Marietta Council Denies Proposed 200-Unit Apartment Complex Near Kennestone  (VEC Email sent May, 13, 2022)

[Source:  Article ‘Marietta council denies proposed 200-unit apartment complex near Kennestone’ in Marietta Daily Journal]

MARIETTA — The City Council Wednesday shot down a proposal to build a roughly 200-unit apartment, townhome and office complex near Wellstar Kennestone Hospital following an outcry from nearby residents.

SK Commercial Realty’s request to rezone 2.7 acres of mostly undeveloped land between Roselane Street and North Avenue was denied unanimously. The project would have added 196 apartments, 10 townhomes, surface parking, a parking deck and a 14,000-square-foot medical office to the area.

Residents cried foul over the project’s density (76.3 units per acre) and the traffic increase they believed it would bring.

“We’re trying to take 10 pounds of flour and stuff it in a two-pound sack,” said Rick Springfield, who spoke on behalf of homeowners at the nearby McLaren Gates Townhomes.

When city attorney Doug Haynie asked who was present to oppose the rezoning, more than a dozen hands shot up. Residents spoke on behalf of their respective homeowners associations, and applause broke out several times when the project was criticized.

Developers had pitched the project as a way to bring more housing diversity and increase the vibrancy and walkability of the area, which is about 1.5 miles north of Marietta Square and connects to the Mountain to River Trail.

“Considering the few undeveloped areas that are left in the city, we believe this contemplates what we think is the highest and best use for an area that’s long been vacant in this portion of the city,” said Rob Hosack, who represented the developer.

SK had planned to market the apartments to medical professionals. Attracting hospital workers, Hosack said, would allow residents to walk to work, reducing the project’s traffic impact.

Rents would have been high, starting at around $1,700 for a studio, $2,100 for a one-bedroom or $3,200 for a two-bedroom, the developer had indicated.

‘Fallacy’

The Marietta Planning Commission, which advises the council on zoning issues, had recommended last week the council deny the rezoning.

And before public comment began Wednesday night, the project was already facing scrutiny from Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson.

Richardson asked Hosack what he meant when he described the apartments as “purpose-built housing.”

Hosack described it as housing built for a certain demographic, such as senior housing or student housing. In this case, it would be built with medical staff in mind. He added that the majority of apartments would be smaller “efficiency units” meant for young people and singles.

Richardson, however, pointed out that there was no legal way to restrict the housing to such tenants.

“Health workers, God bless them, all they are doing and have done,” Richardson said. “But they’re not a protected class that you could legally say, ‘We’re gonna give you first selection or priority over anyone else who steps in there.’ And I think that is a fallacy, that’s just my opinion.”

SK did not commission a traffic study for the project. Springfield, who called Roselane Street the “Roselane raceway,” said the street was already set to see a traffic increase — the Marietta Housing Authority plans to build an 80-unit senior housing complex on Roselane.

Residents added that the narrow streets in the area are already swamped by hospital employees commuting. The apartments would not match the “Marietta look,” they said, and in the opinion of Christine Rozman would “bastardize” the city.

“We’re certainly not opposed to development,” said McLaren Mill resident Janice Hoover. “We’ve profited by development in our neighborhood, but it has to be development that makes some sense, and this absolutely makes no sense.”

Rachel Johnson, a doctor who works at Kennestone, was the only resident supportive of the project. Johnson said she was not speaking on behalf of the hospital or a homeowners association.

“I’m not representing anybody, but potentially looking around this room, I may be representing this generation and the next generation of Marietta,” said Johnson, a mother of young children, referencing the age of the project’s opponents.

Johnson went on to speak about her home-buying experience in the city, which took five years and required several favors. With Kennesaw Mountain and Marietta Square, the city has better “bones” than other cities such as Smyrna or Woodstock, she said, but risks falling behind if it cannot accommodate more density.

“My main objective is to say all of these things are not scary. People live like this in many, many places, Johnson said. “I think this will increase the charm of our city, it will add to our community, add to our vibrancy. … Don’t be afraid, be excited for what could be. Me and my three-year-old would be happy to pass all of our new neighbors on the way to work.”

The city’s comprehensive plan says the area should one day be under an office, medical or university use. But a previous comprehensive plan said the area could be used for mixed-use development, as the developer proposed.

Following the vote, Hosack told the MDJ he wasn’t sure what came next. SK had the property under contract but has not bought it yet.

“Zoning’s always emotional,” he said. “But I suspect they’ll go back to the drawing board.”