Johnson Ferry Road plan aims for cohesive corridor

As the more urban areas of Cobb County grow, the quest for a better quality of life has leaders trying to guide development in a way that satisfies both residents and businesses.

Cobb commissioners set the stage for the future of the Johnson Ferry Road corridor last week when they approved the first stage of their latest urban design undertaking.

“This is not going to be an immediate transformation because there is no money,” said Jill Flamm, president of the East Cobb Civic Association. “What you will start to see is a more unified ... Johnson Ferry corridor. The plan is a starting block, but without the first step you have nothing.”

The 3.4 mile corridor lies between Roswell Road and the Chattahoochee River, and serves as Cobb’s main north-south thoroughfare in the more affluent, eastern part of the county, carrying between 20,000 and 49,000 vehicles each day.

The corridor is lined with a mix of 13 commercial shopping centers, a range of retail outlets and subdivisions. But the area lacks connectivity and consistency, with bad sidewalk conditions and varying lighting designs and architecture. The differences create a chaotic street environment, according to a review of the area included in the design plan.

“You've got a situation where there was a lot of unrestricted zoning in the area over the past few years,” said Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the area. “With that you can’t come in and impose zoning on property that has no restrictions, so the only way is to establish a guide going forward.”

The design plan includes a collection of improvements, detailing pedestrian bridges, sidewalk lengths and widening of the road in some areas.

Business owner Jeff South is excited about the plan and its possibilities, but he's nervous about the impact on small businesses.

“I own two properties in the corridor, and if they start street widening part of the property for those could be taken away,” he said. South owns Intrigue Salon and the adjacent building that houses Suburban Tap restaurant along Johnson Ferry Road.

“I am hopeful for an area that will grow with the times,” he said.

The roadway widening included in the plan is also troublesome for area resident Larry Savage, who is concerned about residential neighborhoods possibly losing part of existing landscaped perimeters that separate the homes from the road.

“If this were actually developed per the plan, I don’t see any way they could do this without taking away some of those perimeters,” he said. "I’m not saying it’s wrong, I just don’t think it has been communicated very well.”

County staff began working on the plan with residents, business owners and developers in 2009. Four public meetings were held.

Like the Powers Ferry Road plan completed before it, county staff’s next step will be to draft design standards based on the Johnson Ferry plan. The plan also will be added to the county’s comprehensive plan.