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These were the biggest stories of the last decade in Forsyth County
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Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Forsyth County resident and former state Representative for the area, presided over the state Senate for the first time on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

As the 2010s come to a close, it’s hard not to think about how much has changed in Forsyth County over the last decade.

In the last 10 years, one of Forsyth County’s own was elected to the state’s second highest office, downtown Cumming saw both tragedy and the opening of a new jail and courthouse and voters approved $200 million for local roadwork that resulted in new lanes on Ga. 400.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest stories of the last decade.

Changing of leadership in Cumming

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Mayor Troy Brumbalow is sworn-in to office on Tuesday evening by City Judge Rich Neville. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

In Nov. 2017, voters in the city of Cumming elected current Mayor Troy Brumbalow over his longtime predecessor, H. Ford Gravitt.

Gravitt had served as mayor since 1971 and had previously served a term as a city councilman, and over his 47 years in office, Cumming and Forsyth County experienced unprecedented growth and changes from what was once considered a small, rural community with few economic prospects to one of the most affluent, healthy and best-educated areas in the state.

In his term, Brumbalow has worked to increase the number of community events in the city, such as Fridays at the Fairground and Food Truck Fridays, and has spearheaded the push for the Cumming City Center, which will include restaurants and stores, outdoor space, an amphitheater and more.

The mayor’s office isn’t the only change, as longtime city councilmen Lewis Ledbetter (1971-2019), Rupert Sexton (1971-2015), Ralph Perry (1979-2015), Quincy Holton (1969-2017) and John Pugh (1992-2015) have also left office in recent years.

After little change for decades, councilmembers Linda Ledbetter, Christopher Light, Jason Evans and Chad Crane, former councilman Chuck Welch and Councilman-elect Joey Cochran have been elected in recent years.

- Kelly Whitmire

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Local dignitaries gathered Thursday in downtown Cumming to cut the ribbon on the new Forsyth County Courthouse, which official opens for business on March 16. - photo by Jim Dean

Forsyth County voters approved SPLOST VII in 2011, which, among other projects, provided funding for the new Forsyth County Courthouse and Forsyth County Jail, both of which opened in 2015.

Both projects began construction in 2013 and were built to replace their aging predecessors, also located in downtown Cumming.

Before being approved, four times between 2001 and 2011, Forsyth voters rejected in referendums bond programs to build a new jail and/or courthouse.

- Kelly Whitmire

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Some residents in the area of the proposed city of Sharon Springs have posted signs in support of and against potential cityhood. - photo by Brian Paglia

A bid to add a second city to Forsyth County came just short of being approved in 2018, as the vote to establish the proposed city of Sharon Springs in south Forsyth fell shy of the threshold to become a reality.

Voting was limited to those living in the proposed area, and those in favor of the city made up about 54% of the vote (7,616) and those opposed about 46% (6,351). About 50,000 people would have lived in the area of the proposed city.

To pass, the city needed at least 57.5 percent of voters, a compromise between a simple majority and two-thirds majority, which was stipulated in House Bill 626, which provided the process for creating the proposed city that was introduced by District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones.

The city was proposed with three services — zoning, sanitation and code enforcement – and the approximate boundaries of the proposed city were east of Ga. 400 except the portion west of McFarland Road; south of Hwy. 20 except for areas in the city of Cumming; west of the Chattahoochee River — already a boundary with Gwinnett County — and north of the Fulton County line.

- Kelly Whitmire

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Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Forsyth County resident and former state Representative for the area, presided over the state Senate for the first time on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

In the 2018 election, Forsyth County’s Geoff Duncan rose to a position no other county resident had before: Georgia’s lieutenant governor.

Duncan, a Republican, defeated Democratic opponent Sarah Riggs Amico by 52.2% of the vote, or about 1.95 million votes, to Amico’s 47.%, or 1.85 million votes, to win the seat, including 70.6%, or 65,798 votes, of Forsyth County votes.

Along with Duncan’s position helping the political clout of Forsyth County, the area has received renewed interested going into 2020 with the contentious race to replace retiring Rep. Rob Woodall in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, which contains the majority of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties.

- Kelly Whitmire

Sheriff's deputy shot at courthouse

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4 courthouse building check

Shots rang out in downtown Cumming on June 6, 2014, after heavily-armed Dennis Marx, 48, of Cumming attempted at “full-frontal assault” on the former Forsyth County Courthouse, now the courthouse annex, by driving a rented vehicle near the entrance and opening fire, wounding Daniel Rush, a 30-year veteran of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

Marx, who was suing the sheriff’s department and had a plea hearing scheduled the week after the shooting, was shot and killed at the scene after law enforcement responded. Authorities said Marx, who was armed with several firearms and explosives and wore body armor and a gas mask, acted alone.

Rush recovered and returned to full duty in December 2015.

- Kelly Whitmire

WEB 369 at 400

Traffic is a big issue in Forsyth County, and locals took the problem into their own hands in 2014, as voters approved a $200 million transportation bond to help with area traffic.

The bond was approved with 63% of voters, about 35,000 votes, in favor and 37%, about 20,000 votes, against, and the largest of the projects was the widening of Ga. 400 to three lanes on each side to Hwy. 369.

Along with the Ga. 400 widening project, the bond included several projects on state roads, including the widening of Post Road, widening of Hwy. 369 and Ga. 400 interchanges at Hwy. 369 and McGinnis Ferry Road. In total, those funds received about $81 million for the bond, along with funding from the state and other sources.

Since the bond passed, a common refrain from county leaders has been that kicking in money helped improve the relationship with GDOT and helped projects become a reality more quickly.

- Kelly Whitmire

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For all of Forsyth County’s amenities, perhaps the most impressive is the local school system, which routinely is at the top of the rankings in the state, such as having the highest ACT scores in the state for five consecutive years.

Since 2016, Forsyth County Schools has had an emphasis on Social-Emotional Learning, or SEL, based on five main skills, called competencies, that each deal with a different area of social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

- Kelly Whitmire

The mixed-use development boom begins

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Village Italian

In October 2008, Vickery Village was facing its worst-case scenario. The 214-acre project, with its 35 shops and restaurants and 250 residential units, was considered the blueprint by which mixed-use developments would be measured. But then the country fell into the Great Recession, and the developer’s bank foreclosed on its collateral at Vickery.

"It is unfortunate that the ownership was faced with this financial correction,” said Frank Norton Jr., chairman and CEO of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency real estate and insurance firm. “But long term, we will look back on this project and say that Vickery was always going to be a bright spot for south Forsyth."

During the 2010s, Vickery Village came back to life, and now Forsyth County is getting swept up in metro Atlanta’s appetite for mixed-use developments that accelerated after Avalon opened in Alpharetta in 2014.

Halcyon, a 134-acre, $370 million live-work-play project, opened this past September off Exit 12 of Ga. 400. A month earlier, the city of Cumming began construction on the Cumming City Center, a 75-acre project that it hopes will re-orient and invigorate the city’s downtown area with dining, shopping and offices like similar developments have in Alpharetta and Suwanee.

Meanwhile, even more developments have been approved or proposed around the county and in the city of Cumming: a hotel and “millennial” housing project near Northside Hospital Forsyth; the 56-acre Mashburn Village on the south side of downtown Cumming; the 60-acre Westshore development on Market Place Boulevard and Turner Road; the Villages at Brandywine on 18.5 acres on McFarland Parkway; and on and on.

- Brian Paglia

Growth of Asian-American community

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A family walks to their car on Monday, July 8, 2019, after shopping at Patel Brothers, a new Indo-Pakistani grocery store that opened in south Forsyth last month. More businesses have emerged in Forsyth County to serve the area’s rapidly-growing population of residents who identify as Asian. - photo by Brian Paglia

Two years ago, Patel Brothers, the largest Indo-Pakistani grocery store chain in the U.S., decided to build a new store in Forsyth County, off Peachtree Parkway. For the company’s owners, it was pure math: Forsyth County had the largest growing Asian-American population in the country.

According to statistics released in June by the U.S. Census Bureau, Forsyth County had the fastest-growing Asian population in the country between 2017 and 2018 among counties with a total population of 20,000 or more with an increase of 11.5% (3,408) in residents who identify as Asian.

That growth has been reflected in almost every facet of Forsyth County, from its schools, where Asian-American students make up nearly one-fourth of the school system’s enrollment, to its faith community, which will welcome its seventh Hindu place of worship in 2020. The Atlanta Cricket Fields, a 58-acre complex with seven fields and a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse, opened in North Forsyth in 2016. 

- Brian Paglia