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Groups seek appeal of design decision
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Forsyth County News

A recent Forsyth County planning board decision to relax a Peachtree Parkway Overlay District requirement for a retailer has stirred some concern.

Smart Growth Forsyth County, along with several residents and homeowners associations, has sent a letter requesting an appeal of the decision.

On Jan. 25, the planning board voted 5-0 to approve an aesthetic tweak for Academy Sports Outdoors, which plans to open a location at The Avenue Forsyth.

The overlay requires the exterior of stores at the outdoor shopping mall in south Forsyth be 75 percent brick, stone and glass, while Academy's plan calls for 45 percent.

Unlike all other votes, the planning board has the final say on alternative design reviews. The matter is not required to go before the county commission.

Smart Growth has expressed concern about the decision itself, as well as the way the variance was handled.

Claudia Castro, deputy director, said the volunteer group hopes the county commission will take a look at how the rules have been set in Forsyth's unified development code.

"There's a little loophole in the code that allows the planning commission to become an architectural review board, in a sense to take a look at a plan and then decide on it without any input from the public and without having to send it on," Castro said.

She noted that Smart Growth is concerned about other groups seeking alternative plans and pointing to the precedent.

The application was submitted in late December, discussed at Jan. 18 and Jan. 25 work sessions and voted on at the latter, Castro said. She added that public notice was not given for the Jan. 18 meeting.

During its work session Tuesday, the planning board reviewed the process of considering an overlay alternative design.

Tom Brown, the county's interim planning director, offered some suggestions for feedback.

Brown said an alternative design could require a formal application, a deadline to submit at least 10 days prior to the work session and prohibit any applicant changes within that span.

After the meeting, Chairwoman Pam Livesay said the board agreed it had made the Academy decision within the confines of code, but some small changes might be appropriate.

"We did all agree with Tom that some areas are a little loose and they need to be tightened up," Livesay said. "This is the first time this has ever been tested."

County commissioners are discussing some possible revisions, which Livesay said the board will support.

As it stands, she said, the planning board feels comfortable with its ruling. "Everyone agreed that it was a good thing for Forsyth County as a whole."

Livesay added that tweaks to the code are not inherently bad.

"The Peachtree Parkway Overlay is a plan and it's not set in stone," she said. "There is room as we move along, at least right now, to make modifications to that."