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County, City of Cumming meet to discuss annexation requests
Mayor Troy Brumbalow: ‘We’re not out soliciting anybody’
ANNEXATION
Local residents have reportedly requested that this 120-acre, multi-property swath of Forsyth County off Pilgrim Road and Hwy. 9, be annexed into the City of Cumming. Officials say that this request is one of many that they have received over the last several months.

Over the past months, Forsyth County and City of Cumming leaders have seen a flurry of requests from local residents who want to have their properties or businesses officially brought into the city’s borders. 

Officials say that they aren’t exactly certain why these annexation requests are coming in more frequently, but all agree that a policy to facilitate and decide on annexations has to be decided as the area continues to grow and develop.

On Tuesday, Forsyth County commissioners and City Council members met in a joint meeting to discuss the recent influx of annexation requests, while sorting through the different needs and responsibilities of the two governing bodies.

Discussions mainly centered around a 120-acre proposed annexation off Pilgrim Road and Hwy. 9, which was filed with the county on Friday, May 31. But the conversation was overshadowed by a new tone of animosity between the two groups.

According to City of Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow, in the week leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, he felt that he had been personally attacked and accused of “attempting to take over the county” because of the annexation requests that had been filed with the county.

Brumbalow said that several county officials have even accused him of “doing favors” for friends with the annexations, which he vehemently denies.

At the meeting, he stated that he has had no control over the annexation requests and explained that is not how the process works. 

“That’s just absolutely, blatantly not the case,” he said told the Forsyth County News after the meeting. “It doesn’t work that way, I don’t even vote [on annexations]. I think I said it 15 times during the meeting.”

Brumbalow said that while he might give advice to residents and business owners that ask him about annexation, what they do is their business and he often won’t find out a request has been made until the wheels are in motion.

“We’re not out soliciting anybody [to come] into the city, but it’s not my job nor do I have the authority to tell somebody that wants to come into the city, ‘No we don’t want you,’” he said. “I can’t make it clear enough, there’s no conspiracy to try to grow the city, we’re not out trying to bring people in and we’re not trying to hide anything from [the county] if somebody does want to come.” 

Several county residents, brought to the meeting by Brumbalow, spoke to officials at the beginning of the meeting to explain why they want to have their property annexed to the city.

One individual, Curtis Williams, whose 72-acre property is part of the recent annexation request on Pilgrim Road, said that he began to entertain the idea of annexation after going through the process of making additions and modifications to his property.

Williams said that he was deeply discouraged by the costs and steps required by the county to make even small changes to his property.

“So the further I read into it and the more I saw, I just feel that the county’s become a little oppressive ... to move into the city seems a little more common sense, and that’s why I wanted to do it,” Williams said. 

Another resident, Randy Nichelson, the owner of Pilgrim Mill Apartments off Pilgrim Mill Road, said that he has been considering annexation for several years, over several different issues. 

Like Williams, Nichelson said that he is wary of the county’s processes for building and growth.

“Obviously I just think it’s a lot easier to work with the city,” he said. “I do have a piece of commercial property there that I want to develop in the near future, so I don’t want to be dealing with the county and then switch to the city. I’d just like to start fresh with the city.”

Both of the men stated unequivocally that they were not approached by Brumbalow or anyone from the city about annexation requests and arrived at the idea of their own free will.

It was not apparent whether Forsyth County Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, who represents District 4, and District 1 commissioner Molly Cooper, were swayed by Brumbalow’s statements. But both voiced concerns that anyone would be driven out of the county by its ordinances. 

“We don’t want to be the cause of annexation; I think there’s several things that we do need to look at,” Mills told the Forsyth County News after the meeting. “I think that they have a good argument that the county has gone overboard ... making it too hard for individuals to be able to do certain things. I think we need to take a good look in the mirror about our own codes.” 

Mills said that even though she feels bad for individuals who are struggling to modify their properties, her fear is that the influx of annexations will open the door to anyone who wants to skirt county ordinances by jumping into the city’s borders.

She said that if the city’s borders expand too far, the county will begin to run into new problems, such as conflicts between city ordinances and things like the Coal Mountain Overlay, which could undermine the county’s hard work.

“My point was, I don’t think that it can stop,” Mills said. “I don’t think that if you open this can of worms that you can put it back in. I think that with the codes being so drastically different – the tree ordinance, the buffers – ... I don’t think you can stop it.”

Brumbalow responded to Mills saying that so far, the city has not been given an opportunity to show the rest of the county the standard to which it will hold its newly-annexed residents. He said that in many cases, those new city residents could be held to a higher standard than their neighbors. 

“We’re trying to make the City of Cumming better; we want it to be a destination,” Brumbalow said. “We’re not going to let just any old thing happen.”