In a 3-2 vote at its monthly zoning meeting the Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved the controversial rezoning request that will allow St. Benedict’s Episcopal School to build a new middle school building and play field.
The property is located on the east and north side of Daniel Street, on the west side
of Cooper Lake Road. The nearby major intersection is Atlanta Road at Cumberland Parkway.
The motion to approve passed in a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Keli Gambrill and JoAnn Birrell opposed.
At the December 9, 2021 Planning Commission meeting, where the planning commissioners recommended approval of the rezoning, the applicant dropped the expected number of students from the 350 in the original zoning document to 240. The original application also include a library and gym, but more recent plans and stipulation letters have scaled the project back.
The decision has been delayed multiple times.
Attorney Kevin Moore represented St. Benedict’s Episcopal School at the hearing. He stated that if the project is approved, it will be at least three years before the project begins.
Moore emphasized the role of St. Benedict’s as a neighborhood school, the multiple meetings the school’s leadership had with the surrounding community, and concessions that had been made after discussions with neighbors.
Mary Rose Barnes, from the Oakdale Community Association, Christina Critzer, president of the Kennsington Green HOA, and Hal Colbert, a Kennsington Green resident, spoke in opposition to the application.
A great deal of the controversy around the rezoning revolved around traffic into and out of the neighborhoods surrounding the school during peak hours. Another issue was that the lot size of the property is smaller than the requirement for schools under the county code.
“We agree with Kevin Moore that St. Benedict’s has been a good member of the community,” Critzer said. “We disagree on the point that this parcel is a suitable location and continue to disagree for the reasons outlined in the email sent to the commissioners.”
She objected to the traffic impact the expanded campus would have on the community.
“The experts aren’t in agreement that this is going to fix it for the long term nor fix it for the volume that this is going to include 100% of the traffic now routes directly in front of the only entrance and exit that Kensington Green has, and culminates at that one spot,” she said. “That neighborhood has no alternative to avoid the school and the traffic that it bears.”
Barnes objected to the lack of specific details provided by the applicant.
“After nine months of delays, and holds, St. Benedict’s has failed to come up with a project that encompasses the critical details,” she said. “And It wouldn’t be acceptable to the community.”
“The Reverend Sullivan has told us from the very beginning, that this would be a new middle school,” she said. “However, the August 10 stipulation letter does not include any designation of grades.”
“Middle school grades were clearly designated in the 2013 middle school application,” Barnes said. “So we have to wonder why this critical information was omitted in this application. What are the actual plans?”
Cobb DOT Director Drew Raessler and engineer Amy Diaz represented the county’s transportation department.
Raessler said that the Cobb DOT and the school had looked at a number of means of getting the traffic as far away as possible from the two problem intersections: Cooper Lake Road at Atlanta Road, and Cooper Lake Road at Daniel Street.
He said none of the plans could ensure getting traffic fully under control during peak drop-off and pickup hours at the school, but that a “final final plan” was arrived at.
“The primary goal to managing school traffic is to get the queue off of the roadway network, get it on site for the school, and let the school do its thing in getting the kids out of the car safely,” he said. “And then again, getting that traffic back moving on the on the roadway network.”
The plan he described would push the traffic farther into the neighborhood away from the problem intersections near Cooper Lake and Atlanta roads, and onto the school’s property for the drop-off and pickup.
During the discussion among commissioners, Jerica Richardson, who represents the district where the property is located, said that she was not ready to make a motion.
“I don’t think I can make a decision at this point in time,” she said. “I’m receiving just interesting information elements and I’m not necessarily content with the options being presented.”
Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said that the case had been going on for a long time, and that at this point her approach would be to balance the inconvenience to the neighbors with the overall role St. Benedict’s Episcopal School plays in the neighborhood, and that on balance she would vote with the school.
Richardson agreed, then made a motion to approve the application with a list of stipulations, including that the architecture and design drawings be brought to the district commissioner for approval, that the outside lighting be environmentally sensitive, and that the property be maintained pending the start of the development.
The motion, and a motion for a related land use permit, passed 3-2.