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'Hard to predict': city, county look at building permits over last three years

It’s been a busy few years for development in both Forsyth County and the city of Cumming, and it doesn’t look like either will be slowing down soon.

This week, Forsyth County News spoke with Scott Morgan, the city of Cumming’s director of planning and zoning, and Tom Brown, director of the county’s planning and community development department, about building permits pulled in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

While numbers fluctuated, both said it could be hard to determine reasons for the changes.

On the county side, 3,531 building permits were pulled for single-family, multi-family, mobile home and commercial uses in 2016, 3,053 in 2017 and 3,630 in 2018.

In 2016, Forsyth County saw 2,741 single family permits, 675 multi-family, 12 mobile home and 103 commercial.

For 2017, those totals were 2532 for single-family, 434 multi-family. 14 mobile homes and 73 commercial, and 2018 saw 2,324 single-family, 1,205 multi-family, 14 mobile home and 90 commercial permits pulled.

Brown said 2015 was the “busiest year in recent years for single-family” and the rate has slid since but was hesitant to hang that on any certain policy.

“It’s very hard to predict because there's a mix of things. We've definitely made changes to our unified development code. We've made changes to our comprehensive plan,” Brown said. “But trying to factor out how much we can associate with those changes [with] just larger issues in the marketplace and on the demand side, it's very hard to predict.”

Multi-family permits saw a much larger jump in 2018 than previous years, but Brown said that wasn’t the result of any recent actions or the recent trend of multi-use developments.

“Some of those projects are mixed-use projects but a good number of those multi-family units are from zonings that were approved a long time ago,” he said. “It's just from the market side, the projects have finally come online. The demand is there, the funding is there, the timing is right that the projects came out of the ground and were permitted last year.”

Brown said the commercial figure could also be confusing as those projects are often permitted in pieces.

He also said he is planning for 2019 to be similar in totals to 2018.

In the city, there was more of a definite trend.

Over those three years, the city saw a reduction in the number of total projects.

Those totals were 133 – 47 commercial and 86 residential – permits in 2016; 112 – 64 commercial and 48 residential – in 2017; and 103 – 27 commercial and 76 residential – in 2018.

Morgan said he was surprised by the dip in commercial permits in 2018, but thought “it could be just a reflection of the market.”

He also pointed out that while there is a trend of numbers going down, 2017 was a flip-flop from the other years.

“We've had different projects going on,” Morgan said. “I think some of the increase from ‘17 to ‘18 in the residential is we had some increases in things like the Canon Place development behind Costco and the Brookside development apartments out on Hwy. 20.”

Morgan said he expects 2019 to be busier than the three previous years.

“Based on what we’re looking at this year, we’ve got several large mixed-use projects waiting in the wings,” he said,” and I think that we're probably going to see an increase in, I think, commercial and residential this year versus the past couple of years.”