South Cobb cityhood informational meeting held

Leroy Tre'Hutchins at South Cobb cityhood informational meetingLeroy Tre'Hutchins speaks on South Cobb cityhood at an informational meeting organized by the South Cobb Alliance (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

The South Cobb Alliance held another informational meeting to advocate for South Cobb cityhood on Monday February 18 at the South Cobb Regional Library.

Leroy Tre’Hutchins, a steering committee member of the South Cobb Alliance, spoke, presided over the meeting and took questions from the audience.

He presented details of the plan, and reasons the South Cobb Alliance is advocating for cityhood.

Why incorporate?

Two of the reasons Tre’Hutchin gave in support of incorporation were more local control, and to keep Mableton’s identity in a time when Smryna is aggressively annexing parts of Mableton.

He said many tax dollars were sent to the county government in South Cobb, but “very little of that is trickling back down to us.” He said that although there are five commissioners, three of those five live in East Cobb, so incorporating would give more power to South Cobb over use of the taxes residents in the area pay.

How many people would be in the new city?

The population of the proposed city would be approximately 70,000.

What are the proposed borders for the new city?

Tre’Hutchins said the western borders would be Maxham and Flint Hill roads, with the western side of Flint Hill remaining unincorporated to allow future growth for the City of Austell. He said the South Cobb Alliance met with two Austell at-large council members and their economic development director, who told the SCA that the City of Austell had no plans for growth.

The SCA decided to leave an unincorporated buffer in case Austell decided to grow in the future.

Hurt Road would be the northern border, and the new city would include everything south to the county line.

The eastern boundary would be the City of Smyrna, he said.

What would the new city be called?

The overwhelming preference for the name of the new city, based on the surveys the South Cobb Alliance had conducted, was Mableton, even among the people who lived in unincorporated Austell, Tre’Hutchins said. “It’s a placeholder, it has been for over a hundred years, it’s recognized in the census, it’s recognized if you watch the news sometimes, Mableton’s on there.”

What about people who are opposed to cityhood?

A resident from the north part of the proposed city asked why there was no place on the survey to express opposition to the plan. She said it was misleading to leave that off.

Tre’Hutchins said that the website was set up in support of cityhood, and that the public meetings were where opposition could be expressed, but that he would take the idea of including an opposition option on the survey with the South Cobb Alliance board.

Economic development, zoning and code enforcement

Tre’Hutchins said, “Some of the things that the conversation has grown out of is a robust need for economic development, and some of the things include code enforcement, and some of the zoning.  With the county being 750,000 residents, with it being so large, the county is a one-size-fits-all.  So the zoning ordinances are one-size-fits-all.  Those ordinances may not necessarily meet the needs of individual communities of interest.”

Because of the 2008 recession, he said, the county cut back on code enforcement. At this point District 4, with 180,000 residents, only has one code enforcement officer.

“So we’re backlogged several years.  And that is a payroll concern, really.”  He said based on where the county is financially at the moment, that can’t be improved on.

He described a consequence of lax code enforcement.

“In the news right now you’ve probably heard about it, right on Riverside Parkway, which used to be called Six Flags Drive, we have a total of maybe eight or nine apartment communities on just that strip. I used to manage one of them: Concept 21, years … many, many years ago.  It’s now Brookside 300,” he said.

“Several years back,” he said, “the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority purchased Magnolia Crossing apartments, because it was a dump, I just want to be quite frank with you. Numerous code violations to the point that they had to condemn the property.  143 apartments in it, probably 90 occupied homes in it. We’re talking about buildings that were just dilapidated, falling down, ceilings falling in, rats … you name it, it was happening there. The county condemned it.”

“So the county actually bought the property, and condemned it, and then they had to relocate those residents.  The problem with that is, we don’t have affordable housing options in Cobb County, so where did those residents go?  A lot of them are still struggling, and this is two years ago. We offered them $500 to move.  And that was it.  That covers your deposit.  A lot of people were not in a position where they could just up and move like that, and they were devastated.  That was the only place that would accept them and that was it. That’s the reality up and down that particular stretch,” he said.

“Now my issue when I look at that particular situation because I did manage a property on that street so I know what the properties look like … Magnolia Crossing was just one of five.  So we made that move for one property.  But the property right next door, two of them across the street, and another one that’s on the other side of I-20, they are all in the same condition. So what are we going to do, are we going to really go in and we’re going to take five communities, condemn them, and relocate five communities of people?  And we don’t really have anywhere to take them to?”

He said, “The reason I’m saying that: they’re in the condition that they’re in because of a lack of code enforcement.”

Would the new city have its own police and fire departments?

Tre’Hutchins said that of all the functions a new city could take on, police and fire would be the most expensive, so the current plan of the South Cobb Alliance is that the county would continue to provide public safety.

Smyrna annexations

He spoke about the steady expansion into South Cobb Smyrna has been undertaking, and said that was a reason the talk about incorporation of Mableton and South Cobb began.

He said, “For example, the City of Smyrna doesn’t have the same code and ordinances as Cobb County. The City of Austell doesn’t, and so what you do is you have developers who will say, ‘Hey, we need different ordinances and we need different zoning parameters’, and if it borders Mableton and Smyrna, what they’ll do is they’ll buy the property in Mableton, but they’ll go and talk to the City of Smyrna because Smyrna gives them the zoning that they require for that community of interest.  So that’s how this conversation started happening. “

A neighbor from the northern part of the proposed new city asked if Smyrna was really planning to annex that area, since, the neighbor said, they’d have to provide police and fire services.

“Yes. The City of Smyrna has aggressive plans to annex.  They actually are creating a feasibility study now to determine how much of South Cobb they can annex and still provide the same level of service that they’re currently providing. That has concerned a lot of the people that live along the Veterans Memorial corridor, because they have direct access to the City of Smyrna because they’re right there at it,” Tre’Hutchins said. “If anyone is annexed into the incorporated City of Smyrna, you’re looking at a 22 percent increase in your taxes than what you currently pay right now,” Tre’Hutchins said.

He said, “That is the concern for the majority of the residents that live along that corridor because annexation is happening, and it has continued to happen. That is how most of this started growing: concerns for trying to preserve what is considered Mableton.”

Next steps

Tre’Hutchins said the South Cobb Alliance has been working with the state legislators from the area to write legislation incorporating the area, and is raising funds for the state-required feasibility study. The proposed boundaries for the new city was developed by the state.

If the study finds the city to be viable, and the legislation forming the city passes, a referendum will be held in which residents of the area proposed will get to vote it up or down.

>> For more information on the South Cobb Alliance, and the proposal for cityhood, follow this link to their website

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