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Planning board OKs revisions to large mixed-use project in south Forsyth
Plans for an expansive mixed-used development in south Forsyth passed one of the first of many steps Tuesday. - photo by For the FCN

SOUTH FORSYTH — An expansive mixed-used development along Ronald Reagan Boulevard and McFarland Parkway near Ga. 400 passed one of the first of many steps Tuesday after receiving a recommendation of approval by Forsyth County’s planning board.

RocaPoint Partners LLC wants to continue its building of what used to be called Diversified, creating a 134-acre Avalon-style master planned district, or MPD.

To do so, the Forsyth County commission must approve the request to rezone the property from restricted industrial district, or M1 and MPD, to only MPD.

That zoning would allow the mixture of 92 residential lots, 168 attached residential units, 430 apartment homes and 456,500 square feet of commercial retail, office, restaurant and hotel space with 2,041 parking spaces.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, the planning board — a recommending body to the commission — voted 4-1 in favor, with District 3’s Greg Dolezal opposed.

Proposed as Parterre on Big Creek, the project is designed to create a “signature gateway village project.” It gives immediate access to the Big Creek Greenway and has nearly a mile of frontage along the creek.

Renderings show a town center as focal point to a pedestrian-friendly community targeted mainly at seniors and millennials.

Bike paths and walking trails appear throughout the property, with a roundabout on Ronald Reagan to give easy access to both sides of the project, which the road splits.

According to the proposal, there would be no three-bedroom living spaces in an effort to reduce the number of families with children in the south Forsyth’s crowded schools. Basketball courts, kiddie pools and playgrounds would be prohibited.

Upscale town homes would reportedly have designs similar to those in England and would be fiber-wired. Designs were touted as modern living spaces with rooftop cabanas and pools.

Plans for a boutique supermarket are in place, too.

A Forsyth County Schools’ zoning impact statement predicted the development would bring an additional 239 elementary school students and 127 middle- and 150 high-schoolers.

The district already has plans to redraw attendance zones this fall for a new school being built at each level in south Forsyth.

According to Patrick Leonard, project developer with Atlanta-based RocaPoint, the project went under contract in December and is contingent on the rezoning.

Leonard has more than 20 years of construction and development experience and previously worked for EverBank, having developed more than $400 million of residential and commercial real estate for RocaPoint.

The developer is under contract for two hotels, he said, one of which would be high-end suites.

If the zoning is approved next month by the county commission, Leonard said the timeline begins immediately for permitting, with a groundbreaking early next year. He hopes the first move-ins would be in early 2017.


How did we get here?


According to Tom Brown, Forsyth’s director of planning and community development, this project was brought to the county a couple of years ago as Diversified.

Some apartments were built from that project, which at the time was named Commons at Big Creek, but development died down before any commercial components were built.

Commons called for three 115-room hotels, 530 apartments and office and retail space on 121 acres.

The same scenario played out for the development’s neighbor to the south, Taubman Inc.

Taubman also billed its project as an upscale live-work-play community, sitting on 164 acres between Union Hill Road and McFarland Parkway.

Some of the projected 875 residential units have been built, but the site has not seen any of the hotels, shopping or retail spaces.

In an effort to avoid a repeat of that situation, RocaPoint laid out a timeline that shows a mix of residential and commercial buildings constructed at the same time.

Designer Lew Oliver of Whole Town Solutions — which has Serenbe, Vickery and similar high-end live-work-play mega-developments on its resume — said he retains oversight of each sub-project throughout the process and architectural controls throughout the community.

Concerns for the project included impact on schools and traffic and the idea of bringing too many residential units to an area pitched to taxpayers as a commercial corridor.

Supporters of the rezoning mentioned commuters traveling to Atlanta would not affect traffic by jumping on the south end of Ga. 400 and that as a long-term plan, these live-work-play developments likely would cause less traffic traveling across the county and relying on gas.