A large project that will include residential, industrial and retail is coming to South Forsyth
Forsyth County Commissioners voted 3-1, with Commission Chairwoman Laura Semanson absent and District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper opposed, to rezone 118 acres at 2765 Atlanta Highway from single-family residential restricted district (R1R), commercial business district (CBD) and agricultural district (A1) to master planned district (MPD) for a mixed-use project that will include 907,550 square feet of commercial and industrial buildings and 88 age-restricted residential units, which will be operated by the Orchards.
Plans for the development call for about 95 acres to be used for industrial purposes, 20 acres for residential and four acres of commercial to be developed with 1,079 parking spaces for the Forsyth Technology Park. The remaining 30 acres will be open space.
The industrial portion will be made up of six buildings ranging from 120,250 to 222,750 square feet.
The property lies between Atlanta Highway and Ga. 400.
For the age-restricted residential, the units will have a minimum heated floor area requirement of 1,500 square feet.
A good deal of the commissioner’s discussion focused on the request to rezone to MPD since the residential, industrial and retail portions of the project did not work together like a traditional mixed-use development, such as Halcyon.
Cooper said while she thought the Orchards was a good product, she questioned whether the county had seen too many age-restricted residential projects in recent years and whether the residential portion was appropriate for the zoning.
Cooper was critical of the MPD zoning request, saying it was “bastardizing our MPD.”
“This is nothing against [the Orchards] product, it really is not, I just stand by the fact that your product in this development is not an asset and this is not a true MPD and I have problems with it,” Cooper said.
Developers said the residential use was needed to move the project forward.
“The reason that this is not all an [industrial] office/distribution type use is because it’s just too big,” said Bob McCloud, with applicant McDonald Development. “We’re already at almost 1 million square feet of space, had that entire property had to been used as office/distribution, it just would have been 15 years of absorption and no one in today’s investment world can afford to hang onto that kind of non-performing asset for that long. It needed a residential component.”
McCloud said the Orchards were also less dense than adjacent neighborhood Pinnacle Glen and neighbors had said they preferred having a residential use to an industrial use next door.
The Orchards Group already has five locations in Forsyth County and another currently under construction on Keith Bridge Road.
Several of those involved in the meeting said the product would have fit better in the county’s former planned-unit development district (PUD), and there was some discussion from commissioners about bringing back a similar district in the future.
“For me, I think I want to try to move forward with this,” said District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent, who represents the area, just before making the final motion. “The other option would be to approve all of this and consider taking the age-restricted out, but what would that do to your product? And that would also put it to where the schools, it would cost them more per house than they collect, even if they’re paying school taxes is what we heard from the school board tonight.”
There was some discussion of giving commissioners another two weeks to look over the project, but developers said the contract on the land would expire before the next meeting.
Though no public hearing was held at the meeting, several members of the community were called on to speak in favor of the project including Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce President Carter Patterson, Vice Chairwoman of the Forsyth County Board of Education Kristen Morrissey and District 3 member of the Forsyth County Planning Commission Stacey Guy.
“When I first heard about a 907,000-square-foot project, I was pretty excited,” Patterson said. “Last year, our largest project in this county outside of Halcyon was a 400,000-square-foot project from Dexter Companies, which I’m not downplaying that, 400,000 square feet is huge, and this is twice that.”
According to documents submitted to the county by McDonald, the buildings will cost $85-$90 million, produce $400,000-$500,000 in annual property taxes and provide 700-750 technology, office and distribution jobs.
McDonald has previously developed and owns more than 725,000 square feet of industrial buildings in the county, which have been used by companies such as Honda finance, Barry-Wehmiller Designs, Scientific Games, Johnson Outdoors, ABB, Phillips Electronics, Rockwell Automation and Fry Reglet.
In documents submitted with the application, officials with McDonald said one reason for building the commercial portion is a “lack of new facilities available within the county have prevented numerous new employers from finding suitable space to lease.”
In recent years, county and business leaders have made a point to increase commercial developments in the county to bring new jobs and to increase the commercial portion of the county’s tax digest, which is intended to lessen the burden on homeowners paying property taxes.