Though the Forsyth County Schools district isn’t bound by zoning decisions made by the Forsyth County Commissioners, the commission opted not to take action on approval of a sketch plat for a new middle school in west Forsyth amid traffic concerns from neighbors.
At the commission’s regular meeting on Tuesday, commissioners chose not to make a decision on whether or not to approve a sketch plat for the planned Donald F. Hendricks Middle School, which is set to be built on Hyde Road and set to open in August 2021, until after a new road study is done on the roadway. The item will come back to the commission’s Thursday, Sept. 5 regular meeting.
“At this time, it sounds like to me like the community around Hyde Road is very concerned with traffic, and they feel as though the traffic study was not done for long enough to actually be able to log the utilization of that road,” said District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper. “That is something that seems to me needs to be looked at and get maybe another traffic study done.”
Forsyth County Schools Director of Planning Tim Amerson said the school system would be fine with doing another study, but pointed out it would need to be done after the summer.
“We would be willing to go ahead and proceed with doing the traffic study,” Amerson said. “The next challenge we have had is that if we do the traffic study at this point, we are not counting the school traffic, which means we would have to postpone that traffic study until school starts in August.”
The traffic study was one of the core issues voiced by neighbors living along the roadway.
“We are very concerned not only about traffic coming in and out of our community because we have an access road that comes through our community, empties into the enclave.
“What I’m hoping you guys will do is make some modifications to the road to flatten it out so there’s a line of sight so you can actually see what is happening in front of the school,” said Mark Redfern, who was speaking in opposition. “I’m not trying to fight the school being built, that’s going to happen, I hate to say it, but I’m worried about someone getting hit on that road.
“My wife has had several close calls with people crossing over the line almost having head-on collisions. I’ve almost hit people backing out or pulling into residences that will be right across from the school. I wasn’t flying, but a lot of people do; it’s a cut-through.”
Potentially extending sidewalks to make walkability easier was also discussed during the meeting.
During the discussion, county officials pointed out that the school was not required to abide by county zoning rules.
“With respect to land use itself, the ability to plan the school somewhere in the county, the law in Georgia is that entities like school systems are immune from zoning regulations,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.
Amerson said the new middle school would be the 11th in the county and was identified in a 2014 bond. The site was selected to take pressure off Vickery, Otwell and Liberty middle schools.
“The average three-year growth for these three schools is about 3.2 percent annually, about 120-130 students each year,” he said.
Holding off on HealthSouth
Like the new middle school, neighbors living near a proposed medical rehabilitation facility on Sanders Road voiced concerns with the development.
Commissioners took no action on approving a conditional use permit for HealthSouth to operate a 74,500-square-foot facility with 160 parking spaces on 9.2 acres. The facility would operate around the clock.
Residents speaking in a public comments portion of the meeting said they were concerned with changing plans.
“We are very concerned about how that developer has treated us in these ongoing efforts to get their plan approved,” said Jeff Clemente. “It’s been modified multiple times, so we can’t keep up with the ever-shifting new plans that we get.”
Chairwoman Laura Semanson – who represents District 5, where the property is located, on the commission – said a zoning amendment to the property would be discussed at the July 11 meeting.
She said she agreed with concerns from the neighbors that plans weren’t always clear.
“I know what plans I’ve seen, and it has been kind of this moving tapestry of different maps and plans,” Semanson said. “One of the things I want to make clear is we are going to go back and look at what was approved by the planning commission versus what was the outcome from the [community] meeting we all attended and make sure that is what is coming forward with the zoning application.”
Semanson said she would likely withdraw the request for the conditional use permit once the other item was approved as it was no longer required under new rules approved by the county during the process.
The facility has approval from the state to operate at least 50 beds and appears to be attempting to get another 30. Semanson said they were asking for those additional beds in the county approval so they would not have to go through the county zoning process again if approved by the state.
Headed to Halcyon
As south Forsyth’s new mixed-use development, Halcyon Forsyth, comes closer to becoming a reality, new rules and alcohol licenses were approved by the commission.
Pertaining to the entire zoning, commissioners approved by a 4-0 vote, with District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown absent, to approve a zoning condition amendment for the development allowing two “suite-based” hotels by “Intercontinental, Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt or Hilton.”
An Embassy Suites, which is owned by Hilton, was announced for Halcyon in early 2018, and the commission approval clears the way for a second hotel.
“We feel that an all-suites product in the Halcyon development will be a higher-class hotel and command a higher average daily rate for guests staying there,” said Jay Darji, managing principal of hotel development firm The Heritage Hospitality Group Fund. “It will definitely increase the tax revenue. It would also give us a high-end hotel where business clients and families could stay and really elevate the hospitality of the rooms in Forsyth County.”
The zoning stipulates Tom Brown, the county’s director of zoning and community development, and District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown, who represents the area, be included in planning discussions.
Several alcohol licenses for restaurants at the development were also approved.
Licenses were approved for Tocayo, Butcher and Brew, Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company and CMX Halcyon, a movie theater.