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Former Forsyth County jail site may become industrial park

CUMMING — Once considered as a possible location for a new jail, part of a Forsyth County-owned property on Veterans Memorial Boulevard could instead be developed for business purposes.

The county commission discussed — but took no action on — the possible development of some of the 33 acres beside Citizens Community Bank.

“We do have a person who’s interested in building some industrial flex space in basically the site on the back side of the property,” said Robert Long, vice president of economic development for the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s sort of split by a stream. The back side, about 15 acres or so, we have somebody who’s interested in it. They think that they can build maybe upwards of 125,000 square feet of speculative industrial flex space.”

Industrial flex space is land typically used for industrial and business parks. The proposal appears to call for the county to lease the land to a developer.

“The discussion right now has been that it would be very similar to space that you see on McFarland [Parkway], a single building with some office and light industrial,” said James McCoy, president of the chamber.

The county bought the land for $7 million in July 2007 as a possible site for a new jail and the sheriff’s office headquarters. Construction of the projects was part of a bond referendum that voters rejected in 2008.

The new jail was ultimately built in downtown Cumming using money from an extension of the 1-cent sales tax. It opened in September.

“My memory is — I wasn’t on the [commission] then — that the county paid an enormous amount of money for that property … especially if no one knew there was water and other things on the site,”  said Commissioner Jim Boff, who took office in 2009.

“It’s not something that I would tend to want to put much or any more money into considering how much we’ve already got in it, unless there is a justification.”

Since that time, the land has sat untouched, thought it was previously discussed a few years ago by the Forsyth County Development Authority for a project similar to the current proposal.

In a follow-up interview, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said he thought the current plan was a product of that discussion.

The business park would allow the county to recoup some of the money paid for the land, according to McCoy.

“The idea about it being a small business park would be that that is generating the most tax value that you can over the longest amount of time,” he said

It’s expected Forsyth would handle the grading for the project, as the county would be able to develop more land than a typical private entity and doing so would most likely net it more money.

No vote was taken on the plan, which will be revisited at a future meeting.