Student housing rule hits snag in Cobb

Credit: Cory Hancock

Credit: Cory Hancock

Cobb delayed action Tuesday on a new zoning rule intended to regulate private apartment complexes that cater to students following a year and a half of study and negotiation with neighborhood groups.

The ongoing debate over off-campus housing has particular implications for Kennesaw State University, where an estimated 30,000 out of more than 35,000 students live off campus.

Neighbors of several apartment complexes popular with students have complained about crime and noise, which prompted a moratorium on new student-oriented development first enacted in October, 2017 and extended several times since.

At their regular meeting Tuesday, commissioners voted to extend the moratorium again to September 1 amid disagreements on the board over whether new regulation was necessary.

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who represents the district that includes KSU, proposed a special land use permit for “purpose built student housing” that would require 24-hour on-site management and increased security measures, among other things.

“To me, this will give the neighborhoods the protection and preserve their quality of life, and it will also help our police,” said Birrell. She added that 20 percent of violent crime in KSU’s police precinct was attributed to one apartment complex housing students.

But several other commissioners expressed reservations, pointing out that however private landlords choose to market or structure their rentals, they are not technically student housing and cannot be regulated as such.

“I think that if Kennesaw State needs housing they ought to build it, and if they want something off the property then it ought to just follow the regular county code,” said Commissioner Bob Ott. “The law is very clear: We cannot limit who lives in them, so they are apartments.”

Commissioners also heard from neighborhood advocates concerned about crime, misleading advertising by developers and inappropriate locations for large housing complexes.

“KSU will continue to grow and require more student accommodation, but it can’t be at the expense of those already living here,” said Tullan Avard of the Bells Ferry Civic Association.

The proposed regulation will likely come back for a vote before the moratorium ends on September 1.