It will take a little while longer for Forsyth County to update its 20-year land use plan.
After about two hours of discussion on whether to send an update to the county’s comprehensive plan to the state for regional review, Forsyth County commissioners voted unanimously to hold another public hearing on the matter at the group’s April 18 regular meeting.
“From a timeline standpoint, it’s been almost exactly a year since the comp plan process [began],” said Eric Bosman of consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates.
What is a comp plan?
Since April 2016, consultants with Jacobs Engineering and Kimley-Horn and Associates have held a handful of meetings with residents and stakeholders, with nearly 1,000 coming to events and more than 4,800 responding to a community survey.
One of the most visible changes in the update is splitting the county into 11 distinct areas, typically named after a community or landmark and with regional, community and neighborhood nodes, or areas with specified zoning standards.
The character areas are McFarland, South Ga. 400, Big Creek, Haw Creek/Daves Creek, Lanier, Vickery Creek, Campground, North Ga. 400, Chestatee/Jot Em Down, Etowah and Sawnee Mountain.
Foster Forsyth, as the plan is named, also had planning and steering committees give input on the plan.
The plan was originally supposed to be transmitted for review in late 2016 but was pushed to the New Year to allow incoming commissioners Rick Swope, District 2, and Laura Semanson, District 5, to give input. Submittal then was also postponed in January and February.
A copy of the plan and process is available at FosterForsyth.com.
What has changed?
As the process has gone on, several changes have been made to the plan since the first draft. At Thursday’s meeting, Bosman presented changes that originated at a commission work session in December.
“We worked through a lot of issues both raised by the planning [board] and raised by commissioners in the plan,” he said. “There were some great changes, some really good tweaks that were made.”
A document in the evening’s commission packet shows over 60 changes made since a previous draft in September.
One change affecting all districts was to single family residential districts Res-3 and Res-4, which Bosman recommended should be retained in the plan but “discouraged until the recommended modifications and design standards are made to these districts.”
Master planned districts (MPD), which allow mixed-use developments, was also recommended to eliminate the required commercial district and to add in the future multi-use districts MU6 and MU12, which would allow up to six or 12 units per acre and be limited to certain nodes.
Another list of changes was presented by Tom Brown, director of planning and community development from a meeting earlier in the week.
Those changes dealt heavily with removing and restricting certain zoning districts from specific areas and nodes, as well as completely removing the Vickery Creek and Drew nodes from the Vickery Creek character area.
Those recommendations also contained a statement that commercial corridors should be on certain roads and arterial roads that intersect with the corridors at a distance of up to a half-mile and a statement that areas without sewer infrastructure should remain single family residential Res-1 until infrastructure is in place.
What did commissioners think?
For the second straight meeting, Semanson and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills butted heads over the process.
Mills took exception to the changes, especially those to the Etowah character area in northeast Forsyth, presented by Brown and said they came from The Homeowners Coalition, a citizens group focused on growth in Forsyth County.
“We’ve been going through this process for a year and we’ve had a process that was put in place,” she said. “To just say, ‘You don’t count or you don’t matter or what you said has no value and we know better because we’re smarter’ … I don’t think that’s fair.
“I don’t know why that group of 10 or 12 that met a few weeks ago had the say so to have more input or more value than my Coal Mountain Overlay [Committee] did.”
Semanson said the plan came from a much larger group.
“It’s come from constituents that communicated with their representatives, and those representatives have brought that forward,” she said.
“We are not talking about a group of 10 or 12 people; I have received numerous phone calls, I have received numerous emails, numerous contacts. I have met with people individually.
“There is a thought that there is still time for input. We are ahead of schedule, and there is no reason to have the baby prematurely.”
Following public comments, Chairman Todd Levent said the meeting was a good chance for the community to raise concerns.
“It brought up more concerns from people that felt they were steered in Foster Forsyth and they were told you’re going to have a lot of density growth and how do you deal with it, instead of what do you want,” he said.
How did the public respond?
Though no public hearing was held for the update, many spoke about the plan at the meeting’s two public comment opportunities.
Several speakers brought up issues with the process, especially the recommendation for MU6 and 12.
“This basically came from Foster Forsyth,” said Robert Hoyt, a former planning board member. “Every time a draft came in and there would be talk back about it, it would be there in the next one.”
Other speakers touched on items also discussed by commissioners, and county resident Kirk Wintersteen said the plan does not attack residents’ chief concerns.
“They do not like the traffic, they like the rural atmosphere of this county and we are losing it just as fast as we can,” he said. “And we have absolutely no plan to fix the traffic.”