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Cumming, Forsyth County want to communicate better about future annexations; here's why
Westshore 3 031319
Architectural renderings of residential units for Westshore, a proposed mixed-use development project at the intersection of Turner Road and Market Place Boulevard.

Last week, Forsyth County Commissioners voted unanimously to object to the annexation of about 57 acres of county land along Market Place Boulevard to the city of Cumming for the proposed Westshore mixed-use development due to the proposed city conditions allowing about 50 percent more units per acre than under county standards.

This week, officials with both the city and the county had a chance to talk about annexation and other issues at a special called joint meeting on Monday.

For the Westshore annexation, Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow said he felt the objection “put the cart before the horse” since the proposed plan had not yet been looked at by the City Council or the city’s planning board.

“It’s not even been before the council; we might have come back and said we want two units to the acre, and y’all would have said, ‘Oh, we’ll be fine with that,’ but we’re going to be stuck potentially having to pay for the cost of something we haven’t approved because it hasn’t even been to us,” Brumbalow said.

Officials with both the city and the county favored more open communication between the two governments as more annexations come to the county. District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said annexation requests have increased since Brumbalow took office in 2018.

“We had very few and they were just commercial; there was never any residential component at all,” she said. “Now, we’re getting quite a bit.”

Chairwoman Laura Semanson said there was at least a perception that developers could get a more dense zoning through the city.

“In some cases, maybe not all cases, there is the appearance that [the annexation] is to circumvent our zoning regulations and that there may be more favorable reception on the part of the city,” Semanson said. “I want to state unequivocally that we all fully understand it’s not the city that brings these applications forward, it’s the applicants.”

Brumbalow said there are several large mixed-use projects coming to the city – including the planned Cumming City Center – though none had been approved. He said the city was looking more into those types of projects than traditional residential developments. 

“We want the city to be a destination, so we’re looking at instead of getting 400 houses, something where we can get a residential and a commercial aspect to it,” Brumbalow said. “The commercial part, we don’t want it to just be a strip center. We want it to be a destination.”

Water projects

During the meeting, the city and county once again discussed the possibility of working together for any future water and sewer projects.

Tim Perkins, director of the county water and sewer department, said county officials have requested that consultants work on plans to return flow from the Fowler Water Reclamation Facility to Lake Lanier.

“One of the options will include coming up close to the city’s facility, then they’ll study the benefits of maybe doing a joint project with a large pipe versus two smaller pipes, timing – lots of things need to be looked at there,” Perkins said. “It’s a project that we’re in need of much sooner, possibly, than the city.”

Perkins said he felt the project would save costs for both governments but said each has different requirements from the state for projects.

“What I heard was they weren’t sure if and when they were going to be returning wastewater to the lake and were going to put it off as long as possible,” he said. “I don’t blame them for saying that, and we don’t have that luxury. That’s why I asked [commissioners.] We can still share down the road, but they’re not ready to move forward and we need to be.”

Cumming Utilities Director Jon Heard said he and Perkins have always had a good relationship in terms of talking about projects and the city was always looking to work with the county.

Georgia Mountains

At the previous joint meeting, officials heard from the Atlanta Regional Commission about what they could offer if the governments joined the organization, and this week, officials with the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, of which both are a member, had a chance to say what they could offer if both stayed.

“Our main focus is to serve as an extension of local government,” said Heather Feldman, executive director of GMRC. “That is the premise of what we do in various ways, such as economic development, community development, planning, information services, GIS and workforce development.”

GMRC is made up of 13 counties and 38 cities in northeast Georgia, compared with the ARC, which is made up of Henry, Cobb, Rockdale, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Douglas, Cherokee, Fulton and Fayette counties, municipalities in those counties and the city of Atlanta.

“We see ourselves as a facilitator, as a convener of the region in various different ways in order to carry out the mission and goals of the regional commission,” Feldman said. “We really try to work with our participating communities to kind of bolster this region as live-work-play.”

No decisions about whether to stay with GMRC or to go with ARC was made at the meeting.