As an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is set to expire in October, Forsyth County Commissioners took action during the meeting to continue consideration of the proposed Wildcat Creek Park project, located off Crystal Cove Trail, and to look at potentially allowing emergency services to use Athens Park, on Athens Park Road, for access to the lake, while allowing licenses to look at using other parks to expire.
The county received licenses to look at six parks on the lake following resolution to a lawsuit brought by the county against the corps after a YMCA camp was proposed at Bethel Park, which the county had interest in.
“They offered us, basically, options on a variety of other corps properties … and basically said, ‘We will give you these lease options so long as you send us viable master plans, and if you do that by certain time periods, we’ll enter into long-term leases with as long as we pass on what you’re doing,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard.
Along with Wildcat, Bethel and Athens, the county was given the first pick for projects at: Chestatee Bay, which would have been accessed by wither Bayhill Drive or Windsor Way, both off Old Keith Bridge Road; Six Mile, off Browns Bridge Road; and Rocky Point at the end of Williams Shores Drive.
Commissioners have long considered Wildcat Creek to be the most feasible of the projects.
Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor said the proposed park is about 23 acres, “relatively flat” and “relatively accessible.”
He said the plan had been submitted to the local corps office, which would then send it to the district office in Mobile, Alabama, which includes a $12,000 review fee.
“Since the project hasn’t been funded, I didn’t send it in yet,” he said.
Pryor said the proposal will be submitted with a master plan the local office is working on, which may avoid the fee.
District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, who represents the area, said residents living in the area are split on the park.
“It’s very divided,” she said. “The folks that live on the lake really don’t want anyone else using their lake, and people, though, that don’t live on the lake really want it.”
Athens Park was previously operated by the corps but neighbors objected to the use after complaints about neighbors on private property. Parks officials said the property is closed but has seen illegal uses.
Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt said the corps had told the county that any use of Bethel Park would have to be worked about between the county and the YMCA group.
Millage rate set
The 2020 total county millage rate – the sum of the county’s millage rate and the school system’s rate – has been set, albeit in a confusing fashion.
The rate was approved on Tuesday but was not part of the afternoon’s work session. Instead, commissioners briefly took a recess from the work session to hold a special called meeting at 6:30 p.m. to approve the millage rate after the Forsyth County Board of Education approved their rate at a meeting starting at 6 p.m. the same day.
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.
Along with the millage rate of the Forsyth County school system, 19.718 mills, the total 2020 rate will be 27.654.
Though the mileage rate is not going up, the tax digest will increase this year due to increases in home valuations.
Former gas station building to come down
A former gas station at 4585 Browns Bridge Road will be coming down after commissioners voted to begin the nuisance abatement process.
Steve Zaring, the county’s director of code enforcement, said the owner of the property had been contacted twice this year letting them know the building was in violation of the county code, but Zaring said outside of some cleaning and yard work, no action has been taken.
Zaring said the roof of the structure is caving in.
One issue raised by commissioners was how to address gas storage tanks still believed to be on the property.
“I can’t imagine they’d let the building fall into disrepair like that but they’d be diligent about the tanks,” Chairwoman Laura Semanson said.
Jarrard said the tanks were not the county’s responsibility and would be handled by the current owner of the property or any future buyers.
“It’s not our issue,” he said. “The nuisance ordinance is not based upon environmental issues, which is what you’re talking about, which is a fair issue but not our issue.
“Our issue is more based on public health and safety, aesthetics, deterioration of surrounding property values, threats to people with kids that get inside these structures and do God knows what. That’s what our concern is.”
In recent years, commissioners approved a nuisance abatement ordinance to deal with unsafe or abandoned structures. Since then, the ordinance has been used to take down houses in the infamous Greenleaf subdivision, an unfinished subdivision once at the center of a mortgage fraud scheme.
“What we’re hoping is eventually when people see that we’re really doing this is that they’re going to start taking down these buildings, not allowing them to remain themselves,” Mills said.
Some current students at the University of North Georgia will soon look at how the county can best use a former school building in north Forsyth.
Commissioners discussed having students from the school perform a study on the historic Matt School building at 5710 Namon Wallace Road, which the county purchased earlier this year for about $400,000.
“[Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt] and I had already talked about trying to get the University of North Georgia to possibly a graduate class do what we hired a consultant to do,” Mills said.
Mills said the university was interested but officials didn’t want to move forward until their legal department looked at the agreement.
County officials said the study would include community meetings, fund-raising proposals, focus groups and other information.
Mills said she was hopeful some of the students would be from the Matt community.
No action was taken at the meeting.
Juvenile court update
Commissioners voted this week to move ahead with a plan to demolish buildings currently used by the Forsyth County Juvenile Justice Court and Forsyth County CASA to make way for a new facility.
During the meeting, commissioners approved moving ahead with one of three options for the property. The option chosen by the county was for a 62,000-square-foot juvenile court building with three stories and extra shell space to be used by nonprofits.
The option will cost about $19.9 million, according to a plan from Jericho Design Group.
There are no plans for the property that is used for the Bald Ridge Boys Lodge.
Bids are currently being selected for demolition of one building on the southeast corner of the site, which one official said was “trying to demolish itself.”
Site transition design and construction will begin in August and is expected to last through March 2020, when construction of the juvenile court building is slated to start.
Construction is expected to last about 18 months, and the court is expected to move in by fall of 2021.