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County may take on overlay reviews
Smart Growth, company reach agreement
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Forsyth County News

Other action
Also at the Forsyth County commission meeting Thursday:

* Commissioner Todd Levent announced he would ask to rescind a recent vote that authorized sending a pre-application to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs on behalf of a developer seeking funds from a Housing and Urban Development loan program. The high-end senior living community in the Windermere neighborhood could qualify based on the low- to middle-income jobs it would create.

* Planning Commissioner Matt Murphy apologized for using the word “Nazi” at a recent planning work session. Murphy used the term in reference to a political activist. He explained the word has more than one definition, and he was not referring to her as a member of the Nazi party.

* Commissioners approved changes to the alcohol ordinance that will allow nonprofits to obtain special event permits to serve alcohol for a maximum of 12 days per year, up from five.

* The board postponed a public hearing on a unified development code change that would allow parking commercial vehicles in land zoned agriculture. The issue will be revisited May 24, with a public hearing in June.

* A public hearing was held on a change to zoning conditions that would allow Luxe Properties to alter the 14 required town homes to 11 detached family homes. The property in
Vickery Village, once owned by a single developer, sparked a discussion about which one of the multiple owners would be responsible for building turn lanes on Post Road, a condition specified in the original rezoning. Commissioners postponed a decision until May 19.

Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.

-- Alyssa LaRenzie

County commissioners appear poised to grant themselves the final say on alternative design reviews for two overlay districts

The power currently rests with the planning board, which voted 3-2 in April to keep it that way.

The districts are Peachtree Parkway and Castleberry-Bethelview Crossroads.

The discussion began in January, when Academy Sports and Outdoors, which has a store planned at The Avenue Forsyth, got the go-ahead from the planning board to have an exterior that was 45 percent brick, stone and glass. The Peachtree overlay requires 75 percent.

Opponents, including from Smart Growth Forsyth County, sought to appeal decision, only to find the county’s code didn't allow that. The group then began preparing a legal challenge.

However, Smart Growth and Academy recently reached an agreement through talks that will give both sides what they want, said Robert Slaughter, managing director of Smart Growth.

"Academy will be able to build their structure and be open for Christmas, while the standards of the Peachtree Parkway Overlay have been maintained," Slaughter said.

"In light of the expected changes to the unified development code that close the loop-hole that caused the issue, and assuming no other architectural design reviews are approved in the interim, we do not foresee filing in Superior Court."

Smart Growth’s discovery that no appeals process existed sparked discussion among county officials. It also led to some proposed changes to the unified development code that would let the commission decide whether to approve alternative designs.

After Thursday’s public hearing on the matter, Chairman Brian Tam suggested adding a provision to require a public hearing before any alternative design reviews.

Since that was a significant difference from what had been advertised, County Attorney Ken Jarrard asked commissioners to hold a subsequent hearing before voting. They agreed and will do so on May 19.

Commissioners also approved 5-0 a motion to remove power transmission line overlay districts from the unified development code.

Two residents spoke in favor of giving commissioners the authority to weigh in on design reviews Thursday.

Ernest Turner said the planning board doesn’t hear variance requests, and an alternative design is a variance to the requirements of the overlay.

“The planning commission, with all due respect, is not the body where those decisions should be made,” Turner said. “The board of commissioners understands the big picture and is able to understand the ramifications of the long-term.”

Slaughter commended the commission for looking to make changes to “close an unintended loophole” in the code.

He also suggested some other changes to the review process to give it “a little more teeth.”

After the commission meeting, Slaughter said Smart Growth plans to "continue to work with the county to improve and enhance the overlay language."