EAST FORSYTH – Supporters broke out in applause Thursday after members of the Forsyth County commission voted unanimously to approve the new Buford Highway Overlay District.
The overlay, stretching from Nuckolls Road to the Chattahoochee River, will establish an area in which any future development on Hwy. 20 must adhere to specific lighting, landscaping, building materials and other standards.
The decision is the product of more than a year’s worth of discussion and meetings, and required a change to the county’s unified development code. The effort was spearheaded by Commissioner Jim Boff, who represents the area and thanked many involved with the process following the approval.
The only change to the overlay made during the meeting regarded movie theaters, prohibiting them unless they are “located within a planned commercial or mixed-use development.” Prior to the change, free-standing theaters would not have been allowed.
The new rules also mean a change for retail on the corridor.
“This was one of the issues with respect to the overlay that has been much debated,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said. “Large scale retail [will] be prohibited east of East Echols Road and on any parcel of less than seven acres between Nuckolls Road and East Echols Road.”
Those prohibitions will include car dealerships.
Thursday’s meeting was the fourth public hearing on the overlay, and it brought out speakers on both sides.
Prior to the vote, Tim Dineen – who was a member of the Buford Highway Overlay Committee, a group made up of citizens charged with developing the plan – said the overlay would be a benefit for area residents.
“It protects area homeowners from intrusive commercialism,” Dineen said. “It secures the needs and rights of landowners. It materially enhances the aesthetic character and consistency of Hwy. 20, and it provides a foundation for responsible and attractive development that all county residents can be proud of.”
There were also speakers against the overlay, including those who spoke against there being no landowners on the committee and concerns that development near the river would raise federal issues.
Commission Chair Pete Amos said the committee met with landowners, and Jarrard said he was comfortable that the county could go to the river, but each situation would be considered on its own basis.