It’s ‘about safety’: Council member’s attempt to save Kennesaw treehouse rental unsuccessful

A plank and rope bridge leading to a cupola-shaped treehouse

By Rebecca Gaunt

Kennesaw City Council member Antonio Jones unsuccessfully proposed a moratorium on the demolition of auxiliary dwelling units (ADUs) in response to the city’s decision to require Ryan McGovern to remove his unpermitted, uninspected backyard treehouse vacation unit that he has been renting out for five years on Airbnb.

During Monday’s work session, Jones requested time for the city to reconsider not just McGovern’s elevated 144-square-foot unit, but any other structures on private properties before requiring removal.

Read more: Treehouse retreat must come down, says city of Kennesaw – Cobb Courier 

Throwing a wrench into the situation, is the confusion over what exactly McGovern’s treehouse is. The city of Kennesaw’s ordinances do not cover ADUs, and so the treehouse cannot hold such a designation. That lack of language in the law prompted Jones to question what exactly the city was enforcing.

“You have an unsafe treehouse. You have an unsafe structure that’s on someone’s property and they’ve been asked to remove it…the liability is on the city,” Mayor Derek Easterling said. 

Jones said he went to look at the treehouse, and believed it was structurally sound and expressed confidence that the mayor would feel similarly upon inspection.

Easterling responded, “That’s why we have the experts. We have codes. We have ordinances. I’m a layman at it as well.”

Council member Pat Ferris said he couldn’t support Jones’ resolution because he had intermingled the ADU issue with McGovern’s situation.

“We know that this guy has operated a business illegally for five or six years now. We know that zoning does not allow for it…Our inspectors have labeled, actually put a sign up, that says unsafe,” said council member Pat Ferris.

Though he supported having city staff research ADUs, he was not supportive of Jones’ suggestion to put the matter to a vote on the ballot.

“We make decisions citywide every meeting. The people voted for us to make decisions. And to throw something like this on the ballot?” Ferris said.

Jones’ frustration over the matter was palpable.

“This council is going to do whatever they please, but this is what I’m going to introduce,” he said. “I want to do what I think in my heart is right and take a pause, take a look at it.”

Council member Tracey Viars was also supportive of researching ADU ordinances, citing the benefit for disabled family members and aging parents. 

“But I also see, we live in a community where there is also potential for a lot of abuse. Personally, I’ve looked at some properties for my son to live in when he was at KSU that I wouldn’t let my cats live in,” she said.

She also clarified this was a separate issue from the demolition.

City manager Jeff Drobney interrupted the conversation to request going into executive session.

“I’m concerned about what is said or not said because of code enforcement actions that could or could not take place,” he said.

Before entering executive, Scott Banks, a Kennesaw building official, addressed the council. He was adamant that there was no saving the treehouse. He said it would be called a commercial sleeping unit. Permitting would first have to go through the fire marshall.

“Cobb fire marshall won’t even look at it. The streets weren’t designed for commercial. The fire hydrants weren’t designed for commercial,” he said. “Everything about this is not safe or not legal.”

Up for a vote at next week’s regular session:

The Southern Museum’s 17.5-ton HVAC rooftop unit needs replacement. Building and facilities manager Robbie Ballenger recommended a $52,517 contract with T&T Commercial Equipment. Cost is covered by 2022 SPLOST funds for facility improvements.

Ballenger also recommended a budget adjustment of $117,607 to replace the audiovisual equipment in Council Chambers, which is also a courtroom. 

Zoning administrator Darryl Simmons recommended approval of the final plat for 2550 Cobb Parkway submitted by Arris Kennesaw, LLC to combine 17 parcels of land into five tracts. The Landing on Summers Street, the multifamily residential and retail mixed use project planned for the area, was rezoned to Central Business District (CBD) in 2018. 

Meetings can be viewed in full on the City of Kennesaw Facebook page.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.