SOUTH FORSYTH -- Issues surrounding proposed apartments at The Collection at Forsyth, a popular outdoor mall in south Forsyth, will not be resolved this year.
At a regular meeting on Thursday, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners reached a tie vote of 2-2-1, with District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills against and District 2 Commissioner Brian Tam recused, to deny an overlay for The Collection that would allow for residential apartments.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the split vote means no action will be taken until after Rick Swope, the sole candidate for the District 2 commission seat, takes office in January.
“Per [the county’s] rules, that acts as an automatic deferral until the tie can be broken,” Jarrard said. “That’s going to be challenging in this case because the tie can’t be broken with this board with Commissioner Tam recused, so I think the practical result is it acts as a deferral until either the new year or the recusal stands down, which I don’t know that that’s going to happen.”
A recusal by Tam, who is stepping down from the seat he has held since 2004, has caused issues with some opponents of the overlay who have said they feel they are not being represented in the process — The Collection is in District 2.
Swope said Friday he could not attend the meeting due to a conflict with the American Veteran Center’s annual Conference in Washington, D.C., but that he hopes to work toward a plan.
“I would like to see a solution that works for everybody, so I think that the fact there was not a moving ahead without District 2 representation is a good thing,” Swope said. “I’m looking forward to working with the community and with Core [Property Management, which owns The Collection] to try to come up with something that fits what we’re all looking for.”
Swope said he has already started working on the plan.
The sole candidate for the District 5 seat, Laura Semanson, is slated to take over for incumbent Jim Boff at the same time and will also vote on the issue. The votes for Amos, Mills and District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent cannot be changed.
The proposed overlay extends over the current area of the shopping center with a community zone to the west in an undeveloped area and requires a change to the county’s unified development code.
The development has been proposed with a maximum of 309 units and a building that could reach up to five stories atop a one-story parking deck.
Part of the proposal includes a beautification project for Ga. 400’s Exit 13.
Typically in meetings, the commission has two periods for public comments, one early and one later, with 10 speakers. On Thursday, commissioners agreed to combine the two and had 21 public speakers, the majority speaking on the overlay.
In several cases, those involved with businesses at the shopping center were in favor and nearby homeowners were not, many citing the lack of a commissioner for the district and requesting the matter be tabled.
District 2 resident Rene Guidry said Mills and Amos had supported voting by district rather than by all county voters during previous discussions on altering the make-up of the commission.
“The leader who I elected cannot actually vote on this and it’s something directly in my district, so that’s taking away my right,” he said before the vote. “Who do I hold accountable for this? It’s none of the actual people who are voting on it, because I can’t vote for you.”
Ethan Underwood, who represents the development, said he was present when Alpharetta had a similar discussion on adding The Avalon and contrasted this with mixed-use developments that want to build the commercial portion first.
“This is a watershed moment and it’s tough. You’ve got a room full of people here saying, ‘You know what, I don’t want it,’ but I was in that room when people said they didn’t want the Avalon,” he said. “Tonight is an important decision and I promise you, promise you, when you look back at it, if you approve it, you’ll say this was the right one.”
Before the public comments, Amos read a statement attempting to clarify rumors that Mills had previously voted on a pair of apartments in her district, both of which were approved before her election to the board.
Previously in the week, emails reportedly between Mills and representatives with Core discussing community concerns circulated on social media, with many opponents alleging wrongdoing.
Phillip Barlag of the Sharon Springs Alliance, a group that supports cityhood for the area and that posted an article critical of Mills’ emails online, said on Friday the group was happy with the decision, but felt her reasoning of finding answers “ring a little hollow.”
When reached on Friday, Mills said she had reached out to both sides and sent the email as an attempt to answer questions that she wasn’t able to, which she said she does on many issues.
“If I don’t know answers, I try to reach out to whoever is doing the development in getting those answers,” she said. “I either try to get them to address it for me if I don’t know the answer or I try to get it answered at the public hearing.”