Cobb Planning Commission recommends approval of apartment complex on Town Center Mall property

Planning commissioner Deborah DancePlanning Commissioner Deborah Dance (screenshot from the October Planning Commission meeting).

In a unanimous 5-0 vote, the Cobb County Planning Commission recommended that the Cobb County Board of Commissioners approve a rezoning request that would allow a multifamily apartment complex with 375 units on the site of the Regal Cinema in Town Center Mall.

The request, zoning case Z-70-2021, is for a property located on the north side of Town Center Drive, north of the intersection of Mall 5 Road, on the west side of I-575 at 2795 Town Center Drive.

The case was heard at last month’s Planning Commission meeting and held until this month pending the Cobb DOT’s analysis of a traffic study.

The applicant for the rezoning, PG Investco , was represented at the hearing by land use and zoning attorney Kevin Moore.

The request is for RRC zoning.

The zoning documents for the case describes RRC as follows:

The RRC district is established to provide locations for intense retail commercial, office or mixed
uses which exceed 500,000 net square feet and which are designed and oriented to serve a
regional market making up a community. Projects developed within the RRC district should be
done so as compact unified centers. Ideally, projects developed within the RRC district should
occupy an area adjacent to or having good access to interstate highways, which is delineated
within a regional activity center as defined and shown on the Cobb County Comprehensive
Plan: A Policy Guide, adopted November 27, 1990.

In addition to the rezoning, the applicant requested variances, including a reduction of the required parking spaces under RRC, and the reduction of setbacks on the northern and southern ends of the property.

The applicant’s presentation

Moore opened by stating that a nearby apartment complex in the area was approved in 2020 at 44.5 units per acre, also rezoned to RRC, and that his client’s request was for 26.2 units per acre, less density than the previously approved complex.

He said that the impervious surface would be under 60 percent in the proposal, while the existing surface with the Regal Cinema is over 70 percent, and 80 percent is allowed in the Regional Activity Center category the property falls under.

Moore quoted from the Executive Summary of the Town Center Community Improvement District Master Plan:

Located northeast of Town Center is the Regal Cinema that has potential to redevelop into multifamily or office that will give residents and employees convenient access to the Mall, Town Center Park, and the Noonday Creek Trail.

“Lastly it’s been mentioned, or alleged, that there’s plenty of apartments available, (and) that we don’t need any more apartments in this are,” he said. “And we just beg to disagree. There’s a multifamily sub-market report that’s been put out by Costar and prepared by Presidium, which is our client that shows the vacancy rate is three percent right now.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Moore. “That means we have to have more more multifamily opportunities, because that vacancy is so slim.”

Karen Huck of the Bells Ferry Civic Association spoke in opposition to the rezoning request.

She questioned why the applicant was asking for RRC zoning which includes retail and commercial, rather than RM-16. She said it was because RM-16 zoning was limited to 16 units per acre.

“The Town Center area does have many many apartment complexes,” she said, “Which don’t seem to be helping the Mall, which has fallen into foreclosure and as you know, is struggling.”

“According to, there are 300 vacant apartment units in this area,” Huck said.

“Just this past week, the TCCID approved funding for a study to determine what could help the Mall. So I mean, we don’t know,” Huck said. “Would it be more office space? Would it be restaurants? More apartments? We don’t know the answer to that,” she said.

Huck said another concern was sewage capacity, and that sewage could be smelled at times along Noonday Creek Trail.

“The development is asking for variances to setbacks and seems to encroach on floodplain and regulated floodways,” she said. “The side … that he spoke to going to five feet. How will construction equipment access the property if we’ve only got five feet on one side? Will they be coming into the floodplain to to reach it?”

“Does this county stormwater staff have the ability to determine the impervious surface? Or is this the purview of the developers engineering firm? Why is this impervious surface such an opaque issue that seems to be resolved in the site plan review out of the public eye,” Huck asked. “And I mean, I don’t know how that becomes 60% impervious unless you’re counting all that floodplain.”

“And he’s (Moore) backed off talking about the pond because it was a beautiful pond, it would have been a beautiful view,” she said. “But the county drained it and so really the apartments aren’t going to look over something very nice. It’s a drained retention pond.”

The Bells Ferry Civic Association letter

In addition to the opposition voiced by Huck, the Bells Ferry Civic Association sent the following email to the Planning Commission:

“Dear Cobb County Planning Commissioners,

“The Bells Ferry Civic Association is submitting this letter in opposition to Z-70. This request is to rezone the site to the RRC zoning district to develop an apartment community consisting of 7 apartment buildings, 4 carriage house buildings and 4 garage buildings (which have not been included in the total square footage building summary). We have many concerns regarding this development, including density, setback variance requests, stormwater issues and school capacity.

“To begin with, this is an incredibly intensive development and the zoning proposal is not in conformity with the future land use map of Cobb County. The RAC designation is not supportive of the residential usage. The Town Center Area is already inundated with apartment complexes that have done little to rejuvenate the mall which is in foreclosure. According to there are over 300 available apartments in the Town Center Area, and that is not including several apartment complexes currently being built. The TCCID recently mentioned that the area is in the process of becoming more industrialized. The desirability of these apartments will dwindle if the mall becomes a distribution warehouse center.

“Furthermore, the property is adjacent to the Noonday Creek Area and consists of flood plain (100-year Floodplain Flood Zone) and wetlands. Therefore, variances should not be allowed to reduce the required setbacks and infringe further into the protected areas. Instead, the setbacks should be increased. In the original site plan the back setback was listed at 10 ft. In the current site plan the two buildings at the back of the development have been moved closer to the property line and yet the back setback is now 50 ft. How can that be?  On the west side of the property, there is a variance request to reduce the minor setback from fifty to five feet. Construction equipment will not be able to work on that side of the building without intruding on the property to the west of the development. In addition, we question the impervious surface amount of 6o percent. This percentage is only attainable by calculating in the 50 ft State Undisturbed Stream Buffer, the 50 ft Cobb County Undisturbed Stream Buffer and the 75 ft Cobb County Impervious Stream Buffer. None of this area is allowed to be built on so it should not be allowed to be included in the pervious surface calculation.  

“Stormwater run-off is another concern. Over the years, there has been a substantial increase of impervious development along Noonday Creek and adding yet another massive concrete development will further increase the odds of major flooding downstream into residential areas. It was revealed at the last PC meeting that the County took possession of the retention pond located immediately off-site. The TCCID Alliance had wanted to convert this pond and unique ecosystem into a recreational park area since it connects to the Noonday Trail. It had the potential to become another “Chattahoochee Nature Center” which would draw thousands of people yearly to help rejuvenate this declining area which now consists mainly of apartments, car dealerships and Off-Campus Student Housing.  Instead, the needs of developers have been deemed more important than revitalizing the area for Cobb County residents.

“Other issues include the need for sound mitigation measures since the complex will be situated next to a major interstate, and concerns of the impact this development will have on the assigned schools. Bells Ferry Elementary School is once again over capacity after having added additional outdoor modular classroom buildings just a few years ago. There is already another proposed rezoning request (Z-53) for an apartment complex several miles away that will also create a burden on this elementary school. Nowhere in the stipulations has it been written what the ratio will be of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

“In summary, we are opposed to this multifamily residential community, as submitted due to the intensity, inappropriate usage of the site, variance setback requests, stormwater concerns and the over-capacity status of school enrollment. Therefore, we respectfully ask that you recommend denial of Z-70 (2021).

“Thank you for your time,

Bells Ferry Civic Association Board “

Discussion by the Planning Commission

Planning Commissioner Fred Beloin, who chaired the meeting, turned the discussion over to Deborah Dance, the planning commissioner representing District 3, where the property is located.

Dance asked Zoning Division Manager John Pederson whether his staff had any concerns that the proposed use was incompatible with the county’s land use plan.

Pederson said that staff had recommended approval.

“This is located in a Regional Activity Center, which is our most intense land use category we have on future land use. It’s located adjacent to a regional Mall,” he said. “There are apartments across Noonday Creek from this. There are apartments on the other side of 575 from this.”

“The staff’s opinion is that the proposed use is consistent and compatible with the area.”

Dance asked, “So the comment that was made about the absence of retail and commercial, is that of concern?”

Pederson said no.

Dance then called on Amy Diaz, a project manager and engineer with the Cobb DOT.

She asked Diaz whether the Cobb DOT had evaluated the traffic study on the plan. Diaz said yes, and that the department had accepted the plan as workable.

Dance asked Senior Stormwater Plan Reviewer Carl Carver whether the plan had an increased risk of flooding downstream. Carver said with more pervious surface on the plan than on the existing site that he did not expect more flooding.

Tim Davidson, an engineer with the the county’s Water System Engineering site plan review told Dance that his department had no concerns about sewage capacity.

Dance asked Kevin Moore whether the noise attenuation issue brought up by the Bells Ferry Civic Association had been addressed.

Moore said the trees between the apartments and the interstate should buffer the sound.

Beloin asked Moore whether there was a national standard on how many parking spaces should be available based on the ratio of 1, 2 or 3 bedroom units.

Moore said he was not aware of a national standard, but that the general guideline was one parking space per bedroom.

Beloin asked if the applicant would be able to stipulate that the treeline bordering the interstate remain intact. Moore said that he would check on it and get back to the county within a couple of days, but the applicant doesn’t have control over the right-of-way owned by the state along the highway.

Commissioner David Anderson asked Moore to elaborate on the need for the variance on the setbacks.

Moore said the the variance was requested based on the design consideration of avoiding premium apartments with views overlooking parking lots.

The recommendation

Deborah Dance made a motion that the application be approved.

The motion passed 5-0.