Forsyth County Commissioners had a lot on their plate at a recent work session, as benefits for the families of fallen officers, steps toward remedying some rented homes and a recent decision to object to land being annexed by the city of Cumming were among items brought up at the meeting.
All items were approved by a 5-0 vote, unless otherwise noted.
Insurance for spouses
Earlier this month, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Spencer Englett died during his first day of training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Pickens County, and now, county leaders are working to ensure Englett’s wife and the spouses of other county employees who put themselves in harm’s way continue to receive insurance benefits.
Commissioners voted unanimously at the meeting to authorize the county to pay for the insurance of employees’ spouses for three years after their death and to have county staff bring back a formal policy.
“We lost an officer in the line of duty just a few weeks ago,” Sheriff Ron Freeman said. “My wife and I were taking a hike … she looked at me and said … ‘[His wife] gets to keep her health care, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and took about 10 more steps and I looked at her again and said, ‘… I think.’”
Freeman recommended the county pay for health care for up to three years or until the spouse finds a new insurance policy. Director of Personnel Services Pat Carson said the proposal would not have a financial impact on the family and recommended the policy – which had been discussed for first responders – be extended to others with potentially life-threatening jobs, such as those in the roads and bridges division working near roadways and parks and recreation department employees operating heavy equipment.
“If these men and women are putting their lives on the line, it’s the best thing and the right thing for us to do,” Freeman said. “They need to know their family is going to be taken care of.”
Commission Chairwoman Laura Semanson, who represents District 5, said she was in favor of the proposal but hoped it was never used, and District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper said it would be “extremely negligent” for the county to not adopt the policy.
“If something happens to an officer, there is no time to prepare,” Cooper said. “It happens quickly and is traumatic, and to leave a family without this kind of support I would think would be extremely negligent on our part, so I’m definitely for this.”
Bringing down unlivable homes
Tom Brown, the county’s director of planning and community development, updated commissioners on a recent study of properties in Glenwood Mobile Home Park on Atlanta Highway in Commissioner Todd Levent’s District 3, and Colonial Club Estates off of Park Road in Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills’ District 4.
Brown said the study looked at tax, planning permit and GIS records, along with staff driving through the neighborhoods to take pictures and notes of the structures, and looked into the year the house was built, number of buildings on the lot, unpermitted work, roof damage and other factors.
“We’re identifying some properties that really are far into the area of dilapidation and neglect,” Brown said. “They’re not even habitable; they don’t even have roofs.”
For Colonial Club, the majority of the 108 structures were manufactured mobile homes, of which Crown said 10 needed to be torn down and 104 had unpermitted work. Brown said those homes were built between the 1960s and last year.
“We had two main topics that came out of the results,” Brown said. “The first one was we had some manufactured homes that were dilapidated, and the second is there was a good deal of unpermitted work that we found in both of these neighborhoods. It was a mix of adding on to primary structures and also building things like sheds and detached garages.”
At Glenwood, Brown recommended three of the 48 units for removal and said 46 appeared to have unpermitted work done. He said those homes were built between the 1960s and 1996.
For both, only unoccupied structures were planned for removal.
“We heard from commissioners at the start that this was not about displacement. We’re not looking to go after homes people are living in,” Brown said. “We’re looking at things that have long since moved out of the housing stock and are really just a visual blight and safety issue for the neighborhood.”
Brown said of the structures recommended for removal, some looked like they had burned and been left there, and others had broken windows and falling walls.
For the unpermitted work, Brown said the work done wasn’t necessarily shoddy and pointed to one home with unpermitted worked that he said “was one of the nicest looking houses on the street.”
Mills said she hoped the county would be able to offer incentives or an overlay for the owners of those properties to improve homes in the area without displacing residents.
Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to begin the process for removing the structures and working to bring the unpermitted work into compliance.
No change for Westshore
After discussing the project with officials with the city of Cumming, commissioners chose not to remove their previous objection of the proposed annexation of about 57 acres of county land along Market Place Boulevard to the city of Cumming for the proposed Westshore mixed-use development.
County officials raised concerns with traffic and issues with only part of county parcels being up for annexation.
“Still, the problem for me is that Market Place Boulevard, at this point, is still on the county’s tab for any type of maintenance or improvement,” Cooper said.
Cooper, once again, brought up that the city’s zoning standards would allow the property to have about 50 percent more units than county standards. She said the city, which has several mixed-use projects planned, has been annexing larger tracts of land than in the past.
“This seems to be a pattern that is developing,” she said. “I’m hearing this is something that didn’t happen very often in the past but has been happening rather frequently.”
She said the city had offered to maintain the portion of Market Place used for the property but not the rest of the county’s portion of the roadway.
The property has been proposed with 322,000 square feet of commercial space, 348 rental units, 20 single-family units and 130 townhomes.
At a previous meeting, Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow said he felt the objection “put the cart before the horse” since the proposed plan had not yet been looked at by the City Council or the city’s planning board.
County officials said they felt they are asked too early in the process and said the system needed to be reworked.
No action was taken.
South Forsyth roadways
Students walking to Denmark High School and drivers on Bentley Road will likely be pleased with a couple of road decisions made at the meeting.
Though no formal action was taken, commissioners advised staff to move ahead with a study to look at adding a crosswalk at Denmark High School and Mullinax Road leading to the proposed Denmark Park.
“I did principal for a day there and we rode around, and these crosswalks, I couldn’t believe they’re not out there at that school,” said District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown. “They’re really needed. Let’s see what it takes to design it and do it.”
Levent said a study needed to be done to add the crosswalks and a potential traffic signal.
On Bentley Road, there are plans to restripe the roadway to put a left-turn lane at the road’s intersection with Ivey Manor Drive.
“They’re just asking, ‘Can you turn those hash lines into a left-turn lane to go into our neighborhood,’ Levent said.