Amid concerns from residents, Forsyth County officials will ask state agencies for information on environmental testing for the former Lanier Golf Club, which closed in October and is being developed into a residential area.
At a recent work session, county commissioners voted unanimously to have staff request the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to provide any storm runoff reports related to the golf course.
Forsyth County District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson, who represents the area of the former golf course, said she wanted to take a closer look than had previously been done.
“The main, primary issue I have with it is that it was not an in-depth enough attempt to verify whether or not those findings were correct,” Semanson said. “For example, an area where it was indicated that there were state waters that had been pumped … I have a photograph of grass growing over the area, indicating that there are no state waters.”
During the discussion, Semanson referenced a dam on the property that is reportedly being removed and brought up concerns with the water it holds.
“The claims that are made here directly impact Lake Lanier, directly impact the river, directly impact Haw Creek, which we have our own park on there,” she said. “With the chemicals that have been used on that golf course throughout the years, one of the streams that is indicated on that report runs right through the area where all the chemicals were stored on that property.”
Semanson said contamination could impact “the water supply for this county and everyone downstream who uses it.”
District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills was told by members of the Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains Lake Lanier, “that they had known the dam was leaking, and that they were glad the dam was being removed.”
Semanson said the county still needed to test that the water was clean.
County staff said there were pipes underground that had been there since the course was built in the 1960s but there were no plans to put homes on top. Staff also said inspectors had been to the property and EPD approval would be needed to remove the dam.
The development has received renewed interest from neighbors following the closing of the golf course.
“We are now not looking at lakes on a golf course. We are now looking at mud pits. What are you going to do?” resident Julie Allen said of the dam.
Allen said the development has impacted traffic, wildlife and homeowners in the area and has previously called for the county to take over the property.
Issues surrounding the golf course go back more than a decade. The current battle to rezone the golf course appeared to be finished in December 2016, when Forsyth County Commissioners voted 3-2, with then-District 5 Commissioner Jim Boff and District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent opposed, to approve two zoning amendment requests tied to the course.
The approval cleared the way for a 321-unit residential development on the golf course, which had been an issue in the community for more than a decade and has resulted in multiple lawsuits.
In March 2017, after Semanson replaced Boff as commissioner, the commission voted 4-1, with Semanson opposed, to rezone an additional four parcels surrounded by the golf course from agriculture district, A1, to master planned district, MPD. Prior to approval, Semanson made a motion to deny the zoning but did not receive a second.
That site plan included 71 townhomes, 155 single-family detached houses and 95 single-family residential Res-2 units.
In 2007, commissioners denied rezoning the property from agriculture to master planned district. None of the current commissioners were on the board at that time.
Following a successful lawsuit by owners, the property was court-ordered rezoned in 2011, with Boff and Levent opposed. Only Levent and District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos were on the board at that time.
That decision rezoned the 172-acre golf course from agriculture district to master planned district on 93.8 acres off Buford Dam Road and 78.6 acres to single-family residential Res-2 district south of the intersection of Fairway Drive and Fairway Lane.
Neighbors filed another lawsuit in 2007. They felt there was an “implied covenant” not to build on the property. The lawsuit was dropped in 2012 after the Georgia Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Golf course owners sought and won attorney’s fees for the suit in 2013.