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Opposition but few options to possible subsidized house project on Hwy. 20
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Forsyth County News

EAST FORSYTH — A public hearing on a potential subsidized housing development in east Forsyth drew a large and vocal crowd Thursday night, though it appears there may be little residents or county officials can do to discourage it.

The developer is reportedly pursuing state and federal tax credits to build an apartment complex off Buford Highway (Hwy. 20) near Haw Creek Circle, a CVS and the entrance to The Gates of Forsyth subdivision.

District 5 Commissioner Jim Boff, who represents the area, opened the hearing, which was held during the county commission’s regular meeting.

Boff explained that, unlike a rezoning, the county had little power over the development as it had been zoned for apartments 29 years ago. The site had previously been discussed for a possible car dealership, but the deal fell through after community opposition.

“Because it was made in 1986, all that’s left for the people who are going to develop this is to submit a valid sketch plat to the county,” Boff said. “As long as that happens, the county has no further say, discussion, requirement, variance, condition or anything else upon on that particular zoning.”

The meeting was set up after the state Department of Community Affairs, which determines tax credits, sent Boff a letter seeking input on the development. However, the department is not required to use any of the feedback.

“If everyone were to agree on they want this, they don’t want this … it’s still the state and they are not required to act upon the direction of us,” Boff said.

Seven of the 15 people who spoke at the hearing opposed the development, with many concerned that subsidized housing would have an overall negative effect on the area.

“It is a sad fact, it’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact that low-income, high-density subsidized housing has a detrimental impact on the schools, on the local area and on crime,” said resident Brad Gorka.  “A lot of people don’t want to say that, but the statistics support it.”

A common theme among those opposed was that, while there may be a need for low-income housing in Forsyth, the proposed development was in the wrong area and would drive down property values. 

“We oppose this development mainly because it’s probably going to have a negative impact on property values in the area,” Brad Carlton president of the Grove Park Community Association.  “I’ve been a professional Realtor for 21 years, and that’s also my professional opinion.”

Only three speakers favored the development outright. They included Robert Hermancem, who  has worked for and lived in affordable housing, and said the talking points referenced “are not facts, they’re scare tactics.”

“We have a higher homeless rate in Forsyth County than we do in Fulton,” he said. “There are people out there who are homeless and people don’t want this in their backyard without even understanding what it’s going to do to the county.

“It’s going to bring jobs, it’s going to give a respite to people to get a home over their heads, and it’s going to get boogeymen like me off the streets.”

Representatives from five local nonprofits also spoke, with each saying that they were neither for nor against this particular development but that the county needed affordable housing.

Joni Smith, executive director of The Place of Forsyth, said she had recently hired a professional counselor who was unable to find an apartment locally. There was a two-year waiting list for affordable apartments in the county

“She’s going to be taking her paycheck from us, and boosting the economy of Fulton County,” she said. “Not only does a lack of local affordable housing hurt our local businesses in the community, because they’re spending their money elsewhere, it’s hurting our nonprofits, because people tend to give in the communities that they live.

The commission will hold a discussion on their response letter during a work session at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the County Administration Building.