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Commissioners object to annexation request, mixed-use development proposal on Bald Ridge Marina Road
Gateway at Lanier
Commissioners voted to object to the annexation request to develop Gateway Lanier, a mixed-use development on 54 acres of land east of Costco on Bald Ridge Marina Road.

Forsyth County Commissioners authorized staff to send a letter of objection to a recent request for the annexation of more than 50 acres from the county to the city of Cumming on Tuesday, Sept. 7 during a work session.

The land is comprised of two different parcels and is situated on Bald Ridge Marina Road, directly east of the Costco across Bald Ridge Acres Drive.

The annexation request for a development known as Gateway to Lanier was brought before the BOC earlier this year and removed by theapplicant, Gateway to Lanier, in July.

Gateway to Lanier’s proposal for development is comprised of 77 single-family units, 51 townhomes, 312 multifamily housing and 30,000 square feet of retail space.

Earlier this year, a previously proposed zoning for the property was annexed property (AP), a city zoning designation that would mean the property would mimic the county zoning for a year. The proposed zoning under the new request on Sept. 7 was planned unit development (PUD). Currently, the property is zoned lake residential (LR) and commercial business (CBD) districts.

The developer is anticipating the project to take four to five years with a density of 8.24 units per acre.

According to Molly Esswein of Jarrad & Davis, the law firm that represents Forsyth County, the MPD zoning only allows for a maximum of six units per acre. The county’s MPD would be the closest zoning comparison to the city’s PUD, Esswein said.

Esswein also made note that annexation by the city could result in different design standards and criteria than the county had in place.

The land in question also falls within the Lanier Character Area inside the Lake Lanier/Mary Alice Community Node according to the county’s comprehensive plan. This means that the plan anticipates the creation of a town center or a hospitality hub to take better advantage of the nearby lake’s assets. It also anticipates some design standards that help to minimize negative impacts on the lake.

While Esswein said that a PUD or another kind of mixed-use zoning is appropriate for the node, the plan contemplates that any high concentrations of commercial and high-density residential areas should be located on major arterial roads. The property in question is along a collector road, Bald Ridge Marina Road.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, collector roads are “major and minor roads that…provide less mobility than arterials at lower speeds and for shorter distances. They balance mobility with land access.” Arterial roads can include things like “freeways, multiple highways and other important roadways that … connect. Land access is limited.”

Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills remarked that there is no access on Bald Ridge Marina Road, stating that, “To get out of it, you’d have to have a boat.”

District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson agreed that the surrounding area was difficult in terms of mobility stating that the intersection was hard to navigate.

“That intersection has already been destroyed with the stupidest roundabout that I’ve seen in my entire life,” Semanson said.

Esswein said that county staff “could be supportive” of the annexation if there was a change to have a full plan document to analyze. However, as presented, staff was not supportive of the annexation for the development “due to the density and lack of conformance with the [Unified Development Code’s] performance standards and the [Comprehensive Plan].”

District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent stated that he did not think there was “anything to lose by objecting to this,” and he proposed giving staff a time-sensitive motion to write a letter of objection instead of bringing the request back to another work session.

Commissioners agreed that the “density [was] just extraordinary,” and Semanson said that the development would directly impact her district.

Commissioners voted to object to the annexation request on a time-sensitive basis. The motion carried with a 4-0 vote with District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper absent.

While the county cannot stop the annexation process, the objection will obligate the city, if the annexation requested is approved by the Cumming City Council, to send the letter to the Department of Community Affairs to set up an arbitration panel to mitigate the issues surrounding the annexation.