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Incentives for green businesses weighed
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Forsyth County News
Forsyth County means business when it comes to environmentally friendly development and industry.

The county commission heard two presentations about incentives for green businesses and developers during a work session Monday.

On the first matter, commissioners voted 4-0, with Jim Harrell absent, to add the green incentive initiative to the Development Authority’s policy.

The policy could take effect after the commission’s Jan. 7 meeting.

The addition would offer tax reductions for one or more years to businesses that either manufacture or produce products or services that qualify as “green” or build or update a structure as “green.”

To meet the criteria, businesses must be certified as green under an industry standard program, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or Energy Star. In addition, a points system for green building, conservation and environmental efficiency carries tax abatements.

A business must meet 75 percent of the possible total points to qualify.

Brian Dill, vice president of economic development for the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said neighboring communities don’t have a similar incentive.

“If we get into an apples to apples situation and they’re looking at a building in Forsyth County versus a competing county, this is basically what’s going to close the deal for us,” Dill said.

He also told the commission the incentive could gauge the interest of businesses.

After the meeting, Dill touted the virtues of taking action.

“In order to be competitive in this market, I think we have to be aggressive, and I think these are tremendous steps in the right direction looking at something ahead of the curve,” he said.

Also Monday, the commission received an update on the sustainable development district project, first presented Dec. 8.

While similar in some respects to the green incentive initiative, Dill said the proposed countywide program focuses more on providing sustainability to the community rather than attracting environmentally conscious businesses.

The program would offer incentives to developers who meet the criteria for sustainability.

“Basically, [we’re] trying to create something that will help Forsyth County have a profitable development zoning that would also be recognized as one that goes out of its way to protect the environment,” said Commissioner Patrick Bell, who directed staff to look into the matter.

In the current model, a developer would need to meet several criteria under a points system for actions from site planning to landscape practices.

Incentives for green building would potentially include expedited permitting, property tax abatements, rebates or a waiver or reduction of permit fees, said Vanessa Bernstein, senior long-range planner.

The program is still in the planning stages. No action was taken Monday, since the commission wants to look at other communities who have similar plans.

Bell hoped the sustainable district would be a model for other municipalities to emulate.

Commissioner Jim Boff questioned how the developer incentives would benefit the county, since they could take away some direct revenue.

Bell took a different approach to the objective of the program.

“It’s been looked upon a long time as giving something to these evil developers,” Bell said. “It’s really not. It’s making an investment in our community for the long term.”