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South Forsyth District 2 subarea planning board nixed for citizen advocates groups
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For the second straight work session, Forsyth County commissioners took several steps toward changing the county’s zoning process Tuesday, including introducing citizens groups and proposing more changes to the county’s unified development code.

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Citizen advocates to be liaisons between government, their people

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Commissioners voted 3-2, with District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills opposed, to approve a new group of up to five citizen advocates for each commission district.

“It’s addressing directly the one known immediate issue, which is that communication that’s in a deeper level and particular community has a particular issue … there’s someone who is basically a conduit between the people and the commissioner or the planning [board member] to give them feedback both ways,” District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson said.

The advocates will act as liaisons between citizens and officials by sending out information on upcoming land use and zoning decisions, attending meetings and working with their district’s planning board member.

Advocates will not be paid or have any voting power. They must live in the district they represent, and their term will coincide with the commissioner who appoints them.

They also cannot use county staff time “for guidance and information” without asking their planning board member or commissioners.

The discussion grew heated at times over concerns on the stress the group could cause county staff.

Mills said it may be time for the county to look at the entire zoning process.

“A lot of this stuff we’re doing was written when we were a tiny county,” she said. “We’ve been changing on the fly when we’ve been changing really fast, and we’ve been playing catch up instead of doing it as ‘now we’re here.’”

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District 2 subarea planning board nixed

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Commissioners also took several steps toward changing the county’s unified development code, which governs zoning and land use, a move that included closing the door on another group aimed at loudening the voice of the people.

Commissioners unanimously approved amending the code to remove the subarea planning board for District 2.

The group, which was originally spearheaded by then-District 2 Commissioner Brian Tam, was originally approved in January 2016 with an option to be extended at the end of the year.

The group had been attending planning board meetings and was allowed to vote on an alternative recommendation to commissioners.

In December, then-District 2 Commissioner-elect Rick Swope expressed that he would like to see the group extended another 90 days to determine whether it would move forward.

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Disclosing LLC members during zoning

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Commissioners voted 5-0 for code changes to allow new language for names on LLCs and corporations on zoning applications.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard made two proposals for the change.

For the first, if applicants or owners of a property are corporations or an LLC, they must disclose stockholders, executives and directors unless it is publicly traded on a national scale. That could be waived with a signed affidavit stating it would be harmful to the company based competition, trade secrets and proprietary information.

The affidavit would be meant to stop from discouraging national retailers.

The second proposal was for all LLC or corporation applications to disclose any stockholder, officer, director or member who made a contribution to any commissioners in the last two years.

Jarrard said it is possible the county could receive a legal challenge but that he is confident in the county’s chances.

“I will never, since I’ve been a lawyer, say that nobody will sue us, because people will sue whether there is merit to the case or not,” he said. “To the extent that they want to argue that revealing the members of an LLC is illegal or unconstitutional, I’m not aware of any theory that that is accurate.”

Both versions will go toward a public hearing.

Commissioners also approved potential code changes to add “sun-setting” language to zonings, where if a property is rezoned or receives a conditional-use permit and then no land development permit is submitted within a year, a notice will be given that a county-initiated rezoning to a “constitutional zoning designation” may occur if a permit is not applied for in 30 days.

A discussion was also held on to sending zoning condition amendments to the county’s planning board, though no action was taken.