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Planning board may be shelved
Commission mulls suspending panel
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Forsyth County News

Other action
Also during a work session Tuesday, Forsyth County commissioners:

* Accepted Baldwin Paving's bid of about $2.5 million to widen Old Atlanta Road. The project, set for completion by the end of March, would expand the road to four lanes with a median from Nichols to James Burgess roads. A 10-foot wide multiuse path will also be built on one side. Funding will come from 1-cent sales tax revenue.

* Postponed votes on two recommendations by the parks and recreation board. A request to name the Buice property Old Atlanta Park was delayed to consider sponsorship opportunities. A policy regarding concussions in youth sports was held to review the legal aspects.

* Heard a presentation about conceptual master plans for three green space properties -- Lanierland, Eagle’s Beak and the third phase of Sawnee Mountain Preserve. They also directed staff to determine the cost of building each park in phases.

* Approved retroactive pay for civil service board members totaling $1,400. The pay had been withheld until the legal discrepancies between the handbook and local state law were resolved, which occurred last week.

* Discussed some pending proposed amendments to the unified development code that would allow restricted parking of commercial vehicles in agricultural zoning districts. They also agreed to a provision in the code that would grandfather in businesses already allowed to do so.

* Awarded a bid to install artificial turf fields at Central and Sawnee Mountain parks to Medallion Athletic Products for $772,000, for which funding will come from 1-cent sales tax revenue.

Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.

-- Alyssa LaRenzie

Hours before the local planning board was set to meet, the Forsyth County commission discussed suspending the panel in a cost-saving measure.

Commissioner Pete Amos raised the suggestion during a work session Tuesday afternoon, estimating the move could save the county about $4,000 per month.

“We’re asking all the departments to cut back and our budget’s tight,” Amos said. “It’s time as commissioners to look for ways to save some money.”

Since the planning board is an integral part of the local unified development code, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the change would require two public hearings before a vote.

“The irony of it is the first stop public hearing for this particular modification is it would be in front of the planning [board],” Jarrard said.

In the end, Commissioner Todd Levent requested a two-week postponement to discuss the matter with his planning board representative, to which commissioners voted 4-1, with Jim Boff opposed.

The commission could vote on whether to hold public hearings on the change at its June 7 work session.

The number of rezonings and other issues coming before the planning board has dropped along with the economy over the past couple years.

Nearly all issues before the panel go to the county commission for a final vote, which Amos said was “just duplicating work.”

Amos, who once served on the planning board, recommended the commission be put on a six-to-eight-month hiatus and then re-evaluated to see if it needed to be reinstated.

Chairman Brian Tam said a sunset clause could resurrect the planning board at a specified time without additional public hearings or making it a “political issue.”

Commissioner Jim Boff countered that cost savings was not the real issue with the planning board.

“The excuse might be that we’re saving money, but it’s really a punishment or a way to show your disfavor with what’s happened down there,” Boff said.

Several commissioners agreed Amos had suggested the idea prior to taking office in January, but Boff said “the timing of bringing it up is interesting.”

In just the past couple months, the planning board has had heated arguments at public meetings, a session canceled due to insufficient public notice and a contested vote to approve an exception to an overlay district.

Levent said the numbers alone didn’t seem like a good enough reason to disband the planning board, since the cost savings would not be as significant as other measures.