In a 5-0 vote Tuesday the Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved motions by District 2 Commissioner Jerica Richardson that will hold a decision on the controversial St. Benedict’s Episcopal School expansion until the February BOC zoning meeting.
The Cobb County Planning Commission recommended in its December meeting that the BOC approve the request, which would allow the school to build classrooms for fifth to eighth-graders on a 4.2-acre lot near the existing campus.
The current zoning is a mix of R-20 (single-family residential) and OI (office and institutional). The applicant requested that the property be rezoned OI.
The property is located on the east and north side of Daniel Street, on the west side of Cooper Lake Road. Both those are near Atlanta Road.
The school was represented at the hearing by attorney Kevin Moore.
Moore showed an overview map of the existing campus and said the goal of St. Benedicts was to spread their student population across the property they own, and that includes the proposed new middle school building.
“They do not have goals of a high school, they have goals of educating preschool through eighth grade,” he said. “And that’s what their mission is all about. And they’ve been very public with that.”
“And they’re highly involved with this immediate community,” Moore said. “Much of the community in the immediate surrounding area has adopted St. Benedict’s as their community school, as you would any other school located down the street from where you may live.”
“The headmaster for the school, Brian Sullivan, is somebody that everybody recognizes in the local community and …he’s always available to answer questions,” Moore said.
Moore talked about one of the primary objections raised by residents of the surrounding neighborhood, which is traffic.
He said that the traffic issues are limited to 30 minutes in the morning, and 30 minutes in the afternoon, and that the school’s carpooling plan addresses the traffic issue.
“One of the benefits we have here is that the school is already doing this on a daily basis today,” he said. “That is, they’re having carpool in the morning and carpool in the afternoon.”
“That’s just along these exact same streets today. Now, that activity that we’re talking about in this proposal, is bringing that to this 4.2-acre tract for the Middle School, which is just south of here today,” he said. “But we’re not introducing a middle school grades five through eight to an area that doesn’t have it today.”
Attorney Brian Daughdrill of Giacoma, Daughdrill & Roberts represented the Kensington Green Homeowners Association, which is opposed to the rezoning.
Daughdrill said, “There are plans to increase their enrollment at their other campuses on Cooper Lake Road and add these 240 Students north of the intersection with Daniel and Atlanta roads.”
“And that’s critical because (of) the existing traffic patterns out there and patterns that have been in place since 2018, which was last time the school came before this board and asked about it,” he said. “The Daniel Road (and) Atlanta Road intersection is failing, it is failing now.”
Daughdrill also raised the question of stormwater management, since new drainage would have to be installed to keep water from flowing from an expanded campus and into the Kensington Green community.
“We think there’s more than ample reason to simply deny this outright,” he said. “It’s not compatible with what’s around it. It’s not compatible with a comprehensive plan. It’s going in on intersections that are already failing, before you put 600 new vehicle trips in.”
Commissioner Richardson called on Amy Diaz, a senior engineer with the Cobb DOT to comment on a traffic study submitted by the applicant.
“Well, first of all, I want to bring up that we received the traffic study last Thursday which was after the deadline for submission,” Diaz said. “We have done the preliminary review so we can answer what questions we can today.”
“Our Traffic Operations Department shares the neighborhood’s concern about the fact that to make this operational, because of that short distance (from) congested intersections, that requires a permanent use of a police officer,” she said.
She said the Cobb DOT has disagreements with aspects of the study, but that the department has not had time to circle back and discuss those concerns with the applicant.
BOC Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said, “Commissioner Richardson, just an observation …”
“Considering that the DOT did not get the engineering study until Thursday, it’s very difficult to be supportive, and, you know, trying to be balanced between the interests of the community and the school,” Cupid said.
Richardson made two motions to hold the case until the BOC’s February zoning hearing: one for the rezoning, and another for a Special Land Use Permit associated with the request.
Both motions passed 5-0.