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Decision on Collection at Forsyth expansion delayed

SOUTH FORSYTH — A proposed overlay district that would allow a popular local outdoor mall to add living space and become a mixed-use development was the topic of much conversation — but no resolution — Thursday night.

After hearing about an hour of public comment, the Forsyth County commission tabled a decision on the proposed South Forsyth Lifestyle Center Overlay.

The vote was 4-0, with Commissioner Brian Tam recused as he said he may one day lease space in The Collection at Forsyth.

The commission will hold another public hearing before a decision is made, though no date for that has been announced.

The overlay is required to add apartments — by far the most contentious change — to the shopping center. Plans also call for greenspace and an amphitheater, which could make the area a regional center for public events. 

Of those who spoke during the meeting, opponents focused heavily on the apartments, while proponents said such mixed-use projects are the future.

Those against the plan cited the existing moratorium on new rezonings for Multi-Family Residential, or Res6, which includes town houses, low-density apartments and condominiums.

The ban, approved this summer, will be in place until up to 60 days after the county has completed a new comprehensive plan. Officials have said they want to assess the costs associated with such developments.

“I would argue that you had very good reasons for that … and that was such a short time ago,” Robert Otwell said. “So to basically reverse that and approve this project, I would offer you have to have some extraordinary reasons to pass this project.”

Opponents also took issue with the process used to create the overlay district, with one speaker saying it wasn’t like the process used to develop other overlays.

“When citizens met to discuss the proposed Buford Highway overlay, those meetings were announced, and those meetings were open to the citizens,” Kirk Wintersteen said. “I believe that one private attorney wrote this overlay, and it was not written by county staff. I cannot support that process.”

Traffic concerns were also voiced in the meeting, both by public speakers and Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills.

“In my opinion, you’ve got to look at parking more,” she said. “I think you need a traffic study. I think something needs to be done about traffic patterns. I’ve got them counting 600 and 700 cars, not even counting your events.”

Several of those who spoke in support were involved with businesses at The Collection, including John Graham of Core Property Management, which owns the shopping center.

“This is a trend that is throughout the country happening, mixed-use projects, both in suburban and in urban areas, are really the future,” Graham said.  “It’s the future from a traffic perspective, it’s the future from a how people want to live perspective, how they want to shop, etc.”

The majority of speakers favored the overlay, with county resident Nick Satriano comparing to The Avalon in nearby Alpharetta.

“I believe that this plan is solid, solid for Forsyth County, and I would ask [the commission] to endorse it,” he said. “The Avalon has represented something very special, but we want to keep it home. We want to keep it in Forsyth County”

Ethan Underwood, a local zoning attorney representing the development, said he was open to holding meetings with the community.

“We’re happy to [meet],” he said. “We want you all to be confident in the plan and we would love to meet with as many folks as possible.

“We would love to meet with Forsyth [homeowners associations] and any of their followers. We’ll schedule a meeting and we’ll host it, because the more dialog that we have the better.”