Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes sues over zoning dispute


MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes has filed a lawsuit against Cobb County regulators after a rezoning request to build homes on his farmland was denied.

The lawsuit, filed this week, asks Cobb County Superior Court Judge Sonja Brown to declare parts of the county's zoning code unconstitutional, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The lawsuit has not been scheduled for trial but is expected to be heard soon, the newspaper said.

Barnes, who served as governor from 1999 to 2003, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Barnes Farms, the former governor’s company, partnered with developer David Pearson Communities to build a proposed single-family residential housing development on his 192-acre farm in unincorporated Powder Springs.

Last April, the developer asked that the county rezone the property to allow for a higher density of housing so that 114 homes could be built on 65 acres. The rest would remain open space.

Commissioners denied the request over flooding concerns. The farm backs up to Sweetwater Creek and its floodplain.

“It’s not a question of whether the creek floods or not — it floods,” said Clithon Rice, the homeowner association president of a nearby subdivision at the February zoning hearing. “As all of these subdivisions are being built, that water has to go somewhere.”

The development, however, is proposed for outside of the floodplain zone, and the open space will mitigate any flooding, Barnes said in the lawsuit.

The suit also states the county “created an exclusionary system of zoning without any rational or compelling basis and with the intent to deprive those of low and moderate income from being able to purchase a home.” It adds that the minimum square footage requirement in the zoning code is “discrimination against affordable housing," although the lawsuit does not describe the proposed development as “affordable.”

The county planning commission, zoning staff and the board have heard and postponed the rezoning request in several meetings since June.

At the Dec. 20 zoning hearing, the board asked the developer to submit plans for low-density residential zoning with 20,000 square-foot lots, instead of the proposed smaller lots paired with open space. The developer did not do so, and Commissioner Monique Sheffield, who represents the area, recommended denial. The board agreed unanimously.

Cobb County spokesman Ross Cavitt declined to comment Thursday on the pending litigation.