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District 5 Forsyth County commission hopefuls touch on growth

What’s next

The Forsyth County Republican Party debate series continues next week as follows:

* April 25 — Board of Education: District 3 at 6 p.m. and District 5 at 7:30 p.m.

* April 27 — County coroner at 5:30 p.m. and sheriff at 7 p.m.

Both debate nights will be held at the county administration building in downtown Cumming.

* Also: The final day to register for the primary is April 26, and advance voting will begin on May 2.

CUMMING — All three candidates may have been Republicans, but there were some differences — mainly over growth — Monday night during a debate for the District 5 post on the Forsyth County commission.

Incumbent Jim Boff is not seeking a third four-year term, and there are no Democrats running, so the May 24 primary race featuring Chandon Adams, Justin Hawkins and Laura Semanson will decide the contest.

Seats on the county commission and school board are determined by district-only voting. District 5 covers much of eastern Forsyth around Lake Lanier.

The local Republican party organized the debate, the first in a series of three, which was held at the county administration building in downtown Cumming. Joel Natt, a Republican appointee on the elections board, served as moderator.

Asked by Natt which type of growth he favored, Adams said the county needed to limit growth.

“I think as citizens, as taxpayers, we have the ability to stunt that growth,” said Adams, a small business owner. “We don’t have to be the fastest growing county within Georgia,” he said. “I would like to see the growth slowed down. I would like to see some more smart growth approach and we need to use it in the right type of development.”

Semanson, who previously worked in the technology industry, said the county must pursue more commercial developments, especially those that would keep residents in the county.

“To do that, we need to start protecting and defining what those proper commercial corridors are,” she said. “Secondly, I do support more residential [growth], but the kind … that will be more self-sustaining.”

Hawkins said growth was a good thing, as it showed the county was doing something right. He supports high-quality development, but that the county needs to follow its own plan.

“I do not support developments that don’t follow the future development map,” he said. “I do not support not abiding by our [unified development code], not abiding by the zoning laws on the book.”

On many other issues, the candidates had similar outlooks. All three support impact fees for development and believe residents should have a voice in cityhood movements. Each of them said they haven’t received money from special interests.

The talk grew heated at times, particularly while the candidates answered a question on handling budgets.

“I was the treasurer for the Forsyth County Republican Party last year. That absolutely prepared me to handle the budget,” Hawkins said. “The fact of the matter is we need someone qualified not only to handle the budget, but who also has the experience of dealing with growth.”

Hawkins cited his time with a law firm specializing in zoning matters.

Adams maintained that his experience in the private sector made him more qualified with budgets.

“My experience and my background is the only one up here that give me the ability to handle a budget,” he said. “I’ve created four different companies since the age of 21. I know what budgets are, some of these are multimillion dollar budgets.”

To Semanson, her career in the private sector dealing with million dollar budgets and running a household gave her a unique perspective. She also made reference to Hawkins’ age.

“I am familiar, quite familiar, with large budgets and how to manage that and how to provide accountability for those expenditures,” she said. “As far as being the only qualified candidate, I would say that there is a lot of value to being a 15-year homeowner and taxpayer in this county.

“To try to claim that there is some benefit of experience when you’re 25 years old, I think that’s a pretty bold statement.”

Hawkins embraced his age and countered that he was the only candidate with experience on both sides of zoning issues.