Chamber clashes with Cobb commission over planned condo near Dobbins ARB

Cobb County commissioners recently approved a rezoning petition that cleared the way for a condominium to be developed near Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

But Dobbins officials objected to the project, claiming the multi-story buildings are slated to be constructed too close to the airfield and within the base’s flight path.

Cobb County business leaders urged the commission to reconsider their rezoning vote during a board meeting this week.

“With this being in the accident potential zone, that does put the base in jeopardy,” said Cobb County Chamber of Commerce President Sharon Mason.

That irked Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, who chided Chamber members for second-guessing the county’s decision after it was already approved.

“The pressure needs to be on before the zoning, not after it,” she said. “I don’t understand why we’re getting this heat after the zoning hearing.”

Venture Communities is the Atlanta-based home developer behind plans to erect 38 condos in four townhouse-style buildings just off Leland Drive. Owner Bob White said it was “absolutely shameful” that Mason and Chamber chairman John Loud implied the county disregarded residents’ safety by approving his development.

“They simply have a preference that no further residential be developed in that designated cone,” White said of the critics. “I’m fine with that. But you have three commissioners on the Cobb County Commission that looked at that data and said this exception was a reasonable exception.”

Cobb commissioners voted 3-2 to re-zone the property from general commercial to multi-family residential on May 18. Cupid and commissioners Monique Sheffield and Jerica Richardson okayed the zoning variance. Commissioners Keli Gambrill and JoAnn Birrell voted against it.

“My position has not changed,” Birrell said in an email late Thursday. “This is a safety issue and has a negative impact on Dobbins and our partnerships including Lockheed and (Georgia Tech Research Institute).”

The split vote came back up as a topic of discussion during the commission’s meeting Tuesday.

The condos can go as high as three stories, according to Cobb zoning regulations. And the development would be situated on an undeveloped 4.7-acre lot across I-75, about 4,500 feet from the U.S. Air Force base’s landing strip.

But that’s not far enough, according to Dobbins officials who insist the location is on the northeastern edges of the base’s “accident potential zone.” The zoning overlay, carved out by Cobb County’s Military Airport Hazard District, provides guidelines on compatible development near the airfield.

Dobbins ARB leaders have opposed the idea of condos being developed so close to the base for months.

Yet, county planners determined only parts of the condo property sit in the hazard zone where residential development isn’t recommended. They didn’t think that was enough to preclude the county from considering the project.

The commission approved the rezoning petition but mandated improvements for noise and quality of life concerns.

Chamber officials spoke out Tuesday and urged the county to reverse its decision within 30 days. Mason indicated Dobbins has an economic impact of over $5 billion. Major employers like the Lockheed Martin plant and the Georgia Tech Research Institute are based there.

Chamber Chief Operating Officer Dana Johnson acknowledged that the county approved several developments in the past that were incompatible for the base area. But he reminded commissioners that the Military Airport Hazard District was amended in 2019 to “reimagine” new development in the overlay district.

Johnson said the Leland Drive condos are the first incompatible land use the county has approved in the district since that update. He argued that sets a dangerous precedent, one that could be held against Cobb during Dobbins’ base realignment and closure, or BRAC, review process.

“This is the pebble that gets thrown into the lake that creates a ripple effect that will then make it difficult for you as commissioners to contain that,” he said. “By throwing that pebble in, we are now opening the door for other pebbles to get thrown in.”

Dobbins, which has faced closure threats in the past, is the last remaining military installation in north Georgia and is often the airfield U.S. presidents use to fly into metro Atlanta. President Joe Biden and the first lady had a stopover at the base on April 29.

But Cupid wondered why the Chamber never expressed such catastrophic concerns when Truist Park and Thyssenkrupp’s Cumberland Tower were undergoing review, even though both projects had impacts on flight operations at Dobbins.

“We will always balance the interests of all of our constituents,” Cupid said moments before adjourning Tuesday’s meeting. “But there’s nobody here that gets a pass just because they’re important. Everybody here is important.”