Cobb County neighborhood advocates ask for more advance access to review zoning documents before hearings

the sign in front of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners buildingPhoto: Cobb County Courier/Larry Felton Johnson

At the urging of neighborhood zoning advocates, the Cobb County Planning Commission asked that the county legal department revise their proposed changes to the  land use and zoning procedures so that the public would get adequate time to review submissions by developers and other zoning applicants before the deadline for written public comment for zoning hearings.

Specifically, the adopted motion requested that the deadline for zoning applicants to submit their materials be the Monday of the previous week before the Planning Commission zoning meeting (8 days before the meeting) and that the deadline for the public to submit comments be Wednesday of that same week.

The motion put forward by District 1 Planning Commissioner Fred Beloin, and passed 5-0, came during a discussion of revised rules changes to land use and zoning procedures intended to bring the rules for the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, and Board of Commissioners into conformity with one another (you can read the proposed changes by following this link and scrolling to the bottom of the PDF file).

Robin Meyer, the zoning chair for the Mableton Improvement Coalition, made the following comments during the public comment section before the motion was presented.

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“I’m sorry that I’ve not had a chance to talk with all of you individually about my issue here, because I did not know until Friday, when I read the summary and consent Agenda online, that there were any changes proposed to your procedures. So my apologies for that. But I have probably for a period of four or five years talked to some of you. 

“I’ve talked to virtually all of your predecessors, members of the Board of Commissioners, members of the law department, members of the zoning division, probably just about anybody who wouldn’t run off, about what I think is a critical issue that has to do with the ability of the public to comment meaningfully on zoning applications.

“Right now as your procedures and the BOC and the BZA as your procedures set forth the applicants and the members of the public such as myself and my organization, have the same deadline for written comments that noon Wednesday, before your Tuesday hearing.

“If the applicant’s proposal were complete with its original proposal, that would be fine. But the applicant’s proposal is typically not really complete until that Wednesday noon deadline when the stipulations letter is due: and the elevations and the revised site plan. And many of the other things that have been discussed and asked of the applicant while the application is pending. 

“So it puts the public in a situation of providing input on the matter that’s going to come before you without a complete picture of that application, and of the discussion that’s going to take place at the hearing itself. This could be resolved if the deadline for the applicant were before the deadline for the public. And so what we would propose is that the applicant’s deadline for written comments be two Mondays eight days before your Tuesday hearing. And then the deadline for the public be the Wednesday noon before the public hearing. 

“48 hours is not much. We’re not asking for much. We’re simply asking for the ability to see Is all that the applicant is going to put before you so that the written comments we provide you will be more useful. We won’t be saying, ‘Gee, we want a privacy fence’ when the applicant’s already agreed to a privacy fence, we won’t be saying, ‘Gosh, you know, we need to see elevations’ when at the same time we’re writing that letter, the applicant is filing elevations.

“It’s simply a matter of a good process so that we can do as good a job as we can do, voicing the public’s concern, and other members of the public can do the best job they can do voicing their concerns based on the information that’s actually going to be considered at the hearing. So I know that that’s not what you intended to do today, you intended to do just a simple housekeeping amendment to your procedures to t resolve the issue to resolve the issues that bring you here. 

“But I would ask that if this is something that is beyond the scope of what you can do today, that you either delay your decision today to incorporate it, or open up a process by which we can begin to discuss these sorts of things in a more meaningful fashion. 

“I would also ask a very simple question, which is how do members of the public learn about proposed changes to these rules?

“I have to confess that as much of its zoning nerd as I am, I don’t read the legal ads and the MDJ. So if that’s where it was, well, I missed it.  And I don’t necessarily watch the recordings of your work sessions. So I would also ask that as you move forward and make amendments to matters like this that are so important to those of us in the public, that you bring us into the process by at least providing a more meaningful notice of the opportunity to comment. 

“So thank you very much. Thank you for your consideration. And thank you for the tough work some days, and most days, that  you all do.”

Carol Brown of the Canton Road Neighbors took the podium to support Meyer’s comments.

“Yes, I’d like to support Miss Meyer in her suggestion… Most good zoning attorneys do give us their letters of stipulation timely, but a lot don’t. And I think it’s a good suggestion, I would hope that you would consider it. Thank you,” Brown said.

County attorney Brian Johnson objected to the separate deadlines.

“Well, I believe the issue here is about timeliness of submittals, and then review by the public, but then in all fairness, then there would have to be a time for the applicant to rebut or recomment based upon what the public’s comment is,” he said.

Johnson said the process could lead to running out of time before hearings.

After Johnson’s comments, each of the planning commissioners spoke in support of the concerns Meyer raised.

After the Planning Commission meeting Tullan Avard of the Bells Ferry Civic Association wrote, in a letter to local civic leaders provided to the Courier:

All,

Unbeknownst to many, an OB was added at the last minute, to the PC April 5th, 2022 zoning meeting agenda. This OB concerns adopting new Zoning and Land Use Rules and Procedures to the original document that was last amended 10-19-2004. The goal is to the streamline the rules so that all 3 zoning bodies (PC, BOC, BZA) come into conformity.  The document is 28 pages long and starts on page 672 of the PC April 5 packet: e3aa1f1e-3657-4cba-a2f4-7072d0b05db7.pdf (windows.net)

One civic group learned of this OB at the last minute and showed up to speak on the issue: Mableton Improvement Coalition (Ms. Meyer). Thanks to her action, this OB was continued until next month. We should all take this opportunity to review the document and send in letters and speak at the next PC zoning meeting. Ms. Myers only spoke to section 6, however, there are other pertinent sections as well. 

Ms. Meyer asked that the Wednesday noon deadline of the week preceding the public hearing for submittal of additional information, changes, modifications, or letters be changed. It does not make sense for the public to be submitting letters only to find out that the applicant made changes, thus making the public’s comments outdated. In addition, it does not give the public sufficient time to review the new applicant submissions. Ms. Meyer stated that this issue can be resolved if the applicant’s written deadline is Monday – 8 days before the public hearings and that written comments by the public remain the same – Wednesday before noon. 

The county attorney, Brian Johnson disagreed with the suggestion, noting that the applicant should then have additional time to rebut public comments. Fortunately, none of the PC agreed with him and decided to add Ms. Meyer’s suggestion as an amendment under section 6.  However, when you read the section, you will notice the caveat that it is up to the county to decide if the applicant can submit material after the due date (which they already often do). Several planning commissions did mention that adding this amendment would accomplish the goals to foster due process and provide more transparency. The PC passed the motion 5-0 to be heard May 3. To watch on Youtube click on the following link and forward to 1:46  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyNMm5uW4a0

About the Planning Commission

The Planning Commission hearings and recommendations have some of the highest impacts on quality of life in the county of any public body.

Their job is to make recommendations on rezoning requests, special land use request, and other business, and to send those recommendations to the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, who make the final decision.

The Planning Commission is described on the Cobb County website as follows:

Established as an advisory Commission to assist the governing authority (BOC) in the administration and enforcement of the Zoning and Planning Act and to prescribe the duties and functions of such commission.

The full duties and functions of this Commission are contained in the Cobb County Zoning Ordinance, Section 3-28-9 134-61.

Members are appointed for terms which run concurrently with those of the appointing commissioner and are subject to removal with or without cause and without regard to any unexpired term. The Commission Chair is compensated $275.00 per month, the Secretary is compensated $275.00 per month with all other members compensated $250.00 per month.

MemberAppointed ByTerm
Steven VaultChairwoman Cupid12/31/2024
Fred BeloinCommissioner Gambrill12/31/2022
David AndersonCommissioner Richardson12/31/2024
Deborah DanceCommissioner Birrell12/31/2022
Michael HughesCommissioner Sheffield12/31/2024
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