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Commission, developer ink deal on mega project
Mixed-use development moves ahead in south Forsyth
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Forsyth County News

The reality of a live, work, play community on 164 acres in deep south Forsyth is taking shape.

Forsyth County commissioners on Thursday approved a development agreement, or incentives package, with developer Taubman Centers Inc.

Taubman's vice president of development hailed the agreement, approved by a 4-1 vote, as "the final component."

"All the tools are now in place," Mark Putney said. "The other significant piece that needs to happen is to get the commitment from anchor stores, and we will continue to work on that."

Anchor stores are an indispensable piece of the upscale, mixed use development between Union Hill and McFarland roads, near the Fulton County line.

Two Bloomingdale's or Nordstrom-type anchor stores are included in a planned "regional mall," which calls for 675,000 square feet of leasable commercial space. The project also calls for office space, hotels and residential units.

"This is not the best economy for any business to be making commitments," Putney said. "But Taubman is a strong company and we're going to continue to work to make this project a reality for this county."

Tweaks to the agreement have held up the project for months. The vote was put off six times between July and November as County Attorney Ken Jarrard worked with Taubman representatives to iron out the details.

"It was a hard-fought decision," said James McCoy, president of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. "And it should have been, because it was very complicated and expensive. But the return on investment is going to be incredible."

McCoy said the vote "represents a very, very important shift in the future of Forsyth County."

The only commissioner who voted against approval of the development agreement told his peers they were "ignoring the constitution."

Shortly before the vote, Commissioner David Richard held up a hardback copy of "The Federalist Papers" by Alexander Hamilton. After quoting from the text, he said, "I told you from the beginning I wouldn't be voting for this ... government should be staying out of the way of commerce."

Following the vote, Putney thanked the five commissioners, Richard included, for "all your hard work."

"The commissioners looked out for the best interest of the county," Putney said. "And we worked to get the things we thought were necessary to give us the tools we needed. I think in the end both were achieved."

To achieve approval from both parties, changes were made to the development agreement over the past several weeks.

According to Jarrard, the basics of the agreement state that the county will do the following:

• Buy the right of way to extend Ronald Reagan Boulevard for $2.575 million from Taubman.

• Pay the developer $1 million for its engineering plans.

• Complete construction of the Ronald Reagan extension and nearby sewer improvements.

• Reduce sewer tap fees for a period following construction.

• Enact a tax abatement, or tax relief, schedule for a period of 10 years.

Recent changes to language in the agreement allowed for full reimbursement of right of way, engineering plans and reduced sewer tap fees if Taubman "takes action inconsistent with the overlay or they don't bring the marquee product [or anchor stores] by the final opening date of December 2015."

The county will receive 22 acres of open space even if the big-name anchor stores are not secured.

In August, commissioners approved an easement agreement, which outlined the basics of the county's intent to begin work on the southern end of Ronald Reagan Boulevard.

Farther back, the commission granted an overlay district, or an amendment to the county code that allows Taubman to erect buildings as tall as 12 stories on the site