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Forsyth County’s 20-year land use plan approved
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At long last, Forsyth County has adopted a new comprehensive plan that will be used as standards for future planning and development of the county for the next 20 years.

On Thursday, the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an update to the county’s comprehensive plan that had been in the works for over a year and involved more than two dozen meetings to develop standards that vary throughout the county and are true to the character of neighborhoods and areas and to change some zoning categories and restrict others in certain areas.

“This comprehensive plan is a 20-year guide for growth in Forsyth County, so it’s a very important document that will lead the county in terms of land-use, transportation, housing and economic development,” said Allison Stewart-Harris, a planner with Jacobs Engineering.  “I do want to point out this is our 12th hearing for the document and the 26th meeting overall.” 

The plan, called Foster Forsyth, was put together with consultants from Jacobs Engineering and Kimley-Horn and Associates and transmitted for state and regional review in April. No major changes were made since those reviews.

Stewart-Harris said the update has six goal statements:

  1. Invest in quality of life
  2. Improve mobility
  3. Enhance community character
  4. Expand infrastructure that furthers missions of growth and development
  5. Facilitate job opportunities
  6. Maintain and expand greenspace

One of the most visible aspects of 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.

At previous meeting, mixed-use districts with specific densities had been an issue and one change was to instead create community and regional mixed-use districts. Those districts will need to be updated in the future.

Several other changes for zoning categories in the character areas were approved based on comments from the April meeting. 

Several speakers gave input to the meeting ahead of the final vote. 

Alan Neal, a former member of the county’s planning board, had issues with population projections used in the plan and said it was intended for land-use rather than population control.

“One thing about the comp plan I think is a concern, not necessarily speaking against [the plan], the overall idea of the population projected on the comp plan based on the map being 360,000,” he said. “If you look at other projections based on the metro-area GDP, as trends, that goes around 420,000, which is about 15 percent more.”

County resident Dan Wolf raised issues with the nodes.

“My concern has been that we constrict things too tightly in these major crossroads where we place and expect … development,” he said. 

The plan held its first public hearings in March 2016. Since then, more than 1,000 residents came to open houses, visioning workshops, public hearings and other meetings and more than 4,800 responded to a community survey.

Though originally slated to be adopted in late 2016, the deadline was pushed back to allow new commissioners Laura Semanson, of District 5, and Rick Swope, of District 2, to give input once they took office in January.