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Birrell leads Commission on code change to protect Dobbins Air Reserve Base


Following last year’s idiotic approval by the Cobb Commission of condominiums in the accident potential zone of Dobbins Air Reserve Base, the Board signed off Tuesday on advancing an amendment by Commissioner JoAnn Birrell that would reduce the Boards discretion when it comes to land-use decisions around Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

The County code now states no development in the base’s accident potential zone — the area near the base where crashes are most likely to occur — shall be approved which conflicts with the military’s land use standards. Did the commissioners really need changes to the code to understand this? In this case, the standards had advised against approval of the condominiums, but Chair Lisa Cupid ignored it. The section goes on to say, “existing adjoining uses, historical uses, and height may be taken into account when making decisions on land use cases before the Board of Commissioners. This does not preclude the board from considering other factors on a case-by-case basis.”

How did we get here? Well, it all starts with Cupid. Even though this was her first year as chair, she had sat on the commission for eight years and knew the importance of protecting Dobbins. Ahead of the commission vote, the proposed condos had opposition from the Cobb Planning Commission, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, and the United States Air Force. At every turn, Cupid dismissed their concerns. She was told that the vote could endanger the base’s future during the next Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, but she did not care and failed to take action to protect Dobbins. Those within Cupid’s own political party including Senator Warnock tried to help her maneuver out of the political landmine she had placed herself in. Everyone urged the board to cure the misstep they took with this damaging vote and reverse the action, but Cupid and her Democratic colleagues dug in and stuck by their vote, insisting they had made the right call on the controversial rezoning decision. So much for them being ‘experts on zoning’.

Collectively, Dobbins, Lockheed, and Georgia Tech Research Institute campuses have an over $5.1 billion economic impact on Cobb County and the state of Georgia. Cupid knows this and was willing to place this in jeopardy.

In justifying her decision last year, Cupid cited ambiguous language that was placed on the books in 2018. With this amendment, the language has now been struck from the code.

Cupid and her colleagues on the board who voted for this condo deal dug in and stuck by their vote, insisting they had made the right call on the controversial rezoning decision. With egg on their faces, they would come back last month and effectively reversed the decision with a land swap deal with the firm of their favorite land attorney, Garvis Sams. The condos developers he represents were given prime county-owned real estate in exchange for them moving their planned condos out of the accident potential zone. 

The developers had other land use options for the property but were able to get Cupid and the company to slip them under the radar with a yes vote. Many in the community say Cupid failed the first course of leadership 101. As a leader, you must own your wins, your losses, and your errors. Cupid made an error in judgment and was not willing to stand up and own it. Instead, she and the others used Cobb’s economic engine and county property to play a bad game of musical chairs with the hopes that the public is not watching, does not care, or will forget the naivety of cupid and those who vote with her on zoning matters and managing the country’s business.  

Tuesday’s meeting and vote had the drama that most citizens have come to expect from a Cupid ran meeting – tyranny and above reproach. Obviously against the amendment during the debate, Cupid would tell board members that striking the code section could have “a significant financial impact” on businesses in the area, including “a very significant business owner within our county.” Why is Cupid trying to make county decisions based on one individual? Whoever this business owner remains a secret because Cupid’s not revealing names. Some say whoever Cupids unknown beneficiary is, we may probably find their name on the financial disclosure report of her and others.

Cupid, who had no concern for citizens of Cobb and our economic engine, or the pleas of the business community had the audacity to say that “it was incumbent on her to weigh the concerns of all the stakeholders in the area.” Referring to the two types of uses permitted in the accident potential zone, Cupid went on to say, “I mentioned the issue of one of our larger property owners, but this affects every property owner that doesn’t have an interest in … developing their property as industrial or as a park property.”

Political watchers say the owners of the accident potential zone property knew what the usages were before they consummated their purchase. They should not be allowed to use the county and weak politicians to change zoning laws to increase their property value or usage. In exchange for property that does not have the same value or usage, Cupid has awarded them valuable county property.

In an exchange with Cupid, Birrell said, “I get where you’re coming from as far as not being able to develop their property, but it’s a major safety issue for them to be living in a potential crash zone or flight path … I’m just trying to make them aware and to think twice.”

Cupid soon found herself on an Island, as others signaled they were not on board with her reasoning for resisting the amendment. Commissioner Jerica Richardson said, “she was really looking forward to taking out the discretionary clause.” 

Commissioner Keli Gambrill who joined Birrell in voting no last year to the condo deal rejected Cupid’s analogy. She commented that thinking about particular property owners when crafting code was the wrong way to approach the matter.

Not to be outdone and always wanting the last word, Cupid said, “I respectfully disagree. I think when you do create law, you do look at how that impacts real people … I’m not saying that the public policy interests may not supersede that, but I think it allows us to, again, be thoughtful in crafting policy that isn’t unduly onerous to people that will be impacted by this.”

Seeing that she was not going to win the debate, Cupid relented and accepted the inevitable. The measure passed unanimously (the amendment also includes new regulations for reporting when rezoning proposals fall within the accident potential zone). 

After the debate and passage of this amendment, County attorney Bill Rowling offered a concession to Cupid when he noted that legally, the board still has the final say on land use matters. Rowling said, “You still have the constitutional powers — we can’t take those away from you — for local government to address zoning issues.” The question for Cobb political watchers is how many other land deals involving worthless property were in the pipeline that has now been shut off with this vote.  

Thanks, Commissioner Birrell for leading on this issue that impacts Cobb’s economic engine and us all.


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