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Political group forms in District 3
Venable vote stirred action
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A new political group hopes to make an impact on the District 3 race for Forsyth County commission.

Forsyth Citizens for Responsible Growth is in the process of seeking a candidate who best represents its ideals.

The organization, made up primarily of District 3 residents, is gaining strength from a former group, Keep Castleberry Residential.

The Castleberry organization sought to stop the Venable Hall development on Hwy. 9, which is in District 3.

Commissioners voted 3-2 in September to allow the 240-acre project, which will include 727 residential units and 1.1 million square feet of commercial space.

Current District 3 Commissioner Jim Harrell voted in favor of the measure, much to the dismay of the Castleberry group.

The residents felt the commission did not listen to their opinions. As a result, they’re organizing for change.

Member Lee Cohn said Responsible Growth will focus on positive development by following the county’s future land-use map, building in areas with the necessary infrastructure and mindful of environmental concerns.

“What we’re really looking for is a candidate that’s going to say, ‘I’m looking for that balance,’” Cohn said. “We thought that was totally lost with the Venable development.”

While incumbent Harrell upset the group with his decision on Venable Hall, the organization isn’t looking to oust him.

Rather, member Tony DeMaria said, it wants to positively support the right person.

Joshua Shorr, the only other announced candidate for the District 3 post, will also be considered, DeMaria said.

He said Shorr sent an e-mail to Responsible Growth on Monday, looking to talk and learn more about the group.

Shorr said listening to all viewpoints, regardless of his own, was one of the bases for his decision to run. In this case, his position could mesh with the organization.

“When we do development in the future, it needs to be done in a thoughtful, considerable manner,” he said.

Harrell viewed the Venable Hall decision as an opportunity to have a “quality build” in that area.

Either outcome would have upset one side of the difficult matter, Harrell said, adding that he “decided not to duck my responsibility.”

The unique nature of the development — with commercial areas only along Hwy. 9 — and the 72 conditions placed on the development to ensure good neighbor policies, led to his support.

“If that’s the only way [Responsible Growth] wish[es] to judge my work as a commissioner, that’s entirely their right to do so,” he said.

Responsible Growth is registered not as a political action committee, but as an independent group, DeMaria said. This status gives it the ability to support candidates.

The organization may not, however, directly fund any candidate’s campaign.

Responsible Growth plans to announce who it will back in mid-April, ahead of qualifying for the primary in July. Both Harrell and Shorr are Republicans.

Membership is being drawn from about 1,200 people who opposed the Venable development.

In years past, commission elections were at large, meaning every voter got to vote in all contests, regardless of district.

The 2010 election, however, will feature the county’s first vote-by-district races.

With that in mind, the group’s size could give it “a lot more leverage” in determining the outcome, Cohn said.

After the election, members will continue to work for responsible growth in the county, with a focus in District 3.

“Any time there’s a rezoning in the area, we’re going to have an impact,” Cohn said. “We’re not talking about people that are fanatical ... We’re looking for, again, just what the group says, responsible development.”