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Bethelview Alliance wants to explore cityhood for west Forsyth

WEST FORSYTH — A group of residents has announced their intention to study the possibility of forming a city of Bethelview in part of west Forsyth.

According to a news release, the newly formed Bethelview Alliance isn’t yet calling for incorporation, but wants to research the process and whether cityhood would better address the area’s needs.

Bethelview’s exact geographic boundaries were not immediately clear, though the release indicated the area considered would likely fall in the county’s District 3. Additional details, including potential services offered, could not be determined.

Beth Tipton, the alliance member who sent out the release, could not be reached for comment Friday.  In it, however, she states that the county “has grown too fast for there to be such little representation.”

“We cannot allow west Forsyth to be zoned by people who are unaccountable to us at the ballot box,” she said. “We see it as our responsibility to pursue all options for putting decisions back into the hands of those affected by them.”

In the coming months, members plan to gather the concerns of area residents and establish cityhood research parameters.

The Bethelview group becomes the second movement to explore cityhood in Forsyth, joining the Sharon Springs Alliance, which has listed similar reasons for establishing a city in south Forsyth. However, Sharon Springs is much farther along.

In March, District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon introduced a bill in the Georgia General Assembly to initiate the initiate the process of creating the city, which would be Forsyth’s second. The bill cannot be approved until the 2016 legislative session, which starts in January.

The Bethelview concept was news to the area’s elected official. District 3 County Commissioner Todd Levent, which the alliance’s statement described as the most homeowner friendly on the board, said he had not been contacted by the group.

While he understands the concerns of residents in the area, Levent said he doesn’t favor growing government.

“I’m not for bigger government ever,” he said. “However, I understand their frustrations because there have been some zonings in my district that I was not for, nor were the people here for, and we were outvoted by other commissioners. So I understand why they might want some more local control.”

The five members of the county commission, Forsyth’s governing body, are elected by district-only voting.

The city of Sharon Springs has been proposed as a city light, meaning that it would have a limit of a maximum millage rate of 0.5 mills and offer just three services — zoning, sanitation and code enforcement.

Levent said current state discussions on the legal status of so-called “city lights” likely will determine the future of both alliances.

“[State lawmakers] are looking at the legal definition of city light and whether it actually exists, or whether or not townships are more in line for the future, or whether or not if you’re going to have a city it needs to be a full blown city, it can’t just be for zoning and a few other things,” Levent said.

Opponents of Sharon Springs have voiced concerns about a possible higher tax burden, and Levent said that could be the case if the decision is made against city lights.

“When this comes out, I think the Sharon Springs Alliance and the Bethelview Alliance may be looking to reassess what they’re thinking, because the taxes may be so astronomical if they have to do a full blown city,” he said.

State Sen. Michael Williams, whose District 27 covers most of Forsyth County, said the current legislative attitude towards such cities is “not very friendly.”

“I definitely believe the feelings down in the state capitol about city light and all these cities will have a direct impact on the city of Bethelview,” he said.

Williams added that if Bethelview were to become a reality it could possibly create a trend in the county.

“My immediate thought was first we have the proposed city of Sharon Springs, now we have the proposed city of Bethelview,” he said. “The trend that this is giving us, how many cities will there eventually be in Forsyth County?”

As for the Bethelview group, Tipton said in the release that the “status quo is not good enough. Minor changes will not suffice.”

“It's time for meaningful change and we look forward to helping promote a proactive solution,” Tipton said. “People can expect to hear a lot more from us, and soon."

Since it’s not supporting incorporation at this time, the group’s members will be “advocating for homeowners' rights, holding elected officials accountable, and lobbying for smart growth in west Forsyth.”

If the Sharon Springs’ plan clears the General Assembly this winter, a referendum on the city could be held later that year.

Only those living within the proposed city limits — an area east of Ga. 400, south of Hwy. 20, west of the Chattahoochee River and north of the Fulton County line — would be eligible to vote. An estimated quarter of the county’s population, some 50,000 people, lives in that area.

If the measure were to pass at the polls, the city could begin operating by 2017.