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Committee holds first meeting on north Forsyth subarea plan
Forsyth

NORTH FORSYTH — Plans for widespread connectivity and routes friendly to alternative transportation were aired Wednesday during the first committee meeting for a proposed subarea plan in north Forsyth.

Members of the panel represented an array of agencies and amenities, including the county’s planning and development, engineering, geographic information system and parks and recreation departments. Also present were officials from the school system and GreenbergFarrow, a consulting firm the county hired.

They noted a need to plan for smart future development on the county’s north end to heed residents’ calls to prevent the area from becoming as suburbanized as south Forsyth.

Spanning from Eagle’s Beak Park at the Etowah River in extreme northwest Forsyth to Charleston Park off Hwy. 369 (Browns Bridge Road) along Lake Lanier, the area encompasses several schools, low-density housing and well-traveled corridors.

The area mostly falls within the county’s District 4. Both planning representative Alan Neal and Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills attended, though Mills does not sit on the committee. She suggested the project in 2014 in response to feedback from constituents.

Ideally, pedestrian and bike paths would connect neighborhoods to schools, parks and shopping centers, with smaller nodes of paths shooting off from main routes.

“We have to look at these amazing natural resources as a marketing tool,” Mills said.

Neal said he wants the area to be designed for mixed use and to provide incentives for restaurants and shops to build along paths that would offer respite and a destination.

Though the meeting was an initial gathering to begin the discussion process, there was a consensus that designs may need to vary within the subarea depending on density and use.

Vanessa Bernstein-Goldman, the county’s senior planner, said there are pockets that may be designed more as trails in the woods than connectors to parks and neighborhoods, while other areas with more density may resemble the Atlanta BeltLine to connect hotspots of commercial development.

That geographic split may be east and west of Ga. 400, she said.

Layers of the subarea may also be broken down by proximity to Lake Lanier, Sawnee Mountain and the Etowah River, said Matt Pate, manager of the outdoor recreation division of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Heather Alhadeff, one of the three consultants with GreenbergFarrow, said existing spaces and trails behind houses or along power lines could be transformed into accessible and aesthetic paths.

Incorporating art, culture and history may offer a larger tourism draw, she said, especially when combined with the eventual expansion of the Big Creek Greenway into the area.

Tim Allen, the county’s assistant director of engineering, said current and future road expansion projects include bike- and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, which could be used in roadside paths and at intersections.

The next step in the process will be for the consultants to incorporate the goals and ideas discussed Wednesday into data analysis and initial designs before the group’s next meeting in November.

Community workshops, public meetings and technical and stakeholder interviews will be conducted before then.