Kennesaw council OKs apartments in split vote

Nov. 23—KENNESAW — A divided Kennesaw City Council approved a rezoning request this week for a five-story, 208-unit apartment building on about four acres at Old Highway 41 and Cobb Parkway, just south of McCollum International Airport and a FedEx warehouse.

The property was zoned for a hotel, but the council's approval of Atlanta-based Varner Developers' request means the company can go ahead with its mixed-use development.

The council approved the request by a 3-2 vote, with council members Antonio Jones and Pat Ferris opposed. Mayor Derek Easterling cast the tiebreaking vote after the council split 2-2 on the item with questions about the developer's commitment to a mixed-use development and the apartments' affordability driving debate on the proposal.

In addition to apartments, there would be ground level retail space and a six-level, 364-space parking lot on the property.

Former Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, working on behalf of FedEx, informed the council he worked with the developer to ensure there would be a sufficient buffer between the apartments and the warehouse.

He added other FedEx warehouses have gotten noise complaints from nearby residences. Olens said discussions he had with Garvis Sams, the attorney representing the developer, aimed to ensure residents of the apartments would be unable to file lawsuits against FedEx for noise from the warehouse. Olens spoke in support of the development at the meeting.

Ferris was concerned the mixed-use development would end up only being for residential use. He added that a 2018 proposal from the developer for a mixed-use development, which fell through, seemed like a good use for the site. However, that proposal, as well as another from Varner for a warehouse that fell through earlier this year, had shaken his confidence in the developer.

"I saw this council and Varner as partners," Ferris said. "Varner came in here with an absolute sterling reputation for doing these developments in a very proper, very business-like manner, doing what they said, and frankly, I feel a lot of this partnership's been broken."

Jones, the other council member opposed to the development, said he was primarily concerned about traffic. Jones said he was also worried about the apartments' rents.

"Students aren't going to be able to afford these," Sams said during his presentation, though he did not give a specific price range for the apartments.

Darryl Simmons, Kennesaw's zoning chief, told the council his staff looked at many different proposals for the property and determined this would be the right fit. He said his staff is looking at other ways to address student housing needs, as well as industrial and medical developments in the city.

"As your staff person, as the professional here, the city is going to have to address affordable housing, but we're not putting everything else on the side as well," Simmons said. "We have to be strategic."

The council is down a member after James "Doc" Eaton resigned his seat in June over the reopening of controversial Confederate-themed Wildman's Civil War Surplus. Lynette Burnette was declared the winner of the special election. She is expected to be sworn in at the council's next meeting on Monday, Dec. 5.