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New commissioners presented Foster Forsyth for first time
Foster Forsyth

Forsyth County commissioners took another step toward the adoption of an update to its comprehensive 20-year future land use plan.

Commissioners had the option to take action on sending the plan, called Foster Forsyth, to the state for review, but they voted to postpone a decision until the Feb. 16 regular meeting.

The meeting was the first time the 20-year plan was presented to recently sworn-in commissioners Rick Swope of District 2 and Laura Semanson of District 5, and the extension will give them a chance to review the plan.

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 regional, community and neighborhood nodes, or areas with specified zoning standards.

Those character areas are McFarland, South Ga. 400, Big Creek, Haw Creek and Daves Creek, Lanier, Vickery Creek, Campground, North Ga. 400, Chestatee/Jot Em Down, Etowah and Sawnee Mountain.

Amanda Hatton, with consulting firm Jacobs Engineering, said the majority of the changes are related to the character areas.

“The bulk of the edits [that] were coming out of the planning commission or what we heard from [commissioners] or concerns from the community have been related to the community character map,” Hatton said. “There are also a few anticipated changes to the work program, but to a much lesser extent.”

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Changes to zoning categories

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The plan will also mean changes for several current zonings districts, including new designs standard for single family residential districts Res-2, Res-3 and Res-4. Res 3 and Res 4 could also be prohibited from community areas.

Hatton said of current zoning districts heavy industrial district M2, mining operations district and manufactured/mobile home district “that their presence in the zoning table just identifies that those exist in the current districts today,” but that she does not recommend allowing future zonings in those categories.

Also discussed were mixed-use districts MU6 and MU12, which are limited to certain nodes.

“What we heard from the committee and brought to the open houses is that ‘we support some kind of limited higher density, but we want it in a mixed-use product,’” Hatton said.

Commissioners also discussed whether lowering density and the population would impact investments made to infrastructure. The county approved $63 million for wastewater expansion at the county’s Fowler Facility earlier this month based on projected population growth.

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Comments from residents

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No public hearing was held during the meeting, but several residents spoke during the meeting’s public comments opportunity.

Resident Bill Gunby said he felt the process should have more choices for zoning and has concerns of what a higher population could mean for drought conditions.

“We were only given choices that they gave us. We couldn’t add any other options, any other type of development. There is a total lack of anything with less residential density than Res-2, and we don’t feel like that is something we can support,” he said. “The whole process seemed to be set up to reach a pre-determined outcome no matter what we said.”

Resident Joanne Leach was in favor of the proposal.

“A lot of time, effort and a great deal of thought and consideration has been put into this draft plan for each of the character areas,” she said. “The [comprehensive] plan process has given everyone in the county the same opportunity to get involved with the process and have their voices heard.”

Since April, consultants with Jacobs Engineering and Kimley-Horn and Associates have held a handful of meetings with residents and stakeholders, with nearly 1,000 coming to events and more than 4,800 responding to a community survey.

A draft of the plan and other information can be found at Fosterforsyth.com.