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Tone of rezoning talks stirs hopes
Officials won't rule second deadline extension
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Forsyth County News

A compromise could still be on the horizon between neighbors and the owners of Lanier Golf Course, but time is once again ticking down to a court-ordered rezoning of the site.

Throughout the past week, correspondence among neighbors has illustrated the fragility — and hopefulness — of reaching an agreement on the four-year community issue.

On May 12, those years of litigation appeared to come to a halt when Appalachian Judicial Circuit Judge Robert E. Bradley ordered the 172-acre site on Buford Dam Road be given a "constitutional zoning classification" within 45 days.

Just days before that June 26 deadline, the owners agreed to a two-week postponement, which Forsyth County commissioners approved 5-0.

Chairman Brian Tam said that several discussions have taken place since then to find an acceptable compromise.

He has plans to attend more this week, including one on the July Fourth holiday.

"I’m cautiously optimistic," Tam said of finding a compromise. "We’ll do whatever it takes."

Another postponement on Thursday is a possibility, though Tam said per the court order any delays would be up to the course owners, Jack Manton and George Bagley Jr.

In 2007, the men sued the county after commissioners rejected their request to rezone the property from agricultural to a master planned district.

The owners had a contract with a developer to buy the site contingent upon its rezoning, which neighbors opposed.

This time around, neighbors of the course have been meeting with county officials to work out conditions and terms that may be more acceptable to them in rezoning the site.

As it stands, the course owners could receive a master planned district zoning on the front part of the site for a continuing care retirement community, and donate the rear 115 acres to the county for green space or a golf course.

In return, the owners hope to receive signed agreements from neighbors to waive present and potential future litigation on the issue.

During a meeting last week, Tam asked neighbors to consider whether the chance of winning a lawsuit outweighed the compromise proposal.

At another meeting, a resident raised the question as to whether all 128 homeowners in question would need to sign on for the owners to uphold their part of the bargain.

On Friday, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said that’s a question only the course owners can answer.

"That’s up to them and not the county as to what they deem acceptable," Jarrard said. "It may not be that all 128 are required. It may be more important as to who has signed."

The language of the agreement itself has also raised concern for neighbors, who returned to owners a revised version including their acceptable terms.

One change details what sparks the donation of the back part of the property to the county.

The owners’ version named the sale of the front half as the trigger.

Neighbors, however, would prefer that any development of that land be added as another impetus for donation.

They also wish to include that the violation of any approved zoning conditions would void the agreement.

Those conditions have been a main focus of neighbors in the past week, as they’ve worked to find a comfort level with lighting, signage, traffic, buffers and other aspects associated with future development.

The county has prepared restrictive covenants for the property that would cause zoning conditions to stay with the property, Jarrard said.

The title opinion on the property, issued to officials this week, has revealed that Bank of North Georgia holds a security deed on the site, which means the bank will also need to sign off on any documents, he said.

Much still remains to be finalized, but Jarrard remains optimistic on the possibility of a compromise.

"If both sides continue to be reasonable, the chances are very good," he said.