Also during its work session Tuesday, the Forsyth County commission:
• Accepted Cumming Development Co.’s bid of about $70,000 to build a drive-through at the tax commissioner’s office. The cost will be split between the office and the county’s contingency fund. The project is expected to be completed by October.
• Added a voluntary employee contribution option for increased long-term disability coverage.
• Approved a resurfacing contract with the state Department of Transportation, which will reimburse the county about $929,000 for the resurfacing of some 15 miles of roads.
• Agreed to withdraw without prejudice a rezoning application for Chestatee State Bank, which has been acquired by Bank of the Ozarks. The new owner does not want to pursue rezoning of the 35-acre site at Brannon Road and Ronald Reagan Boulevard.
• Adopted a budget resolution to allow for a $146,000 Pictometry upgrade for the geographical information services department. Various departments, as well as the city of Cumming and the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, contributed to the purchase.
• Received a grant from the state Department of Transportation for about $231,000 for the Dial-a-Ride program. The funding will provide for an additional full-time driver, as well as offset the costs of the community ride program. The grant requires the county to match half.
Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.
— Alyssa LaRenzie
Under a plan discussed Tuesday, larger apartments could precede retail and office space at a planned mixed use-development in south Forsyth.
The proposed Commons at Big Creek calls for three 115-room hotels, 530 apartments and office and real estate space on 121 acres at Ga. 400 and McFarland Road.
A stipulation of the original contract, which the Forsyth County commission approved in July 2009, requires Diversified Real Estate Group to complete 140,000 square feet of commercial space before building apartments.
Commissioner Patrick Bell said that condition is an unnecessary "hindrance" in the current economy, and asked his colleagues to consider removing the requirement.
After much discussion, no action was taken on the issue. The commission agreed to revisit it at a Sept. 13 work session.
To date, development has not begun on the Diversified site or that of its neighbor to the south, Taubman Inc.
Taubman’s project is billed as an upscale live-work-play community on 164 acres between Union Hill and McFarland roads. It includes hotels, shopping and about 875 residential units.
The commission floated the idea of allowing the change for Diversified if the company agreed to increase the apartments’ square footage.
Emory Lipscomb, attorney for the developer, said his clients might be agreeable to larger apartments in return for being able to build them sooner.
"We’ll be glad to come back to you and discuss it," Lipscomb said, adding that time isn’t a big factor.
Lipscomb assured the commission that Diversified does want to follow through with its original plan.
"That’s as valuable commercial land as there is in Forsyth County," he said. "They paid cash for their land. They own their land. They intend to develop it or sell it to a developer."
Earlier, Commissioner Pete Amos agreed with Bell that the expectation to build commercial and office space was "unrealistic" in the current economic climate.
Other commissioners, however, had doubts.
"Maybe it is a little unrealistic, sure, but what this does is it relieves them of any obligation to build the commercial," Chairman Brian Tam said.
Commissioner Todd Levent, whose district includes the site, said the apartments don’t make sense without the commercial aspect. The units would likely provide living space for employees of nearby businesses.
He also questioned the size and quality of the proposed apartments.
"I would more openly look at this if the square footage of the apartment units was increased," Levent said.
He pointed to the recently approved Walton Communities apartments, which are planned across McFarland from the Diversified site.
Those apartments were approved with a minimum size of 800 square feet, while Diversified is currently held to a minimum of 600.
Commissioner Jim Boff agreed with Levent.
"I never got the impression here that the concept here was that they were going to be low-end because they’re small," Boff said. "… But without that mall, and without some visibility of how this thing is going to progress, they are low-end apartments."