Planning Commission recommends approval of Milford Church Road townhomes

Overflow crowd at December's Cobb County Planning Commission meeting in article about Milford Church Road townhomesOverflow crowd at December's Cobb County Planning Commission meeting (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

The Cobb County Planning Commission recommended that the Board of Commissioners approve a rezoning request for a property at Milford Church and Austell roads. The vote was 4-0 after planning commissioner Galt Porter made the motion to recommend approval with a list of stipulations.

The rezoning, if approved by the BOC, will give Traton Homes the go-ahead to build a complex of multi-family townhouses on the property. Traton’s current plan calls for a maximum of 94 townhouses on the 14.16 acres.

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The lots are now zoned R-20 (single family residential) and NS (Neighborhood Shopping). The new zoning category for the property, if approved at the next BOC zoning hearing on December 18, will be RM-8 (Multi-family Residential).

Attorney Kevin Moore, representing the applicant, said, “What Traton Homes is proposing is rezoning the property to RM-8 for a maximum of 94 townhomes to do a quality townhome development at this location.”

He said that the fourteen acre property is designated in the county plan as within a Community Activity Center, the county’s second most intense land-use designation.  He said he and the applicant believe strict adherence to the land-use plan would not be the best use of the property, and that mulit-family townhomes would be an effective  transition from the commercial-zoned intersection, to Milford Church Road, a residential street.

“This project, we believe then, allows that to occur. as opposed to having commercial that would stretch down Milford Church Road.”

He said that after discussions with neighbors of the proposed development the applicant had agreed to landscape buffers along Milford Church Road and in areas adjacent to existing residential neighborhood.  The developer also agreed to place a property across Milford Church Road, originally planned to be the site of a detention pond, into a conservation easement for the county.

The applicant has agreed to restrict the complex, by stipulation, to include no more than five percent rental units, Moore said.

Jackie Anderson, president of Milford Chase HOA (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Jackie Anderson, president of Milford Chase HOA (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Jackie Anderson, president of the Milford Chase HOA. and a member of the zoning committee formed to represent multiple residents along the Milford Church Road corridor, spoke in favor of the rezoning.

“Initially, most of us were opposed to this development,” she said. “But as a result of our meetings, and agreed-upon adjustments made by Traton Homes, we now stand collectively in support of the development.  However, individually there are still some who do oppose.”

She briefly outline community expectations involving “flooding, traffic, and integrity, and a firm commitment to a comprehensive landscape package to sustain the integrity of our area.”

Hal Wilkins, representing the Glen Meadows HOA (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Hal Wilkins, representing the Glen Meadows HOA (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Hal Wilkins, representing the Glen Meadows HOA,  spoke in opposition to the application.

He said he was concerned with existing new home sales being down, and the effect of current home sales on the viability of the project.

“(The) AJC cited that Cobb home sales were down nine percent last year, so we really wondered how Traton would be immune to the forces that impacted the competitors like Lenarr and Pulte, who have lost significant share value, almost half their share value, in the same market, under the same conditions,” he said.

He displayed a map representing townhome sales in the county, and said that interest in townhomes seemed more clustered on the east side of the county than the west side.

He said, “If they’re trying to pursue millennials, if they’re trying to pursue out-of-towners of this target market, what would be convincing enough other than the nice shiny objects in respect to the fire pits and pools, that would attract millennials and out-of-towners to come to a community, although it does have its benefits, (that) is still a struggling Title I  school environment, with Smitha, with Birney, with Osborne as part of that. Would that be attractive enough to get individuals who could afford a $250,000 or $300,000 townhome?”

He said traffic problems brought on by the construction and clear-cutting of trees would make the impacts of the project negative to his subdivision.

“We really couldn’t find any benefits in regards to trying to be in support of this even though we aren’t in support of exclusionary zoning, and we’re not having this sort of NIMBY mindset.  We would love to extend our community to other people.  We just don’t think this is the right project for it.”

Charles Sprayberry, representing the Cobb County Board of Education, spoke in opposition to the project.  He said, “Approval of this petition will have significant impact on enrollment at Osborne High School, therefore we oppose its approval.”

Galt Porter, the planning commissioner who represents District 4, where the property is located, said he appreciated the applicant having more than one community meeting and reaching out to residents.

“I think all of us realize if they build something on this land, there will be more traffic. Unfortunately the Georgia Constitution doesn’t allow us to tell people they can’t develop their land.  They have a constitutional right to develop their land.  So we really get down to is: ‘is this a good use versus another use of it?’  Part of it’s already zoned with the commercial zoning, and even more of it is planned for a very intense commercial kind of use.  At one time it was envisioned there may be a supermarket … here.  But the overall grocery market has just changed rapidly in the last few years with home delivery, and pickup services and all of those things that are happening … the grocery stores have just quit building grocery stores.”

He said a number of other kinds of business the neighbors might not prefer, like automotive-related uses, are allowed under the existing zoning.

“We constantly hear from this area ‘We’d like more restaurants and more of the things that we see in some other parts of the county,’ and the reality is rooftops drive that. But not only rooftops, the types of rooftops drive that.  The retailers and the  restauranteurs know that townhome people go out to eat more than single-family detached … so I can make an argument that townhomes will probably help this community more than another single-family detached (subdivision) in there.”

He said that in terms of Title 1 schools, the development would probably help the schools, because the people who could afford the units would probably not have children requiring Title 1 assistance.  He said school enrollment should not factor into the decision because of the current rebuilding of Osborne High School.

“As far as home sales being down, part of that’s due to lack of inventory. There just aren’t enough homes available for people to buy.  Another part is the rapidly increasing price.”

He said one concern with the development was the mix of public and private roads.  He said townhome communities have often not had the reserves to keep their private roads maintained, and the roads often weren’t built to public standards, so when the townhome community asks the county to take responsibility for them, the county refuses because the roads don’t meet county standards.

Another concern was the size of the units, Porter said.  The community wanted to bump the square footage of the smallest units to 2000 square feet instead of 1700.

Moore said that reducing the minimum size would limit the ability of the owner to set a variety of price points to better market the units.

Porter made a motion to approve the rezoning subject to staff comments and recommendations, and with a list of stipulations including that the private roads be brought up to public standards, and that sidewalks be installed on both sides of the streets.

The motion was accepted 4-0.

For more information visit Cobb County’s  online zoning analysis webpage and select case Z-68 or watch the complete hearing embedded below:

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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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