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South Forsyth subarea planning board gets no vote

SOUTH FORSYTH – Four of the county’s five planning commissioners voted against a proposed second board for south Forsyth’s District 2 on Tuesday after a public hearing on the matter.

The vote came after multiple meetings at which the county-wide board aired concerns and saw the Board of Commissioners proceed with discussions to approve its formation.

While the planning board serves as a recommending body to the BOC, the decision was made based on questions about fairness to the other districts and the necessity of creating more government.

“There are a lot of good ideas in here in the efforts of localizing the comprehensive planning process,” said Alan Neal, District 4 representative. “But is it serving a comprehensive plan as a whole county?”

If the BOC approves the subarea planning commission, it would comprise of five members. Four would be residents of District 2, with the district’s commissioner, Brian Tam, sitting as chair. Tam would only vote in the case of a tie.

“It is not meant to impede the planning commission,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said. “It is a supplement, not a replacement.”

It is anticipated the new board would expire in December 2016, though it would have to be brought back to the planning commission and BOC to be dissolved.

The subarea board would attend planning commission meetings for informational purposes before meeting on their own to potentially provide an alternative recommendation on zoning or conditional use permit applications in District 2. They would also be able to recommend the BOC hold an additional public hearing.

Ethan Underwood, an attorney who represents zoning applicants, suggested allowing the subarea planning members to ask the applicant questions at the public hearing – instead of simply observing – so they can gather information from the source before conducting a separate meeting.

Three men spoke in favor of the subarea board at Tuesday’s public hearing.

All three had already been nominated for the board by Tam.

District 5 planning representative Robert Hoyt asked the men if any of them have found the planning board or Commissioner Tam unresponsive or unreachable or if they participated in a rezoning process where the planning board did not listen to residents’ comments.

Though they spoke individually, they said they have had “mostly very successful communications with the planning board.”

“If this is such a great idea, why not have it for all five districts?” Hoyt said. “Because I have not heard anybody say they were dissatisfied.”

He also said he thought if more local input is the reason for forming this additional board, involvement should occur in the public participation stage where planning members gather information before it reaches the approval or denial stage.

“Why not District 3?” said Greg Dolezal, planning representative for the southwestern district of Forsyth. “My district has had more than two times as many zonings this year than any other in the county. In fact, District 2 has had the least [number of zonings].”

Dolezal said he wondered why this subarea board was proposed to increase transparency.

“It does not address the problem. I get no emails saying that [District 2’s planning representative] Jayne [Iglesias] or [Brian] Tam are not responsive,” he said. “It doesn’t seem it’s a process problem they’re worried about. It’s an outcome problem.”

Iglesias, who voted in favor of the new board’s formation, asked whether subarea recommendations would be posted online for public viewing, as the planning commission’s are. The answer had not been addressed yet.

“We did see changes from the first work session to what this draft is,” she said. “If we can be seen as more transparent at any point possible, that’s a good thing.”