The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted to deny a request for 21.2 acres off Antioch Road to be annexed into the city of Cumming due to the proposed zoning and density of the development causing a possible “burden upon the county.”
The vote was unanimous and carried through on a time-sensitive basis so County Attorney Ken Jarrard can send the City of Cumming a letter of objection before the BOC’s next regular meeting. The request will go to the Cumming City Council for consideration.
Jarrard said, if the city approves the annexation request, the objection will not stop the annexation process but will obligate the city to send the letter to the Department of Community Affairs to set up an arbitration panel to mitigate the issues surrounding the annexation including the proposed change of zoning from an agricultural district (A1) to the city’s highway business (HB).
The annexation application includes an office building, shop and storage area near the rear of the property for vehicles. The application noted that potential expansion was possible.
“The plan indicates that development should integrate high-quality design and maintain a sense of rural community character,” Jarrard said. “Annexation by the city may result in a different design standards and criteria that would occur if it was to be built out and developed in Forsyth County; if it could be developed and built out in Forsyth County.”
The two parcels of land are in the Sawnee Mountain Character Area of the county’s comprehensive plan, but not in the area’s community node, where future commercial development should be concentrated according to the plan.
“We do not believe this property satisfies those criteria,” Jarrard said.
The parcels of land are currently surrounded by agricultural districts (A1) and single-family residential restricted district (R2R).
District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper said she was concerned for the residential areas located next to the parcels of land proposed for annexation. She explained that the goal for the Sawnee Mountain Character Area is to keep a rural community with one acre-plus lots and farmland.
Cooper also expressed concern for any potential traffic on Antioch Road that the annexation might bring.
“This is the wrong product for the wrong place,” Cooper said. “Antioch Road is mostly residential. It’s a place for residential and the way this [is designed], the way the land lays, the topography … it also slopes down. So, it’s going to be very difficult to hide the open storage for those large vehicles.”
Cooper said vehicles would need a place to “hide in” and called it “visibly offensive” to those living around the parcels of land. She referenced residents on Antioch Road that have started to refurbish their homes.
“This [annexation] defeats that purpose [of refurbishing homes],” Cooper said. “This will be – I hate to use the term blight – but it will be a blight as far as usage goes. It’s total execution to what they’re trying to do.”
Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills said she was concerned with the potential runoff that could happen with future development, because the property had a creek in the back. Mills also said she wanted to make sure that residents were involved in future annexation processes.
“Sometimes the city in the past has given [annexations] the [Annexed Property, or AP, district] — anything’s possible — type zoning, that’s what we call it, and [residents] don’t even know what’s coming … until it comes,” Mills said.
District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson said she thought the city’s zoning for annexed properties was “unconstitutional.”
“I agree with that, that’s a position we’ve taken with the city,” Jarrard said.
Mills referenced land previously annexed by the city along Pilgrim Road, saying she had previously expressed concerns about the city’s annexations reaching Coal Mountain.
“This [annexation process] is such an unbalanced system, and it does not serve the people,” Semanson said. “Whether it serves a city or not, cities are comprised of people and it does not serve the people.”
Mills asked Jarrard if it was possible for the BOC to hold town hall meetings about annexations and hold its own public participation gatherings so that the public was aware of current and future annexations. Cooper said she was in favor of holding town hall meetings.
“I don’t know that the townhall’s going to change how we take action, but I think it … will raise awareness, so I think the fact that we’ve already had to take action on this one, which it won’t have been resolved by then because this is going to take time,” Semanson said. “I think that … if we’re able to in the meantime start swaying public opinion with that and having them understand the city may start changing some of their behavior.”
Mills said the board needed to be organized in its approach to townhall meetings, and she was in favor of presenting the annexations by each property and not as a whole issue.
Semanson believed the conversation should be about annexations as a whole.
“I think we want to address the bigger issue and have a number of case histories to show, including the ones that are in play and the ones that led up to this,” Semanson said.
Jarrard said he believed the city of Cumming would have a public hearing for the proposed rezoning of the parcels from HB.
“I do think that to the extent that the municipality is going to change the zoning upon it coming into the city, I do think they will follow their own code,” Jarrard said. “I do think that the city would have a public hearing on the new zoning to HB once it gets past this process.”