BOC approves controversial distribution center parking lot on Chastain Meadows Parkway

The Cobb BOC zoning hearing.The Cobb BOC August zoning hearing (screenshot from video).

In the face of opposition from the Bells Ferry Civic Association and other nearby community groups the Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved rezoning for a parking lot for a proposed distribution center on Chastain Meadows Parkway. The request was for approval of a site plan with 320 parking spaces.

The vote took place at their monthly zoning meeting on Tuesday August 17, and was a 3-1 decision, with Chairwoman Lisa Cupid absent, and District 1 Commissioner Keli Gambrill voting in opposition.

The applicant, Scannell Properties #475, LLC, was represented at the hearing by attorney Kevin Moore.

The current zoning, O&I, is described in county zoning documents as follows:

The O&I district is established to provide locations for nonretail commercial uses such as offices and financial institutions, which are on properties delineated within or on the edge of a community activity center and a regional activity center as defined and shown on the Cobb County Comprehensive Plan: A Policy Guide, adopted November 27, 1990. The office and institutional district is designed primarily to provide for four-story and smaller office developments, office uses, motels, hotels, banking and professional offices that complement and provide step-down nodal zoning away from more intensive commercial uses and otherwise to implement the stated purpose of this chapter.

The requested zoning, OS, is described as follows:

The OS district is established to provide locations for office and business distribution/service facilities, and assembly processes which do not emit noise, vibration, smoke, gas, fumes, odors or radiation and are located entirely within an enclosed building which do not involve manufacturing or fabrication of any product. No principal retail sales are allowed unless specified in this section. These uses are allowed on properties delineated within a RAC category, ICA category or an industrial category as defined and shown on the Cobb County Comprehensive Plan: A Policy Guide, adopted November 27, 1990. Limited special exception uses may be allowed on properties delineatedwithin a Neighborhood Activity Center as defined and shown on the Cobb County Comprehensive Plan: A Policy Guide, adopted November 27, 1990, and as may be amended from time to time.

The owner of the distribution center was not specified in the documents submitted for the parking lot zoning, but it will reportedly be an Amazon facility.

Two people spoke in opposition to the rezoning: Jessica Berry of Chastain Lakes, and Tullan Avard of the Bells Ferry Civic Association.

There were a number of contentious issues in the hearing, including effects of the delivery trucks on noise level and traffic in the area, and whether the distribution center will affect the area’s watershed.

But a main point of contention was the recommendation by county staff to treat the parking lot separately from the distribution center.

After describing the site plan itself, Moore argued for the rezoning to allow delivery van parking adjacent to the distribution center by saying, “If they’re located elsewhere, you’ve tripled the number of trips that have to come in for those vans to come in and leave and come back, and for the people to leave and come back as opposed to having those on-site.”

Moore said that the distribution center is allowed under the existing zoning, but that the parking lot requires rezoning.

Jessica Berry, speaking in opposition to the rezoning, said, “I’m a Chastain Lakes homeowner. I’m an attorney and active voter.”

“And I have standing to oppose z 42, standing to sue and appeal in this matter because I live within the requisite distance,” she said. “We speak on behalf of Chastain Lakes, Brookhaven in East Cobb, the BFCA, and concerned area residents.”

“This case is convoluted and riddled with procedural improprieties,” she said. “But unlike in a court of law, we lacked the benefit of cross examination and authentication of evidence in this hearing.”

“Plus, we only get 10 minutes to argue a community and quality of life altering case,” she said. “First, the proposed parking lot must be combined with the connecting warehouse for proper zoning consideration as one site plan.”

“To allow this process of approval shopping undermines the zoning laws that the residents and this board rely upon,” she said.

“Shockingly, the applicant has previously combined the parcels for site plan review, and more shockingly, it was approved prior to this parking lots zoning hearing today,” Berry said. “In doing so the applicant avoided public scrutiny. This was and is procedurally improper.”

“This is not even an ordinary distribution center warehouse,” she said. “Instead it is a high intensity 24/7 operation.”

“Worse, the intended warehouse is in stark contrast with surrounding businesses regarding the number of employees, the commercial vehicle density and building height,” Berry said. “The majority of other businesses are low intensity, operating Monday through Friday eight to five. The applicant seeks to shoehorn an intense warehouse into a low intensity office area.”

Tullan Avard of the Bells Ferry Civic Association also spoke in opposition to the rezoning.

“My name is Tullan Avard and I representing the BFCA and area subdivisions and residents,” she said. “Z-42 has been submitted as a stand-alone parcel and that is how it must be considered. Although this parking lot will become a part of the distribution facility/warehouse to the south, it was submitted as a stand-alone zoning case, so it must be denied.”

“These two parcels are not legally combined yet,” she said. “The applicant can’t refer to them as one combined property one minute and later refer to the parking lot as a stand-alone, as it suits them.”

“We do not agree to rezoning request Z-42 for a parking lot as we have major concerns that it will destroy our quality of life and make our home values plummet, making it no longer a desirable area in which to live,” she said. “This 24/7 distribution warehouse with its vast parking lots will cause continual noise from vehicle traffic with their back-up beepers and constant horn honking.”

“Unlike the other businesses along Chastain Meadows, this Amazon warehouse will draw around the clock tractor trailers and is serviced by fleets of delivery vans,” said Avard. “This is a high-density development that does not belong in this location! This questions as to why the county approved this warehouse under OS without the proper due diligence.”

The discussion was turned over to District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who asked Kevin Moore to return to the podium.

She asked why the plan was initially presented as a warehouse, then changed to a distribution center, a point the opponents of the rezoning had brought up.

“If I could clarify to one point, I just want to make sure it’s clear, because the way this unfolds, we never changed the use,” Moore said. “This was proposed … to be developed as a distribution center from day one.”

He said that an engineer had mistakenly referred to the facility as a warehouse, but that it was corrected to distribution center when the permit was submitted.

In an email Tullan Avard of the Bells Ferry Civic Association told the Courier that the community associations are exploring an appeal of the decision.