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Planning board: no to proposed 200-plus lot south Forsyth neighborhood
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SOUTH FORSYTH -- A zoning application for a proposed 229-lot subdivision in south Forsyth has been given a preliminary no-go.

At a public hearing Tuesday, the Forsyth County planning board voted unanimously to send a rezoning request by Sharp Residential LLC to turn about 104 acres near South Forsyth High School to a single family residential Res-4 district to the Board of Commissioners with a recommendation of denial.

The property is currently zoned restricted industrial district, or M1, and sits on Shiloh Road just east of Ga. 400 and McFarland Parkway (Exit 12.)

While the planning board’s vote does not determine the outcome of the application, it serves as a recommendation for the Board of Commissioners, who will ultimately decide the fate of the request.

The proposed subdivision would be comprised of single-family detached homes and pocket parks and falls within the McFarland-Stoney Point Livable Centers Initiative Character Area, or LCI.

County commissioners approved the LCI category in 2006 as an initiative to link land-use planning with greater transportation options and create more “livable” communities, according to its website.

The LCI stretches from Ga. 400 east to Shiloh and Stoney Point roads from the Forsyth-Fulton County line to Majors Road and encompasses the proposed Ronald Reagan Boulevard extension and Big Creek Greenway.

While the county’s planning and community development staff was supportive of the proposal, deeming it suitable “in view of the zonings of the surrounding properties,” the majority of speakers at Tuesday’s hearing were not.

Their concerns, however, were not centered on the traffic and school overcrowding the subdivision would presumably create – issues the planning board raised at a work session Aug. 23; rather, citizens and business owners were concerned about the future of Forsyth County’s job market and industrial sector.

James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, spoke against the application, emphasizing the need for this space and its current zoning.

“We are charged, by the county commission and the city of Cumming, with increasing private business and commercial investment within the community,” he said. “An enormous challenge for us is the availability of land that is clearly zoned, ready for a business purpose. We’re at 98 percent occupancy when it comes to industrial space, office space.

“We are extremely concerned about what the long-term economic consequences of taking one of the few tracts of commercially-zoned property, M1 property, and rezoning it for a residential use.”

McCoy also broke down the numbers, citing a study done by the Chamber, which indicated the tax digest over a 10-year period would be greater with commercial development than with a residential development of the land.

“This zoning is very much in the middle of an industrial park and is really the heart and soul of what a business group in our community is at the moment, [as well as] in the foreseeable future,” he said.

While McCoy appealed strictly to Forsyth County’s economic interests, another speaker asked the board to consider the message the rezoning would send, if approved, to potential entrepreneurs looking to move into Forsyth County.

“The vote on this will send a strong signal to businesses such as ours whether Forsyth County is pro-business or not,” said Heinz Wegener, founder and president of Cross Technologies. “Thousands of new homes have already sprung up in Forsyth County in the last few years. But people have no place to work [here], so they have to commute to Buckhead – clog up 400 – to get to and from work. I hope you will emphasize the importance of industrial and office development in Forsyth County.”

Already, at least one business owner said he would have to move should the area be rezoned to a residential district, according to McCoy.
The developer’s attorney, Ethan Underwood, said this development would ultimately bring in enough tax revenue to make the decision to rezone worth it.

“When you have a high-enough density and you have a high-enough house price, at some point, it becomes a money maker, and that’s what Mr. Sharp’s products do,” he said. “We’re here to ask you, is it the popular thing? No. But when you crunch the numbers, you gotta ask yourself, why are we keeping it industrial?”

Underwood also noted the property has not been used since 1974, when it was zoned M1.

“Before I was born, this property was originally zoned, and it has sat,” he said.

The planning board’s vote of 5-0 to recommend the application for denial does not, however, guarantee the BOC will also deny the proposal.

The final decision is expected to be made at the BOC meeting on Sept. 15.