A study on impact fees, possible straw poll questions for voters, and reducing the speed limit on a busy west Forsyth County road were among items discussed and approved at a Forsyth County Commissioners work session on Tuesday.
All items were approved by a 5-0 vote, unless otherwise noted.
New fees for developers?
A new study sought by commissioners could increase the amount some developers have to pay towards roads.
Commissioners voted to have county staff retain a consultant to review, update and offer a recommendation on the transportation impact fees and to look at smaller arterial and collector roads, if possible.
After commissioners voted in 2016 to implement impact fees – charges for new development to help cover the cost of increased demand on roads, infrastructure, services and amenities – for roads for residential developments. At that time, county officials went against the proposal from that consultant and chose not to add the fees for commercial developments.
“In an area like us, where people have options with respect to where they want to locate their commercial business, many times it can be a numbers game. Not all the time, but sometimes it can be,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said. “The board was very much concerned, given particularly our ratio of residential to commercial, to maybe not want to propose anything in the way of a financial penalty or a disincentive that could hurt our ratio.”
However, a funding change approved at the state level, which benefitted Forsyth County by helping fund some road projects, altered that formula.
Chairwoman Laura Semanson said she understood the decision was made to not hurt commercial development but said the county should consider looking at fees for retail establishments.
“That does have a very, very direct impact on traffic, and I think we’ve seen that when we have a new Walmart Supercenter or something going in,” Semanson said. “Now, we’re looking at putting in a light, making all kinds of changes, putting in new roads. So, the impacts from certain types of commercial may even exceed the impacts from residential.”
For the smaller arterial and connector roads, District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said she wanted to see if funds could potentially be used for those roads, which is not currently allowed.
“When you have four zonings on Jewel Bennett Road and you were going to get all those impact fees and you couldn’t spend one dime of it to improve that road, [it’s an issue],” Mills said.
We have some questions
When local Republican and Democratic voters choose their party’s candidates for the 2020 elections, Forsyth County will have a few questions of its own.
Commissioners discussed, but took no action on, what straw poll questions to ask voters in the state’s Presidential Preference Primary on March 24 or at a general primary in May. The requests would have to be approved by the parties.
“It actually serves as an effective way to reach out and get just sentiment of various issues,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard said.
Chairwoman Laura Semanson said two hotly debated issues could be among those questions. First, whether the county should stay with the current system of electing commissioners by district or return to countywide voting for all commissioners, Second, consolidation of the governments of Forsyth County and the city of Cumming.
Countywide voting versus district voting has been an issue in Forsyth County for more than a decade. Prior to 2010, voting was done countywide for all commissioners. In the 2016 Republican primary, voters said they were in favor of district voting, though during Tuesday’s meeting some commissioners voiced issues with working on the ballot at that time.
During the 2016 debate about voting, requests to possibly add a countywide chair, increasing the board to six members, was floated.
The upcoming 2020 census is already expected to have an impact on the districts.
“Taking in consideration that the census is about to happen, and once that census happens it will all be redistricted anyway, to me, it makes sense that we know where we stand as far as our districts go before we go in and change the commission,” said District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper.
Mills said there would likely be a push against countywide voting in north Forsyth, and under countywide voting “three precincts were electing the whole county commission.”
Consolidation, which was discussed less during the meeting, last appeared in early 2018, when commissioners decided to hold off on a request to the county’s legislative delegation that would combine the two local governments.
While county commissioners all voiced support for asking the question, it is likely to face opposition from city leadership.
During the 2018 discussions, Mayor Troy Brumbalow described the proposal as a “hostile takeover of the city of Cumming,” and Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter called it a “slap in the face.”
Commissioners will discuss the requests at a future meeting.
Following a recent wreck involving a West Forsyth High School student at the intersection of Post and Bentley roads, commissioners are asking the state to consider lowering Post Road’s speed limit.
“With things going the way they are now, I’m going to ask the board to support me in having our legal staff draw up a motion to GDOT asking them to do studies in consideration of lowering the speed limit on Post Road to 40 MPH from Hwy. 9 to Hwy. 20 and the school zones along the road follow the state law of allowing an additional 10-MPH reduction in the school zones,” Levent said.
Following the wreck, GDOT is looking at data on accidents along the roadway over the last five years.
Officials at the local and state level have said they would like to see the planned widening of Post Road be done quicker than scheduled. Currently, the project is being split into two phases: Hwy. 9 to Kelly Mill Road, set to start work in 2028, and Kelly Milly Road to Hwy. 20 in 2035.