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Forsyth County reaches agreement over tree case settlement along Ga. 400
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CUMMING -- A settlement has been reached over trees improperly taken down along Ga. 400.

At a work session last week, Forsyth County commissioners voted 4-0, with Commissioner Brian Tam recused, to approve a settlement agreement with Agnes Slack LLLP and Southern Displays over a large swath of trees taken down between Exits 13 and 14 of Ga. 400’s southbound lane. The incident, which occurred in late 2014, violated county rules.

“The county immediately notified the property owners and Southern Displays that we believed this to be a code enforcement and code violation, that even though the state may have given you the authority to cut down vegetation on state right-of-way, our position was that that fence … sort of was the boundary,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said.

“So when you get past the fence, now you’re on private property and took [down more trees] than you [should have].”

On the property, owned by Agnes Slack, sits three billboards owned by Southern Displays, who was granted a vegetation management permit by the Georgia Department of Transportation to clear trees for better visibility of the signs.

While both the businesses and the county agree that trees were cut down on GDOT right of way, there was disagreement on whether cutting occurred on the property owner’s side, which would encroach on a required county tree buffer.

Per the settlement, trees will be replanted to replace those that were improperly taken down.

“This entire buffer, and it’s 1,700-1,800 feet lineally, will be replanted,” Jarrard said. “There will be three rows of plantings. It will be replanted within three months of the final execution of the settlement agreement … only on the private side.”

Jarrard said the companies will put up money to ensure the work is done.

“Until the plantings are in, they are going to float a $100,000 surety bond with us to ensure that they will, in fact, plant it to the commissioners’ satisfaction,” he said. “The bottom line is within three months after we approve the agreement, there will at least be restoration of what should be an aesthetically pleasing buffer.”

The first two rows of plantings will be understory trees and shrubs, and the back will be larger maple trees. About 35 trees will need to be planted.

Under the agreement, for the next 25 years, any tree that dies must be replaced. Commissioner Todd Levent, who represents the area, will need to sign off on any landscape plan.

The county also had issues with a “skeleton sign,” or sign frame, near one billboard and improvements made to one sign without county approval. Under the agreement, the sign frame will be removed, though the other sign, which advertises the Georgia Lottery, will remain.

As part of the agreement, the middle billboard of the three will be upgraded to an electronic message board, or a more modern and changing billboard than a traditional billboard.