Cobb neighbors hope social media nudge improves shopping center

The exterior of the Sprayberry Crossing Shopping Center in Marietta, on Thursday, March 21, 2019. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

The exterior of the Sprayberry Crossing Shopping Center in Marietta, on Thursday, March 21, 2019. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

It’s been several years since two buildings at the Sprayberry Crossing shopping center have had any tenants, and residents in East Cobb have had enough.

These residents are hoping the power of social media will draw enough attention to the distressing state of the property that its owners will shift their plans for redevelopment into high gear.

Joe Glancy, a member of the Sprayberry Crossing Action group on Facebook, called on residents to snap photos of themselves in front of vacant storefronts and share those pictures with others in the group. Glancy said he hopes the initiative will apply "public pressure" to the property owner, Sprayberry Crossing Partnership, to take action.

At the northeast corner of Sandy Plains and East Piedmont roads, the shopping center is on about 15 acres and includes the two vacant buildings and space filled by two churches, a nonprofit and a few other tenants. The vacant buildings once housed a bowling alley and a grocery store, Glancy said.

East Cobb residents want something done with the Sprayberry Crossing Shopping Center in Marietta. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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The grocery store has been gone for about 23 years while the bowling alley closed roughly 15 years ago. Both buildings, he said, have remained empty ever since. Glancy said the property is littered with potholes, debris, and weeds, and has been a magnet for “vagrancy.”

“It’s a known eyesore in the heart of our community,” Glancy said.

Glancy’s call to action has generated more than 100 photos of people, some of whom are holding signs decrying the conditions.

READ | Cobb judge: Sprayberry Crossing has to clean up its act ... or else

Tom Garland, executive vice president of NAI Brannen Goddard, the property manager for the shopping center, said the two buildings are maintained and insured "despite being destined for demolition.

“This site has been targeted for redevelopment for a bit more than a decade, but legal roadblocks and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression had something do with slowing the momentum of redevelopment,” he added.

Shane Spink, another resident involved in the push for improvements, said it’s “far beyond time” for the owners to make a move on addressing the shopping center’s conditions.

“It’s amazing how much the community is upset and in an uproar about it,” he said.

The shopping center came under scrutiny in 2018 when a Cobb County judge ruled that its owner must clean up the property or face a blight tax. It was the first property targeted under a June 2017 ordinance approved by the Cobb County Commission establishing the tax, which would apply a sevenfold increase to the owners' bill.

Steps the judge ordered the property owner to take include installing no-loitering signs, adequate lighting and security system, completing repairs and removing litter.

Cobb County spokesperson Ross Cavitt said the Community Development Department requested a meeting with the property owners “to give them a chance to show they are complying with the order,” but they have not responded.

The community and property owners are contending with another wrinkle in this standoff: a half-acre cemetery that's about 150 years old sits behind the shopping center. A landmark Georgia Supreme Court ruling in 1975 said the shopping area could build close to the cemetery. However, the cemetery complicates development prospects for any buyer of the shopping center property.

JoAnn Birrell, the Cobb commissioner who represents the area, said the owner has made some, but not all, of the improvements the judge ordered, so the blight tax has been added to its 2019 tax bill. She said the county will continue to charge the tax until the property is brought into full compliance.

Birrell said she and her constituents are more than anxious to see the property redeveloped.

“We are doing all we can legally do to enforce this and to get it developed, and I think the citizens are really mounting a good campaign through social media and (are) getting the attention they deserve,” she said.

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