Former Gov. Roy Barnes settles zoning dispute with Cobb County

Developer plans to build 114 homes on his farmland
Gov. Roy Barnes

Gov. Roy Barnes

Former Gov. Roy Barnes and the developer aiming to build homes on his land agreed to a development plan with the Board of Commissioners Tuesday, after a lengthy zoning dispute led to a lawsuit.

Barnes sued the county in March 2023, alleging the county’s zoning code was discriminatory after the board denied his request to rezone his land in Powder Springs for a development of single-family homes. Barnes initially proposed 132 homes on 15,000 square-foot lots with much of the land left undeveloped open space.

The board had requested that fewer homes be built on 20,000 square-foot lots. When they failed to bring forth those exact changes, the board denied the request.

Now, Barnes and the developer have agreed to the board’s request and will settle the suit.

The new plan is to build 114 homes on 20,000 square-foot lots with 125 acres of the property remaining open space, under a unique zoning category that allows units to be closer together if enough of the property remains undeveloped.

Much of the property is in the flood plain because of its proximity to Sweetwater Creek, which runs through the northern part of the property. As part of the rezoning, the county will require the homes be built six feet above the flood plain level, will all lots entirely out of the flood plain. The property will also have several ponds to hold excess water.

“The best thing you can do is ensure the flood plain is not included in anybody’s private homeownership,” said Kevin Moore, an attorney representing Barnes.

Clithon Rice, the HOA president of a nearby subdivision, said the area regularly floods even when the rainfall doesn’t reach catastrophic levels. He showed the board pictures — an aerial view of recent flooding on the Barnes’ property and Rice’s nearby subdivision in January.

This aerial view shows flooding in January 2024 on and near Roy Barnes' property, according to Clithon Rice, a nearby HOA president who opposes the rezoning of the Barnes' property for a new residential development. Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

Rice said the proposed neighborhood would worsen flooding for the residents and those who live nearby. He said he would rather the county purchase the land to expand nearby Stout Park.

“There was nothing historic about January — that was just regular rainfall,” Rice said to the board. “What is going to happen when we get heavy rain?

John Pederson, the zoning division manager, said building under the regular residential zoning category with 20,000 square foot lots would contribute more to flooding than under the open space category because homes would be in the flood plain.

Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said the revised plan is an improvement and noted that Barnes could opt to move forward with the development with the property’s current zoning category, which would be worse for flood mitigation in the area than the approved rezoning plan.

“Open space design is considered a stormwater best management practice by the (Environmental Protection Agency),” Cupid said.

Commissioner Monique Sheffield said while many of the neighbors may not want the homes to be closer together, the neighborhood will still have very low density and will be better for flooding concerns.

“It is often a challenge to us as commissioners in balancing progress and preservation,” Sheffield said.