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3 large projects discussed at July 16 city of Cumming meetings
Cumming Meeting 1 071919 web
Residents listen during a meeting of the city of Cumming's planning and zoning board on Tuesday, July 16, 2019, at Cumming City Hall. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

In recent months, annexations of large tracts of land and mixed-use projects have been hotly debated in the city of Cumming, and this week, city officials were given updates to three of the largest projects.

During meetings of the Cumming City Council and the city’s planning and zoning board, the latest plans for Mashburn Village on Hwy. 20, the Villages at Brooks Farm on Pilgrim Mill Road and the annexation of more than 100 acres of land on Pilgrim Road.

Mashburn Village and the Villages at Brooks Farm were discussed at the planning board meeting, though no action was taken, whereas the annexation was discussed and approved by the council.

The planning meeting had a heavy response from neighbors in the community, though there were no scheduled public hearings for either project. Instead, both were marked as “information only.”

“What we’re going to do tonight is they’re going to give us a short presentation, an overview of what they have,” said Ralph Webb, chairman of the planning board.

Webb said public hearings before the board would be held for the Villages at Brooks Farm on Tuesday, Sept. 17 and for Mashburn Village on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

Starting off the slate was the presentation for the rezoning of 151 acres to the city’s planned-unit development (PUD) district for the Villages at Brooks Farm.

Developers said the land would be used for 264 age-restricted (55-plus) homes, 25 planned attached townhomes and 350 apartments.

Michael McGwier, a vice president with The Worthing Companies, a Sandy Springs-based developer, said the development opted for a high-end product and said it would be marketed towards seniors and millennials who wanted the same quality as a home but that is taken care of and includes amenities.

“We made the decision to stay with larger units and continue to work toward high-quality,” McGwier said. “In all of the projects that we’ve been developed so far… our average age is 39 years old, average income is $100,000-$120,000 and, believe it or not, about 25-30 percent of our residents, in general, across the board have been over 50.”

Joe Bowersox, Atlanta land division president with Lennar Georgia Inc., said the development would be 41 percent green space and would create a bypass from Hwy. 20 around downtown Cumming by connecting Pilgrim Mill Road and Sawnee Drive through the project.

Though no public comments were held, neighbors, including members of the nearby Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, have raised issues with the development and many were on hand during the meeting.

Issues include the location of retail near the church and traffic and construction concerns.

Webb requested that zoning conditions for the property be available by Sept. 9 for the public to review before the meeting. He also encouraged those planning on speaking at the public hearing to coordinate so speakers weren’t repeating the same points in the 10 allotted minutes for each side.

Also during the planning meeting, the proposed Mashburn Village was also brought up. Like the Villages at Brooks Farm, Webb requested conditions be submitted by Aug. 12 for the Aug. 20 meeting.

Developers of Mashburn Village are requesting the area be rezoned to a PUD for the project, which includes a 68,000-square-foot retail village, self-storage unit, 320 single homes for rent, 76 for sell single-family homes and 42 townhomes.

Similar to the Villages at Brooks Farm, the development will create a bypass to keep traffic away from downtown Cumming.

“On the 55-acre site, the biggest thing that we’re doing is extending Buford Dam Road to connect Buford Dam from Atlanta Road to Veterans [Memorial Boulevard],” developer Greg Power, with Terwilliger Pappas. “The second thing we’re doing is nine acres of open space, two acres of city park and a multi-use trail that goes through the entire site.”

The project is planned for both sides of Orchard Circle, though the Orchard Apartments, a pair of small complexes near downtown Cumming for low-income senior citizens, will not be part of the development, according to residents.

At the city council meeting, a rezoning request for about 113.5 acres on Pilgrim Road was unanimously approved. The land is between Hwy. 9 and Pilgrim Road and includes Sawnee View Memorial Gardens cemetery.

That request had been a source of tension between Forsyth County and the city of Cumming, with the county initially objecting to the annexation before withdrawing it after about 14 acres on the opposite side of Hwy. 9 was removed from the request.

Scott Morgan, the city’s director of planning and zoning, said the property would likely be used for business, institutional and zoning uses.

During the meeting, the land was zoned to AP, a new zoning designation for annexed properties.

Under the AP zoning, the landowner could maintain the same use of the land, and any conditional uses, as it did while under county zoning ordinances. After one year, the property could be rezoned according to the city’s ordinances.

If the property is not rezoned after 16 months, the land would automatically be zoned R-1, but the city council could vote to extend an AP zoning for two months if a property owner shows “good cause.”

The annexation process has been a sore spot between the two governments after a rash of annexation requests in the last two years.

Critics of the city’s zoning and annexations process have claimed it is too lenient, while others criticized the county’s zoning process as too stringent.

During the meeting, Councilman Christopher Light recommended getting the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission or other state groups to look at the impact of the annexations in the city.

“One thing I’ll say, this annexation and some of the others we’ve done, in a vacuum, don’t seem like they’re helping or hurting very much,” Light said. “I’d like the city council to consider having the GMRC or somebody take a look at annexation in our city, our laws and property values and anything else to give us some considerations to consider if we’re going to keep getting an influx of requests.”