Former Gov. Roy Barnes sues Cobb County over zoning dispute

Gov. Roy Barnes

Gov. Roy Barnes

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, a long-time Cobb County resident, filed a lawsuit this week against Cobb commissioners after the board denied a rezoning request made by a developer preparing to build homes on his farmland.

The lawsuit asks Cobb County Superior Court Judge Sonja Brown to declare portions of the county’s zoning code unconstitutional. Barnes could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

The former governor’s company, Barnes Farms, partnered with developer David Pearson Communities to build a proposed single-family residential housing development on his 192-acre farm in unincorporated Powder Springs.

The developer requested last April that the county rezone the property to allow for a higher density of housing so that 114 homes could be constructed on 65 acres. The rest would remain open space.

Commissioners denied the rezoning request over flooding concerns. The farm backs up to Sweetwater Creek and its floodplain.

“It’s not a question of whether the creek floods or not — it floods,” said Clithon Rice, the HOA president of a nearby subdivision at the February zoning hearing. “As all of these subdivisions are being built, that water has to go somewhere.”

This map shows a proposed development that was denied approval by the Cobb Board of Commissioners on former Gov. Roy Barnes farm. Cobb County

Credit: Cobb County

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Credit: Cobb County

But Barnes, who owns Barnes Farms and is also representing it as an attorney, said in the lawsuit that the development is proposed for outside of the floodplain zone, and the open space will mitigate flooding.

The suit also alleges the county “created an exclusionary system of zoning without any rational or compelling basis and with the intent to deprive those of low and moderate income from being able to purchase a home.”

It adds that the minimum square footage requirement in the zoning code is “discrimination against affordable housing.” The lawsuit does not describe the proposed development as “affordable.”

The county planning commission, zoning staff and the board have heard and postponed the rezoning request in several meetings since June.

At the Dec. 20 zoning hearing, the board requested the developer submit plans for low-density residential zoning with 20,000 square-foot lots, instead of the proposed smaller lots paired with open space.

When the developer opted not to bring forth those plans, Commissioner Monique Sheffield, who represents the area, recommended denial. The board agreed unanimously.

Rice, who has continuously expressed his and other neighbors’ concerns about how the density would affect the surrounding area, urged the board to deny the proposal.

“They could care less about the other communities; it’s all about maximizing the profit,” Rice said. “They will stick these homes on top of each other with no space.”

Cobb County spokesman Ross Cavitt declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Barnes’ lawsuit does not yet have a trial date but is expected to be heard in the coming months.