The Buffer Zone: protecting our investment
Call it “insulation.” Call it “protection.” Or, you might just call it “woods.”
Whatever you call it, the two tracts of land that form the southern and western boundaries of portions of the Grove Meade and Hyde Park subdivisions are commonly known in the neighborhood as “the buffer zone.” It is one of the earlier buffer zones in the county and as such helped establish a standard for protecting residential areas from having to directly abut higher-density residential communities and commercial districts. This area came into being under a cloud of controversy and amid a flurry of legal proceedings.
The year was 1975. Charles Moon, primary developer of the Stratford, Grove Meade and Hyde Park subdivisions, had been building homes in the subdivisions for more than 10 years. When he started the project, the intent was to build single family homes in the Grove Meade and Hyde Park areas southward all the way to Powers Ferry Road.
However, he changed his mind and decided instead to carve out a tract of land of approximately 32 acres from Sagamore Hill Drive on the north, southward to Powers Ferry Road on which to build an apartment complex consisting of more than 200 units. The 32 acres comprised approximately one-fifth of the land in the original subdivision development plan. The new plan called for the apartment development to sit immediately next to the single-family residences in Grove Meade and Hyde Park.
In December 1975, residents of Grove Meade and Hyde Park were surprised to learn that Moon had formally petitioned the Cobb County Commission to rezone the tract to accommodate an apartment development.
Upon learning of the filing, residents of the area rose up in protest, alleging that the developer was reneging on his commitment to the earlier purchasers that this was to be a single family residential development only. The homeowners also believed that the proximity of the higher-density development would negatively impact the value of their homes.
Under extreme pressure from residents, in February 1976 the Cobb County Commission denied the petition for rezoning, citing (1) the potential for decreasing the value of nearby homes, (2) that “no visual buffers could be provided,” (3) the potential for increased traffic on Powers Ferry Road and into the Grove Meade subdivision, and (4) the fact that areas schools were already at or near capacity and that no funds were available for the construction of new schools.
Almost immediately after the denial of the petition, Moon filed suit in the Superior Court of Cobb County to have the decision overturned. The suit set off a series of interactions between the developer, the county commission and the homeowners association that lasted nearly a year.
Arguing that the increasing number of multi-family developments along Powers Ferry Road would make single family homes along the thoroughfare “incompatible,” Moon’s attorneys continued to build their case. Residents argued that Moon’s decision to convert the land to multi-family usage had nothing to do with compatibility. Their contention was that it had more to do with increased property values along Powers Ferry Road.
Several months into the process, a negotiation committee was formed consisting of three members of the homeowners association and three representatives of the County to discuss possible avenues for a settlement.
Individuals familiar with the negotiations say several possible scenarios were discussed with each having its drawbacks. Increasingly, however, the negotiations focused on limiting the size of the apartment complex to be built on the property and insulating the neighborhood from the higher-density development with an undisturbed buffer.
Under the proposal, Moon would deed a 200-foot-wide strip of land along the boundaries of the apartment property to the Grove Meade-Hyde Park Homeowners Association and a portion of the strip would be deeded to the Meadowgrove Swim and Tennis Club. All totaled, the deeded property would comprise some 13.2 acres. Moon would also agree to limit the height and number of apartments that could be placed on the remaining 19 acres in the tract. In return, the homeowners association and Meadowgrove board had to agree that the buffer zone would remain in a “natural state” and that they would drop their opposition to the rezoning request.
When the agreement was reached it was carried before the Cobb County Superior Court, who approved the pact. In early 1977 the land was ceded and the Cobb County Commission passed an ordinance outlining the restrictions and granting the rezoning request.
In 1977, the population of Metro Atlanta was approaching two million. Today, it has passed five million. The increasing scarcity of buildable land has shown that the establishment of the buffer zone was visionary. Since our buffer zone was established, several subdivisions in the county have been constructed with buffer zones insulating them from nearby high-density residential or commercial developments.
The residents who went through the rezoning battle realized the tremendous victory they had won in getting the buffer zone. Consequently they jealously guarded the property, remaining ever-vigilant to ensure that the provisions of the restrictions were not violated. They did not want to give anyone grounds on which to build a case for reclaiming the property for development.
In early 2017, the Stratford-Grove Meade-Hyde Park HOA was presented with the opportunity of outright purchasing the deed to the buffer zone for $1 from the previous, now defunct HOA, granting the SGMHP HOA ownership of the land owned by the previous group to ensure its continued protection. The one condition being that the land remain in its natural state, lest the land ownership revert back to the original owners.
Over the years, as more and more of the original residents of the subdivision have left, some new residents give the buffer zone a diminished level of importance. However, as they learn more about its history, these new residents realize the value of this property to our neighborhood as a whole and to each property owner individually.
They understand the importance of protecting this island of green in what is a growing sea of asphalt. They also understand that protection the buffer provides our neighborhood from nearby development is more important today than it was 30 years ago.
Submitted by Bill Carver, Amended By Ed Quinn