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Planning board questions purpose of proposed south Forsyth subarea panel

SOUTH FORSYTH — Planning board members aired concerns Tuesday about a proposed subarea panel that county commissioners have proposed for south Forsyth.

The topic came to the board’s attention after the county commission scheduled a called work session on the matter at 4 p.m. Thursday.

After being initially floated by County Commissioner Brian Tam at a work session in August, the subarea idea seemed to have lost steam, said planning board member Jayne Iglesias.

Both Tam and Iglesias represent District 2, which spans much of the county’s populous south end and which would be covered by the proposed subarea planning board.

Proposed as a separate planning committee, Iglesias said the four subarea representatives would hold seats, with her as the chair.The four members would vote on all planning and zoning applications in District 2, with Iglesias stepping in only to break a tie.

This marks a change from the county commission’s first discussion in August. At the time, a five-member panel was proposed.

It was unclear during discussion at the planning board’s work session Tuesday exactly how the subarea officials would be appointed.

Each current planning board member was nominated by their respective county commissioner before being approved by a majority of the county commission.

Tuesday, the possibility of having Tam select all four members, who must then be approved by the other four commissioners, was discussed.

Subarea planning officials would not be able to vote on changes to the unified development code, the rule book and guidelines for planning and development.

The county commission likely will explain the process in more detail Thursday, and could make changes to the panel’s setup.

Still, the issue of securing more control over zoning in south Forsyth has spearheaded both this group and an effort to enact legislation to create the county’s second city, Sharon Springs, which would include much of south Forsyth.

Sharon Springs was introduced in the 2015 Georgia General Assembly by District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth. It is expected to be brought to a vote in the 2016 session, which would initiate the process of forming the city.

Commissioner Tam has stated in the past that the two matters are unrelated.

Planning board members offered varying opinions on the idea’s origin, from a precursor for Sharon Springs to a compromise to give south Forsyth heightened local control while hedging the city’s formation.

The biggest point of concern for the board appeared to be the fairness of how members would vote on zonings.

According to Iglesias, representatives from Districts 1, 3, 4 and 5 would not be able to vote on District 2 zoning requests, as that would be tasked to the subarea board and chair.

The District 2 planning representative would still be included in voting on applications in the rest of the county, as is currently the practice.

“It’s not fair to knock four districts out of District 2 and to knock the District 2 commissioner from voting in District 2 unless there’s a tie,” said District 1 representative Pam Bowman.

Concerns echoed throughout the work session Tuesday.

“It’s ludicrous to put in single-district planning commissions,” District 4 planning board member Alan Neal said. “The planning commission is supposed to be a political buffer. Then why are we politicizing it?”

Neal said citizens’ opinions need to be heard by an objective representative body that contemplates land use and does not factor pressure.

Ideally, the county should focus more on a regional level instead of smaller “isolating land uses” since many residents — especially in south Forsyth — inhabit multiple counties to live, work and play.

According to District 2’s Iglesias, other options have been discussed to address residents’ concerns that their voices are not being heard.

Perhaps conditions on applications need to be advertised through a new public hearing if county commissioners make changes to planning recommendations, she said.

The planning board serves as a recommending body to the county commission, which then makes a final decision.

The idea of forming neighborhood planning units, or NPUs, as there are in Atlanta, has been aired, too, she said.

“There’s nothing wrong with an advisory committee, but without another level of bureaucracy … and to [not] take away from [Iglesias’s] experience and training,” said Robert Hoyt, planning representative for District 5.

Tom Brown, the county’s director of planning and development, said he would attend the called work session Thursday and air his concerns if allowed.

He said he thinks the subarea officials would be paid by the county and is worried they would be duplicating existing duties.

Iglesias expressed her thought process on whether the proposal is a good idea as determining whether there is a goal, and is the proposal satisfying that goal?

“Is it to get more people involved? Because I’m accessible. And is it fair?” she said.

Greg Dolezal, planning representative for District 3, added: “If the idea is to get more people involved, that a work session was called 48 hours in advance for a Thursday at 4 p.m. … It’s ironic.”