57-acre development off I-575 would combine warehouse, retail, office and residential uses

Mar. 14—A development proposed for 57 acres of undeveloped land off I-575 at Chastain Road is on the state's radar due to its potentially significant impact.

Cobb zoning staff have informed state officials about the plan from Atlanta-based Strategic Real Estate Partners for a mixed-use development just north of Town Center mall that would include warehouse, residential, office and retail spaces.

The developer is requesting rezoning to build 372,400 square feet of warehouse space across three buildings, 109 townhomes, 150 senior-living apartments, 10,500 square feet of office space and nearly 40,000 square feet of retail space between Chastain and Big Shanty roads.

A new 'town center?'

Tullan Avard, executive director of the Bells Ferry Civic Association, thinks the development could fill a void Town Center mall is failing to fill.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle recently reported that most of the mall had been sold to Great Neck, New York-based company Kohan Retail Investment Firm. According to the Cobb Tax Assessor, Kohan's paid $71 million for the property.

"We see the mall as going downhill, it's not a place for people to gather," Avard said.

On the other hand, the Chastain Road development is slated to be a sort of "town center," Avard said with no hint of irony, adding that a village green is proposed to anchor the development, with the potential for fire pits and a brewery or winery on the green to give it a communal feel.

According to J.R. Wright, one of Strategic's Real Estate Partners' principals, the proposed development is based on two other mixed-use developments in the metro area: Halcyon and Vickery Village, both in Forsyth County.

"We benefit from some natural demarcation lines like 575 and just the size of this piece of land gives us the opportunity to create its own feel and theme that will really serve not only the neighborhood, but also be a destination for people to come to," Wright said.

Avard said the land in question, as well as a portion of land south of that, has been proposed for development previously, but those projects failed to woo the civic association.

Specifically, she cited a 2018 proposal from Cumberland-based Pope & Land to build its own mixed-use development on the site, one that was set to include nearly 500 apartments, 180 townhomes, a hotel, a grocery store and tens of thousands of square feet of office and retail space.

Similar to Strategic Real Estate Partners' proposal, Pope & Land also wanted to rezone for a planned village community (PVC), which allows for a flexible mixed-use development that can span office, retail and residential options.

"In that location, the last PVC with Pope & Land took almost a year," Avard said, and the civic association was opposed to the more renter-focused options from that proposal.

Big plans with big impacts

Thanks to the scope of the proposed project, it qualifies as a Development of Regional Impact, "large-scale developments that are likely to have regional effects beyond the local government jurisdiction in which they are located," according to the state's community affairs department.

For a mixed-use development in a metropolitan region to meet the threshold requiring DRI review, it must exceed 400,000 square feet in total or cover more than 120 acres. In this case, the proposal meets the former criterion.

The last Cobb development submitted to the state as a DRI was a proposal for more than 600 homes on about 175 acres off Bells Ferry Road. The land was ultimately annexed into the city of Marietta before the Marietta City Council approved the development in January.

Avard said her civic association has been working with the developer since December to iron out the plans for the project. Potential changes ahead could include a shift from offering apartments for senior citizens to more townhomes, depending on the course the zoning process takes, Avard said.

The townhouses are slated to start around $600,000, Avard added.

She also said there are details around the proposed warehouse spaces to be worked out.

"They are also looking at an entertainment component, but that's still in talks," Avard said. "One or two of the warehouses could be changed to something else, but we'll have to see what happens."

The minutiae of the development itself aside, Avard said it was "very refreshing" that Wright and his team reached out and expressed a willingness to work with the association on the project.

"We appreciate that they actually reached out to us and they met with us several times and asked us, 'What do you want to see?'" Avard said.

Wright told the MDJ that communication with people and businesses in the surrounding community was a priority from the start of the rezoning process.

"Our first goal was to talk to the stakeholders in the area and get a sense of what they wanted to see in the area, and try to integrate that with our vision for the site, and we feel like it's been a very good working relationship so far with the Bells Ferry Civic Association," Wright said.

Wright said he and his team have enjoyed working with Avard and the civic association so far. It seems the feeling is mutual.

"These guys were great. I mean, right away they were like, 'Yep, we need to do a DRI on it,'" Avard said. "They were up front, and they just really want to have a nice development, something that will enhance this area. And we're all excited, because we're tired of apartments and car lots and storage buildings."

The rezoning case is on the schedule for the Cobb Planning Commission's 9 a.m. hearing on May 2 in the commission room at 100 Cherokee St. in Marietta.