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Buford Highway overlay clears board without big box ban
Forsyth County's planning board has recommended approval of a Buford Highway overlay, but without a proposed ban on "big box" retailers and car dealerships. - photo by FCN file photo

EAST FORSYTH — Forsyth County’s planning board has recommended approval of a proposed overlay district east of Cumming, but with one major change from the initial proposal.

The Buford Highway Overlay District would require a change to the local unified development code, which is the set of rules and standards the county follows when dealing with planning and rezoning.

This particular overlay, running from Nuckolls Road to the Chattahoochee River, would establish an area in which anything that is built would have to adhere to specific lighting, landscaping, building material and other standards.

Created by a committee of area residents, the overlay was spearheaded by District 5 Commissioner Jim Boff to create a cohesive unity of design and building quality level.

One of the goals was to prevent the heavily commuted Hwy. 20 corridor, which is a state route, from becoming overdeveloped and without an aesthetic mindset.

An overlay exists in the area, reaching 250 feet on each side from the center line of the highway. This new overlay would expand that breadth to 1,000 feet.

Proponents of the overlay said they preferred to see smaller retail centers with shops, eateries and local grocers in the area.

They crafted a prohibition against “big-box” retailers, which would include stores like Walmart and Target and the car dealerships that have been popping up along the corridor.

The committee was more or less a response to the 2015 rezoning for a Toyota/Scion dealership on Hwy. 20.

Those in opposition of the overlay included landowners who said they felt their property values would significantly decrease.

They also said they weren’t included on the committee, so their interests were not taken into account.

District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said she hopes more conversation between all parties can occur before a final decision.

Robert Hoyt, planning representative for District 5, said this overlay could be put into place until the county’s comprehensive plan takes effect next year “to avoid a mad rush” of prospective builders in the area.

“It does appear this is trying to somewhat rezone the area, and is there not another way?” asked District 4 planning member Bettina Hammond.

Jayne Iglesias, who chairs the board and represents District 2, said she was concerned about possible unintended consequences with prohibiting large-scale retail in such a commercial corridor.

“Would we have to get high-density residential to support the community retail? Because every picture [the committee] showed of retail they liked had very high density residential behind it,” she said.

She said she wanted to postpone the decision to be able to research more into the potential consequences of various decisions.

The 3-1 vote, with Iglesias opposed, to recommend approving the overlay but without the prohibition on big-box retail likely will be heard by the county commissioners in April.