Gambrill defends record, anti-cityhood voices dominate at Lost Mountain forum

Apr. 8—LOST MOUNTAIN — Though sticking to her pledge to remain neutral on the issue of Lost Mountain cityhood, Commissioner Keli Gambrill was eager Thursday night to tout her record of beating back development in west Cobb.

"I cut my teeth on zoning for 14 years before I stepped into office," said Gambrill, who is running for reelection unopposed this year.

And the largely anti-cityhood crowd in attendance at the county-hosted town hall was just as eager to back her up.

"Keli's here. I'll take Keli over seven people all day long — all day long," said resident Chris Coltran to much applause, referring to the seven elected officials of the proposed Lost Mountain City Council. "Because at least we know what we get with her."

Perhaps more than any other Cobb cityhood movement, fears of the leviathan of development have dominated the Lost Mountain debate. Opponents and supporters who flocked to Lost Mountain Park agreed the last thing they want is for their neighborhoods to take a high-density turn.

Advocates of the nearly 75,000-resident incorporation push have largely commended Gambrill for her tenure on the Board of Commissioners. State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, one of the bill's authors, said as much himself Thursday.

"I've been delighted by your leadership, and your commitment to really capture and protect what my constituents unambiguously say they want — low density, rural, residential quality of life maintained in west Cobb," Setzler said.

But, he continued, Gambrill is only one of five votes on the Democrat-controlled commission, and she won't be in office forever. What then?

"Do you want a future that has one Keli Gambrill of five county commissioners that make the decisions of what happens here? Or do we want to have seven Keli Gambrills, all of whom live here, all of whom share your vision, all of whom are elected by the voters who live right here?" Setzler added.

Gambrill retorted that in the 17 years she's followed zoning in west Cobb, three separate commissioners have deviated from the county's land use plans just seven times (she was quick to note only one was under her tenure).

She added while there are plenty of unknowns with the county, like the ongoing unified development code (UDC) zoning overhaul, there's just as many with a brand-new government.

"Nobody knows what UDC is going to look like. Just like we don't know what the city of Lost Mountain is going to do to their zoning codes or the (comprehensive) plan," she said.

Nonetheless, the anxiety from residents on the zoning issue was palpable, as they worried about the prospects of an Amazon distribution center coming to the area. Several referenced Chairwoman Lisa Cupid's comments last week during her State of the County address that "affordable housing is going to have to go somewhere."

Gambrill — who's been at odds with Cupid as much as anyone over the last year — argued the affordable housing issue was bigger than federally-subsidized high rises.

Referencing the county's $100-million-plus pile of federal stimulus money, Gambrill said, "that money, is it going to go towards (building) housing? Or is it going to go towards grants that someone can use, such as a firefighter, a teacher, a county ... staffer, to be able to help put a down payment to a house?"

As the evening wore on, genuine questions from the audience about the nuts and bolts of Lost Mountain gave way to stump speeches lambasting the initiative, with an occasional question tacked onto the end.

"Somebody asked where they want the city hall to be — I say right there in that trashcan," said Coltran.

Eventually, a question would be tacked onto the end. On more than a few about what the new city would mean for residents, Gambrill would say only that there were too many unknowns to give a clear answer.

She said, "All I know is you need to carefully look at your representatives. Know who they are, what they stand for, and watch their votes, and go from there."