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What Forsyth County commissioners decided on two annexations
FCN Forsyth County Administration Building

Another meeting of the Forsyth County Commissioners brought up another round of discussion on ongoing issues between Forsyth County and the city of Cumming over annexations.

At their meeting on Tuesday, commissioners heard about two annexation requests that have been submitted to the city. Commissioners voted to object to the first request, about 150 acres on Market Place Boulevard and Turner Road, and to approve a smaller annexation for 13.5 acres for a Forsyth County Schools use.

The larger annexation request, known as the Westshore development, has plans for a mixed-use development with 322,000 square feet of commercial space, 348 rental units, 20 single-family units and 130 townhomes.

The request was previously objected by commissioners and ultimately withdrawn amid several issues, including that certain lots of the proposal had only requested the portion west of Market Place to be annexed, meaning the original request was only for 57 acres instead of the entire 151. A portion of the proposed development is still in the city.

If annexed, the property would be planned urban development, or PUD, district to the west of Market Place and highway business, HB, district to the east.

When properties are annexed into the city, they must hold a similar zoning to the one the property had in the county for at least a year. 

Commissioners objected to the annexation as the city’s PUD allows more density – 10 units per acre instead of six – than the county’s master planned district, MPD, zoning, the HB zoning does not match the county’s zoning for the area and concerns with issues of collecting impact fees and infrastructure concerns.

“I’ve got a real concern over the back way out over to Bald Ridge, not getting onto Market Place, and that is going to be our problem, and it’s not something that is going to be solved with a traffic light because it’s too close to the existing traffic light,” said Chairwoman Laura Semanson, who represents the area.

Collection of county impact fees – charges for new development that help cover the cost of increased demand on infrastructure, services and amenities – within the city has been brought up at several recent meetings after a spate of annexation requests, particular library and public safety fees, which go to countywide systems.

Per information from the Georgia Municipal Association, objections related to zoning and land use must have a substantial change in intensity or change to a different use, increase the net cost of infrastructure or diminish the value of the county’s capital outlay – funds used to purchase or extend assets – and differ from the use in current county land use plans.

If the city moves forward with the request, those rules state the next step is an arbitration process. 

“I did kind of a rough analysis of the lost library and public safety impact fees, and it’s in the range of something north of $300,000 worth of impact fees with that density just on the residential,” said County Manager Eric Johnson. “That doesn’t include the non-residential, which also pays public safety impact fees.”

The smaller annexation discussed by commissioners was for about 13.5 acres behind the Forsyth County Board of Education building for a new project that will include an 1,800-seat performing arts center and three-story Academy for Creative Education.

While there was no objection, one issue brought up by commissioners was that Forsyth County Schools officials were reportedly told that the entire project needed to be in either the city or county, which commissioners disagreed with.

“When they went in to get their permits, they were told that because the building is half in the county and half in the city, they were told by the city they had to be all in the city to get their permits,” said District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills. “Our county is saying that’s not the case, it’s never been the case and … if they had come to the county they would have never had to ask for permitting.”

Scott Morgan, the city of Cumming’s director of planning and zoning, said in an email that the city had been contacted to preview, approve, permit and inspect the new facilities. 

“The city’s position was we could not approve plans, issue permits or conduct inspections for construction on property which was not within the city limits,” Morgan said. “The [board of education] could have had this work done by the county planning department, but decided to annex their remaining property, so city planning staff could conduct this work.”

If the area is approved for annexation by the Cumming City Council, it is planned to be rezoned to the city’s industrial, or INST, and annexed property, or AP, districts.

The relatively new AP zoning means a property must have the same standards as the county for a year but must be rezoned to a new city designation within 16 months, with a possible two-month extension. 

The development abuts 113.5 acres on Pilgrim Road between Hwy. 9 and Pilgrim Road, including Sawnee View Memorial Gardens cemetery, which were recently annexed into the city.

That request had been a source of tension between Forsyth County and the city of Cumming, with the county initially objecting to the annexation before withdrawing it after about 14 acres on the opposite side of Hwy. 9 was removed from the request.

At the time, commissioners expressed concerns that the land on the other side of Hwy. 9 could be used as a bridge to annex more county land since annexed properties must touch property inside the city limits.

City officials previously said the property would likely be used for business, institutional and zoning uses, and the city council has voted to rezone the land to AP.