A group of South Cobb residents, activists and community leaders spoke during the public comment section at last week’s meeting of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners (BOC) expressing concern over what they view as lack of results from the money spent by the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority (SCRA).
Dr. Ben Williams, the president of the Cobb County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said that the Board of Commissioners appoints four of the seven members of the SCRA, and the elected officials representing South Cobb appoint the other three.
He said that of the two appointing groups, the BOC had been more responsive to the concerns of residents.
He said, “This venue (the BOC) over time has proven to be receptive to us, hospitable to us, and responsive to us. So that is why we will continue to occupy this space.”
“Sad news is that one of your authorities, that is the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority has not taken up the tone that’s been set by this board,” said Williams. “They tend to continue to meet in a fashion that maximizes somewhat of a star chamber arrangement.”
He said that the SCRA limits the amount of time for input at its meetings, “retiring to executive session for unspecified amount of time.”
“I reviewed some budgetary and expenditure information (of the SCRA). And at that, I am able to deduce that where we stand now is somewhere south of spending $8 million, possibly more,” he said. “And it is not clear what we have been able to get for the expenditure of that money in advancing the primary reason why the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority exists. And that is to develop its two target areas, namely Six Flags and Mableton.”
Shelia Edwards, a Mableton resident, and a candidate for Cobb County commissioner for District 4, said that she had written a letter to the Board of Commissioners requesting that the BOC conduct a thorough review of the SCRA’s operations, including examination of any possible conflicts-of-interest, the transparency of the SCRA, and how money was spent.
“To date, I have received no response to the questions I raised,” Edwards said.
Denny Wilson, a resident of South Cobb, said that the mission of the SCRA is to provide redevelopment and revitalization for South Cobb.
“But if you look at the progress since Doug Stoner was elected vice chairman in 2013 and chairman in 2015 you’ll find very little progress other than on/off ramps for the Six Flags Drive exit/entrance ramps,” she said.
“Now you might say that’s a good thing. And it is,” she said. “But what about the Magnolia Crossing development, that has sat undeveloped for five years without any plans of development in sight.”
She said that the BOC and the Cobb legislative delegation should examine the activities of the SCRA, and that the SCRA “should be recommended to the State Attorney General’s Office for for a full investigation.”
“Doug Stoner has a vision for our community that does not include us and he’s made that clear every South Cobb Redevelopment Authority meeting that I’ve attended,” she said.
Rev. Coakley Pendergrass, a Marietta resident and founder of the Georgia Community Coalition, also spoke about the Magnolia Crossing development.
He said that Doug Stoner is a power broker, and that the community demands that they be an equal partner in deciding how the development moves forward.
Rich Pellegrino of SCLC said of the SCRA, “We viewed it originally as an invading force back under the past administration because the community was not consulted, and it was not taken into confidence.”
“However, in the spirit of cooperation, we tried to work together with it,” he said.
“And members have changed and so forth, and there’s some recently appointed new members,” he said. “That’s a sign of hope. However, as others have said, it operates in secrecy. There’s no transparency.
“And we know that’s the watchword of this administration, thankfully,” he said. “You have work sessions that are open to the public.”
“I mean, it’s not rocket science, they can do the same thing,” Pellegrino said. “So there there are ways if you want to involve the community that you can.”
“So if the Board of Commissioners has any influence at all on the process, then please use that influence to bring the same type of the transparency to that authority that Board of Commissioners practices here,” he said.
Response from Doug Stoner
In a phone conversation with the Courier, SCRA Chairman Doug Stoner said he understood the frustration of residents about the length of time the Magnolia Crossing property has sat empty.
“We purchased the original Magnolia apartments in October of 2015,” he said. “The apartments were very bad shape only had about 35% occupancy at the time.” He said that the purchase of the apartments brought the property to 12.5 acres.
Because of the age of the apartments, it then took a year to do remediation work, he said.
“We are dealing with issues as you can imagine, with buildings built in the mid-70s, asbestos and things,” he said. “That took a year and it was late 2016 when that property … was fully remediated (and) finally put onto the market. And then there was an adjoining property, which we purchased in 2018.”
He said that the purchase of the adjoining Yancey property increased the total acreage to around 50, which made it eligible for the Planned Village Community zoning category, which will allow mixed-use development on the property.
“If anyone goes back and look at these type of redevelopment projects, it’s rare that things happen that quickly, it takes some time,” he said. He said that he sees the redevelopment of the property as a critical mass project that will attract other private investment in the area.
Stoner said the reason for conducting a new study is that the last study was done nearly ten years ago, so the data could be outdated.
“And so that’s part of what we’re doing here is we’re doing a study, and that study just wasn’t that area, that study was basically South Cobb,” he said. “Which includes this area, but the study we’re doing is going to be very specific to this market, looking at commercial, and housing markets down in that and the Six Flags Special Service District or what we call the Riverside community.”
He said the hope is that the study is finished by the first quarter of 2020.
Asked about the criticisms of the SCRA board’s composition, he said that the board is not self-selected, that it’s the responsibility of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and the legislative delegation representing South Cobb.
“The board is made up of seven members,” he said.
“And four appointments are made by the Cobb BOC. “They’re not individual appointments, in other words, the Board of Commissioner appoints four members,” he said.
“And then three appointments are made by members of the Cobb delegation, the Cobb legislative delegation, who have a piece of the jurisdiction of the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority,” Stoner said. “And those are also not individual appointments, but they get together those members who have that piece of that jurisdiction, and together, you know, appoint three members to the authority.”
As for the executive sessions which are not open to the public, he said discussions of real estate transactions are required to be held in private executive session, but any board actions have to be carried out in public.