnerable to decisions by future boards of commissioners and decisions by banks who might not want to extend credit to a business operating under a temporary permit.

Moore said what the applicant was really seeking was a special land use permit (SLUP) that allowed them to operate on a permanent legal basis, but that he had been told by staff that garden centers were not among the businesses eligible for SLUPs.

The staff had told him that the request for a SLUP would be inconsistent with Cobb County land-use policy, Moore said, but he said the temporary permit was just as inconsistent because Lost Mountain Nursery was not a temporary business. He said the third option, which no one would want, is to shut a fifty-year-old business down, “because we can’t figure it out.”

Neighborhood opposition to commercial rezoning

An immediate neighbor of the nursery spoke in opposition to rezoning the property to NRC. He said, “My name is Richard Hallford. I live right across the street from the nursery. I’ve lived there for 31 years, and they’re good neighbors. I have no problem with their having the nursery there.  I consider Teena, the owner, a friend of mine.  But I do have a problem with nonresidential commercial.  The key word, commercial. If this is zoned commercial, then what’s to keep somebody else buying a piece of property nearby. They want it zoned commercial.  When they come to you, and they want it to get zoned commercial, and they say, ‘Well. You approved this as commercial property right here.  Why did you let them get commercial, and you’re not going to let us?'”

“I don’t want to shut her down,” he said. “She’s been getting a land use permit every two years, for I know 30 years.  So she can keep doing that. But I’m firmly against it going commercial.”

Commissioners vote to recommend SLUP

Skip Gunther, the planning commissioner representing the district, asked when the temporary land use permit had last been renewed.  Moore said that the owner had not been aware of the requirement, so it had probably been a number of years.

Gunther said that in his view, everything that goes on in the garden center was good, and other planning commissioners had told him they patronize the business.  He also said he agreed with Hallford that he didn’t want the property zoned commercial.

“It’s a perfect example of what we really should have a special land use permit for.” District 1 Planning Commissioner Skip Gunther

“This is scenic Dallas Highway,” he said. “The land use does not allow for it.  You can always change the land use plan, but it is not my intention to support anything like that. This is intended to be residential.  But this is an example of something that’s been here … for probably more than 50 years … and has been operated in a very nice way that supports the community.  It’s a perfect example of what we really should have a special land use permit for.”

Planning commissioner Galt Porter asked county staff who were present if the Planning Commission had the latitude to add a special use to the list of those approved for a SLUP.  Debra Blair, a county attorney, said she didn’t know but would research it.

Gunther made a motion to recommend to the Cobb County Board of Commissioners that the applicant be granted a SLUP, to apply to the applicant, Lost Mountain Nursery, only.  The motion passed 4-0.

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Larry Felton Johnson
Larry Felton Johnson is the editor and publisher of the Cobb County Courier. He holds a degree in journalism from Georgia State University and enjoys exploring the county's trail and greenway network when he isn't covering county government meetings and court proceedings.

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