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4 things from the board of commission meeting
Protecting trees, budget proposal among items
Changes to the tree ordinance proposal include clarifying definitions and exemptions, changes to required tree information and permit procedures, and tough standards for replacement trees. - Photo by Madison Nickel — Unsplash

A new proposal for how developers must take down trees, a seven-day alcohol license suspension for a local gas station and a new traffic signal along a busy west Forsyth intersection were among items discussed at a meeting of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners during its regular meeting on Wednesday.

All items were approved by a 5-0 vote unless otherwise noted.

Tree ordinance 

In recent months, Forsyth County officials and residents have discussed a new tree ordinance aimed at preserving trees while building new neighborhoods. 

After a meeting in September, officials with engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates, which is developing the plan, spoke about some of the changes since the last meeting. 

“We are adding and strengthening the criteria for replacement trees, we are increasing the protections and recompense for the removal of significant trees, which is one of the greatest emphases of the tree ordinance, to protect our significant trees and tree groupings within the county,” said Eric Bosman, with Kimley-Horn. “And we have increased the contributions for alternative compliance and revised some of the buffer and location requirements for commercial and industrial uses.”

Changes to the proposal since the last meeting include clarifying definitions and exemptions, changes to required tree information and permit procedures, tough standards for replacement trees and other areas. 

Perhaps the most contentious portion of the proposal would require permits “for the removal of any significant tree” — a landmark, historic, specimen or “rare or unusual species” tree — within subdivisions of seven or more lots.

As the update is written, there is no cost for the permit, though there could be costs for recompense of the trees unless the tree is causing damage, which several commissioners and members of the public have raised issues with.

“Based on the discussion that we heard in September, there was not a lot of support for those items. Those can easily be modified or removed from the ordinance,” Bosman said.

Chairwoman Laura Semanson said there could be significant changes for individual homeowners in the final version.

Several speakers that were members of Smart Growth Forsyth, a local group focused on zoning issues, spoke in favor of the change. 

“We need to plan for trees first, and this has to be a mindset, this has to be something that’s innate within our thinking and our being. We have to plan for the trees first,” said member Claudio Castro. “[The draft] calls for a pre-submittal conference, and Smart Growth believes that in order to correctly and adequately plan for trees on a specific site, the language here should read, ‘Developers and design professionals shall meet with the county arborist and others from department of planning and community development staff prior to submitting the plan.’” 

Castro said the plan currently only requests such a meeting, which she felt was not a strong enough requirement. 

Other Smart Growth members brought up issues with enforcement, the importance of trees to the look of the county and issues with a new soil and sedimentation erosion ordinance, which was also discussed later in the meeting.

However, not all were for the proposal, with representatives from the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders and the Council for Quality Growth speaking against the changes. 

“As currently written, we think it could have tremendous impacts on the builders that you want, which are those small, custom builders,” said Steven Davis, with Greater Atlanta Homebuilders. “The way it’s written right now, it could add tremendous costs that the builders cannot carry to build those homes. 

“We hope during this interlude that we will be able to have some public workshops, the same way that happened with the residential design standards, to allow input from the tree commission, from our coalition of folks and Smart Growth Forsyth as well.”

The tree ordinance and soil ordinance will each come up again for another public hearing at the board’s meeting on Thursday, Nov. 21.

License suspended 

A local gas station will serve a seven-day alcohol suspension after an employee who was not authorized to sell alcohol sold to an underage member of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, resulting in two violations for the business.

Citgo at Cumming Square, located at 1410 Atlanta Highway, will serve the suspension starting on Monday, Oct. 7. The business was previously cited in March for an employee not having an alcohol license.

Licensee Gayatri Rathore said the employee who made the sale was supposed to only work at a post office portion of the business and not make sales and has since been terminated.

District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent, who represents the district, suggested the business keep tabs on employees’ alcohol licenses, which are separate from the business’s alcohol license, ahead of expiration.

Budget 2020

Commissioners took no action but heard a last presentation on the proposed 2020 budget before it will likely be at the board’s next regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 24.

During a presentation made by Forsyth County CFO Dave Gruen, the highlights of the budget were listed as 45 new positions in the current service level budget, 31 new positions for the revised service level budget, increases in costs for health care and internal services, a 4% salary adjustment for employees and salary study adjustments. 

A balanced budget of about $150 million for the total general fund, $9.1 million for special revenue funds, $14.4 million for the local insurance premium tax fund, $28.4 million for the fire fund, $79 million for the water and sewer fund, $4 million for the recycling and solid waste fund, $6.4 million for the grant fund, $17.2 million for the bond and $40.3 million for internal service funds.

The 2020 total county millage rate — the sum of the county’s millage rate and the school system’s rate — has been set at 27.654 mills.

The millage rate is the formula that calculates property taxes. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, which is 40 percent of the actual market value.

The 2020 county rate will be comprised of a 4.791 millage rate for maintenance and operations, a 2.175 fire rate and 0.970 rate for general obligations bond compared to rates of 4.642, 1.975 and 1.319 in 2019, respectively.

The school system’s millage rate is set at 19.718 mills. 

Though the millage rate is not going up, the tax digest will increase this year due to increases in home valuations.

Post Road-Pittman Road traffic light

Commissioners approved a purchase order for a traffic signal at the intersection of Post and Pittman/Bentley roads.

Assistant County Manager Garrin Coleman said the intersection met requirements for a signal and the county was asked to “provide basically a design for a temporary signal.” An agreement for the project means the cost will not exceed $14,850.

According to information from the Georgia Department of Transpiration, a project will also be done at the intersection to “increase the size of the existing concrete island on the south side of Bentley Road” and work on that project will begin within two months.

The larger barrier will mean drivers on Bentley will only be able to turn right once it is installed. 

Work hours and lane closures will be announced at a later date.