Residents on Keystone Lake in south Forsyth will get a chance to make their case in a county decision to allow a developer to follow old buffer standards.
Commissioners on Thursday approved requests for public hearings seeking to overturn a previous vote by the zoning board of appeals.
In September, the zoning board ratified a consent order between Forsyth County and Rocklyn Homes that agreed the developer of Champions Run had vested rights in the subdivision and would be able to comply with the minimum 35-foot buffer required by county code when the property was zoned in 2005.
The county has since increased that minimum buffer to 50 feet.
Planning staff initially denied Rocklyn’s request to use the site plan with the old buffers, but the two reached an agreement prior to the zoning board meeting Sept. 4.
That board approved the consent order in a 4-0 vote, which stopped the planned public hearing that night and left residents wondering why they couldn’t speak on the issue.
The county shortly thereafter received appeal requests from neighboring Grand Cascades and Keystone homeowners associations, as well as one by Carol Albert, resident of Champions Run.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said Thursday that since the zoning board took a vote, the ability to appeal that decision to the commission exists.
However, the residents must meet threshold criteria to receive an appeal hearing, Jarrard said.
Those applications must prove the decision created “a substantial hardship to the rights and interests of the aggrieved persons disproportionate to the benefit conferred to an applicant” or that the decision “is a detriment the general health, safety or welfare of the public,” Jarrard read from the code.
The board voted 3-1, with Commissioner Patrick Bell opposed, to grant two hearings for each of the three applications.
The first of two hearings aims to determine whether residents have grounds for an appeal to be heard, and if so, the second will focus on the substance of the issue.
The hearings are scheduled for Nov. 1, subject to change.
Attorney Simon Bloom, representing Rocklyn, argued Thursday that residents had not met the threshold criteria in their applications.
“It’s simply not enough to say, ‘We don’t like the decision,’” Bloom said. “They have to show that their substantial aggrievance disproportionately outweighs the benefit conferred by the applicant, and they just can’t do that.”
Residents said they met the criteria, referencing the negative impacts on the lake already created by area development.
Grand Cascades homeowners’ association representative Larry Duckworth cited its responsibility for lake maintenance as a reason for the hearings.
“This is a good faith effort to bring a serious issue before elected officials,” Duckworth said.
Albert, who lives in Champions Run, expressed concern that the subdivision would never have known about the buffer issue if planning staff hadn’t blocked the site plan that led the developer to appeal.
Jarrard said the decision to grant the old buffer requirements could have been made without the zoning board ratifying the consent order.
“We purposely made the decision in an open forum for the very reason so was not deemed to have been made behind closed doors,” he said.