During the work session on Tuesday, March 23, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners discussed plans for the Sawnee Mountain Preserve and Bennett Park. An issue about possible amendments to the Unified Development Code, UDC, regarding manufactured/mobile homes was also aired during the meeting.
Sawnee Mountain Preserve
Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor presented the Sawnee Mountain Preserve Phase 4 plan to commissioners on Tuesday, March 23.
At the previous meeting, District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper had concerns that the Barker House and surrounding overlooks and bathroom areas were not ADA accessible. Pryor showed the revised plan which consists of ADA accessible sidewalks.
“We’ve been able to add some sidewalks and some ramps through there that allows somebody that needs access to be able to get to every part of that facility,” Pryor said.
There were also concerns among the board about a preserved “green space” in the parking area off Spot Road.
“I am a little concerned about us buying this property for parking and only getting 34 spots out of it,” Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills said in a previous meeting, “and it being used for a field, because ... it was really bought for parking. And it was made real clear that we need this [land] desperately for parking.”
Pryor and his team worked to make sure that the field could be used for overflow parking by adding a paved driveway path from the parking lot to the field. Pryor clarified that the field could not be replaced with an “impervious surface” because that would mean increasing the size of the nearby retention pond. The location was not a desired site for a larger retention pond.
He added that the field would be gated so the county could control the parking as needed for events or weekends when there could be more guests at the park.
Commissioners voted to approve the plan with a unanimous vote.
Bennett Park plans
The board also heard updates on the latest master plans for Bennett Park. Bennett Park dates back to the 1970s in Forsyth County and is the largest in the county.
“I’m real happy with this product,” Pryor said. “We’ve worked real hard over time.”
Commissioners showed approval of the added community building that was in the proposed park plan as well as the new multi-purpose fields.
“There is nowhere to vote in northeast Forsyth,” Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills said. “We’ve had a struggle … [The community building] wasn’t in the first rendition at Bennett Park, but it became one of the most requested things. But [adding the building] did make it to where we lost a field, and I think that was a complaint by the baseball dads.”
There was also some hesitation from some baseball coaches and enthusiasts during the Parks and Recreation Board meeting in March. With the new community building and multi-purpose fields, baseball was losing two of its diamonds. However, during the March meeting, Pryor said that the multi-purpose fields could be painted with lines and bases could be installed for practices.
“We went with three larger fields here [in this plan],” Pryor told commissioners on Tuesday. “You can make a baseball field smaller, [but] you can’t make it larger. So we went ahead with the three larger fields here. But, for their T-ball programs, with one of the synthetic turf fields, we can paint and put bases down on a field to play … T-ball for the younger kids. These fields are truly multi-purpose.”
Pryor also pointed out to the board that Lanierland Park will be gaining five new baseball fields after construction and that the park is just “a mile and a half up the street.”
The board approved the master plan for Bennett Park with a unanimous vote.
Commissioners heard about possible amendments to the UDC for manufactured/mobile homes.
Some of the amendments to the code include enforcing siding and skirting types, and a required lot size increase to 2 acres for agricultural zoned (A1) properties.
Under the county’s unified development code, the minimum lot size for an A1 property is one acre and manufactured or mobile homes can be built without obtaining a conditional-use permit.
District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent was concerned about raising the lot size requirement and what that would do to pricing regarding “affordable housing.”
Originally, the issue was brought to the board because a resident expressed concern about a trailer park popping up near their residence without warning.
“It was because we had a loophole in our code that allowed somebody to create a trailer park by moving in eight or 10 trailers,” Mills said.
Mills said she did not know how this was possible to do without warning the public first, and asked the Department of Planning Director Tom Brown for direction.
“Our code allows somebody to be able to sub-divide their property … and bring in [manufactured/mobile homes],” Mills said. “I don’t think it’s fair for somebody to create a trailer park without citizens being able to know about it.”
Levent asked Brown if there was something that the board could do to help, like not allowing access of easements.
Brown said there was “a give and take with each” option that the planning department went through during research, but ultimately, he said that changing the access requirements “provided some limitations that the Board of Commissioners probably would not find as attractive.”
Commissioners took a look at some of the other lot sizes that Forsyth’s neighboring counties required. Cherokee County has a requirement of at least 2 acres on a paved road and 5 acres on an unpaved road. Dawson County also has a blanket requirement of 5 acres.
“I just think it’s interesting looking at what our neighbors are doing, and arguably I think that some of those counties are more rural in character than we are,” Semanson said. “They have a higher standard than we’re even proposing.”
Levent said that he did not think that Forsyth County could be compared to other counties because the prices of land are too different.
“Your money goes a lot further in those other counties, and they require you to have bigger lots,” Levent said. “Just know, when you go up [in lot size] here, [lot prices] are going to be somewhere between $70,000 and $150,000, and if you’re trying to make it so it’s impossible for [residents] to do the mobile homes … . Because that’s what it’s going to do in our county because our land is so expensive.”
“I don’t think that is what’s trying to be accomplished here,” Semanson said.
Commissioners approved the amendments to move forward with a unanimous vote, and this item will appear again for a public hearing in the future.