In recent months, tensions have risen between leaders from the city of Cumming and Forsyth County surrounding annexations of county land into the city, and commissioners once again raised the issue this week.
At a work session on Tuesday, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners discussed the impacts of such annexations in the county, along with a request for the annexation of about 125 acres of land along Pilgrim Road, which commissioners unanimously approved moving the decision whether or not to oppose the annexation to a work session set for Tuesday, June 25.
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The recent annexation requests have brought up some bad blood between the two governmental bodies, and on Tuesday, commissioners said the annexation requests undermined the county’s long-term planning, particularly the comprehensive plan approved in 2017.
“This flies in the face of what the citizens have stated. It flies in the face of what this county has put down on paper, [spending] over $300,000 to develop and what we are trying so diligently to follow and make the improvements to keep the county from having [what] someone stated ‘looked like south Hwy. 9,’ and that’s what we’re trying to prevent. That has been something important to the community as a whole. The city is coming in and taking that away from the citizens,” said District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper.
Issues between the two governments came to a head during a heated meeting last week.
Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow said at the meeting he had felt personally attacked and accused of “attempting to take over the county” doing favors for those requesting annexation, which he denied. He said at the meeting he had no control over the requests.
Critics of the city’s zoning and annexations process have claimed it is too lenient, while others criticized the county’s process as too stringent.
After that meeting, District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills told the Forsyth County News she feared 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.
At Tuesday’s meeting, county leaders said they were concerned about large tracts going into the city, particularly related to impact fees for roads, parks, libraries and public safety, which would not go to the county for potential city developments.
“I will say, though, that as these annexations become more prolific, we might need to talk about maybe a disparity in assessment fees,” Jarrard said. “The county manager has raised that, and it’s a valid issue, is as more annexations come in, more zoning comes in. If there’s not an equity of fees being assessed – for instance, like impact fees – then where do these citizens go to get their services, their library and their parks?”
During his presentation, Jarrard said 350 acres of county land had been requested to be annexed into the City of Cumming since Brumbalow was sworn-in at the beginning of 2018, which he said should have been larger as one request wanted to only have a portion of a few parcels annexed, which Jarrard said was not allowed and would need to include the remaining 100 acres of those parcels.
A graphic in Jarrard’s presentation showed the locations of the requests, and he said it showed there was “no hot spot” and requests were being submitted for land abutting several different corners of the city.
Another concern, which has come up in previous annexation discussions, deals with the maximum number of apartments allowed per acre in each municipality. District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent said while the county’s maximum was six apartment units per acre, the city’s maximum was 30.
In previous meetings, Brumbalow has repeatedly maintained the city council does not have input on annexation requests, which are first considered by the county before going to the city council to be approved or denied, and that those requests could change during the process.
While Tuesday’s meeting started off talking about annexations in general, commissioners also discussed the Pilgrim Road annexation.
The annexation requests for about 125 acres on Pilgrim Road and both sides of Hwy. 9, including the Sawnee View Gardens cemetery.
Jarrard said the county could object to annexations if there was a proposed change in zoning or land use, proposed increase in density or infrastructure demands from the change.
While annexations need to maintain a similar zoning from county to city, that restriction is only for the first year, and after that, the city council can approve rezoning to any category.
“I think the key is if they’re not putting a bunch of houses as part of this [current] proposal, they may not be creating a huge immediate impact, but the fact that they can rezone once it’s part of the city, the potential is significant,” said County Manager Eric Johnson.
The annexation extends to Dr. Dunn Road, which Johnson said would mean the city could expand down that roadway since city properties must touch other city properties.
“I just wanted to give the board sort of a snapshot of what is around there, that those could be the next dominoes to fall,” Johnson said. “… This will give the city contiguity to go west down Dr. Dunn Road, obviously, a lot of [agriculturally-zoned] property for potential development there. Obviously, it opens up the Hwy. 9 corridor going north, as well.”
Mills also voiced concerns for road improvements the county is already working on for the intersection of Hwy. 9 and Pilgrim Road.
“Sixty percent of the design is done and sent to GDOT. We are doing, as part of SPLOST B, the intersection improvement,” Mills said. “It’s $875,000, and I did bring it up with the meeting we had with the mayor.”
The county has until June 27 to approve or reject the annexation proposal.