Commissioners voted 3-2 at their meeting in Marietta to approve a zoning change that clears the way for the 24-acre development, with Chairman Tim Lee and Commissioner Helen Goreham casting nay votes after 42 Vinings residents showed up in opposition.
Addressing the commissioners, Wieland said he used to live in the area and knows the property well.
“And it’s been my goal for a number of decades actually to see if we couldn’t improve the situation, and we think we’re halfway there,” Wieland said. “We worked hard to pay everybody fairly that lived on the property so that they could buy a new home someplace else, and now we have basically a property that needs to be improved, and we think we’re the people to do it, and we’re very committed to Cobb County, and we’ll do a great job and we appreciate your consideration.”
Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the area, made the motion to approve the zoning change.
“This was a classic example of an infill development which is always difficult because you have to protect the individual property owner rights who wants to do a development while at the same time protecting the property rights of the people who are already in place, and in my mind, the (new zoning category) is one of the best ways to do it because in this particular case 50 percent of the property is being protected from development,” Ott said.
The proposed homes would run from $700,000 to more than $1 million, with sizes varying from 2,400 square feet to 4,000 square feet.
James Balli with Sams, Larkin & Huff, who is representing Wieland, said the development would add more than $50 million to the tax digest of the Cobb County economy. Balli was not sure when the development could be built, but said he hoped it could be finished within two years or sooner.
Glenn Dyke, president of the Vinings Village Homeowners Association, led the charge in speaking out against the proposal.
“The importance of this matter to our community is demonstrated by the number of attendees that we have here this morning,” Dyke said. “I’m sure you can appreciate what it takes to get approximately 50 people from Vinings to Marietta on a Tuesday morning.”
Dyke objected to what he called the small lot sizes and close proximity of the proposed homes, “in some cases just 15 feet from house to house is not consistent with the character and feeling of Vinings.”
He said Wieland owns more than just the 24 acres in question.
“The applicant owns approximately 67 acres, which is the largest remaining tract of undeveloped land in Vinings,” Dyke said. “We’re very concerned about what will happen with the balance of this property.”
Goreham said she voted against the proposal because the property should only support 29 homes, not 45. There is also the matter of the traffic the development would generate close to a railroad crossing, she said. A traffic study Wieland’s company conducted for the development took place over the summer when Woodland Brook Drive was temporarily closed, she said.
“I was very concerned when I heard that the study was done in the summer when school was out, and that it also took place during the closure of that road, and they had a detour in place, so to me that doesn’t reflect the everyday conditions,” Goreham said. “My concern was the traffic, a good study and also keeping with the character and the nature of that community right there.”
Several audience members said after the meeting that the real reason Goreham voted against the zoning change was out of a personal dislike for Ott.
The Journal asked Goreham about this accusation.
“I don’t operate that way,” Goreham said. “I operate as you see me, based on the facts and based on my gut and based on consistency. … I’ve got to sleep at night, so I know when I make a decision why I make that decision. I don’t vacillate so I don’t have to remember.”
Goreham also pointed out that she doesn’t accept campaign contributions from developers.
“I never have,” she said. “I’m beholden to nobody. I’m representing the community that put me in.”
Like Goreham, Lee said he voted against the zoning change because it allows for more houses than he believes should be built on the site.
“I had some concerns as to whether or not the plan met the zoning he was requesting and the issue was the number of lots,” Lee said.
A stipulation to approval, however, Ott said, is that Wieland conduct a new traffic study. Another requirement is that the Cobb Department of Transportation determines there is the proper sight distance requirement at the development’s entrance on Woodland Brook Drive. If the DOT finds the road needs to be raised for sight distance, Wieland is responsible for footing that bill, he said.
The property includes the site of the former St. John’s Church, with the church’s cemetery still located there. The cemetery would be open during the day for visitors and would also be maintained by the homeowners association.
The property also includes part of a Civil War earthwork. Any artifacts discovered during the construction will be donated to the Vinings Historic Preservation Society, Balli said.