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How commissioners want new developments to maintain greenspace
Changes to the tree ordinance proposal include clarifying definitions and exemptions, changes to required tree information and permit procedures, and tough standards for replacement trees. - Photo by Madison Nickel — Unsplash

Forsyth County officials are looking into new rules that they hope would increase the quality of developments and save greenspace. 

At a work session on Tuesday, commissioners heard an update and gave their thoughts on proposed changes to rules for conservation subdivisions, neighborhoods planned to preserve open space, and voted to bring the discussion back to a future work session once changes are made. 

Heather Ryan, a county planning manager, led the discussion of the proposals, which included looking at the minimum land area for the developments; adding which existing sites and features on land should be preserved; procedural changes and incentives for developers to build a conservation subdivision including moving to an average lot size rather than a minimum lot size; allowing alternative yield plans; and increased units. 

Previous rules were approved in November which included a minimum of 40% open space and other changes. 

During the commissioners’ discussion on Tuesday, there was some concern that the 40% requirement might be too high and scare away developers. 

District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper, who has been a part of meetings involving citizens, developers and members of the county’s planning commission to come up with the new standards, which include a list of resources the county officials want to be protected in exchange for lowering the open space requirement to as much as 30%. 

“What’s changed on it … is it is based specifically on preservation of natural resources,” Cooper said. “That’s the base, and I don’t think that was the base before. This time it is, and you get more credit for, say, the specimen trees that you save.” 

Cooper said it would be a “give and take” between commissioners and developers. 

“What I’d like to see with this is that the developer comes in with their plan and we work with them, we have our criteria, but we work with them to try to fit things in, like I said, with the impetus being on the preservation of natural resources,” she said.  

The board also discussed that rather than using the traditional yield method – which the county currently follows – to have the option of an adjusted tract acreage method, a calculation that takes into account total acreage, constrained acreage and density to determine the maximum number of lots allowed. 

In theory, the proposal would potentially allow more lots and also conserve more of the space commissioners were interested in. 

District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said any changes should work with the county’s tree ordinance, which was adopted last year, and that the changes could be an answer to the mass grading for developments, which many in the community have opposed.  

“The best way to avoid mass grading is to do a conservation subdivision leaving land intact, but you can’t expect that to all occur and the developer to get nothing back, or no one will use it,” she said.  

Several commissioners stated that they were not in favor of any proposal that would increase the density of lots above what is allowed in the county’s unified development code. 

District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent, during a discussion with Mills, said the county needed to be clear to the public that a reduction in lot sizes did not mean that neighborhoods would be denser.  

“Commissioner Mills, what I think some people don’t get is just because you have smaller lots doesn’t mean you have more density because you take the extra land and you’re preserving it into greenspace, preserving specimen trees, staying away from aquafers, springs,” Levent said. “It just means you are preserving your true natural resources. You don’t build on part of it is what you’re doing.”