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Cumming City Council approves Sawnee Village mixed-use development
Sawnee Village
Plans for the proposed Sawnee Village between Dahlonega Highway and Pilgrim Mill Road.

A major mixed-use project on more than 150 acres in the city of Cumming has been approved.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18, members of the Cumming City Council voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter recused, to approve a rezoning request from applicant Providence Group of Georgia, LLC to rezone 152 acres between Dahlonega Highway and Pilgrim Mill Road and east of Pilgrim Mill from office professional (OP), single-family residential (R-1A) and planned shopping center (PSC) districts to planned-unit development (PUD) for a development known as Sawnee Village.

“Our job … is to make the best decision possible given the resources we have for the city of Cumming as a whole,” Councilman Christopher Light said before the approval. “I know change is hard and scary for everyone with all the possible unknowns, but in my opinion, it is not if, it’s when this property will be sold and developed.”

The plan includes residential units of different types, 142,500 square feet of retail, restaurant, office and indoor amenity uses, 220,000 square feet of institutional senior living and 30 acres of open space, along with a new road that will connect Hwy. 9 to Pilgrim Mill Road.

In recent public hearings before the council and the city’s planning board, neighbors have raised issues and concerns about potential impacts to schools, traffic and home values if the rezoning was approved.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Light said making the decision “hasn’t been taken lightly in any regard” by members of the council.

“I can’t speak for everyone up here, obviously, but I know this has not been an easy process,” he said. “We’ve given this application a lot of thought, we’ve lost sleep over it, we’ve met with people, we’ve heard a lot of opinions, we’ve been yelled at by both proponents and opponents, but we have also received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative.”

Light said development of the land was a focus of the city’s last comprehensive plan update in 2016.

“Through that process, this particular property and area was discussed a lot,” he said. “It was widely regarded as the key for two of the biggest issues that were raised during community input: No. 1, having a northern bypass around town, Hwy. 20 to 400; and No. 2, increasing the leisure, culture, community, civic activities through town center type developments.”

He added that the proposal required the “highest possible quality standard for this project” and added, amid recent large-scale projects in the city, he and some other members of the council “do plan to make a concerted effort to pause, absorb what we have for the foreseeable future” to give time to reflect on the upcoming comprehensive plan update.

Before the vote, Ledbetter said she did not feel the project was appropriate for the city but would not vote since the developer’s attorney’s, who are with Andersen, Tate & Carr, had threatened legal action if she participated and she believed the request would have been approved even if she had voted against it.

“As many of you know, I have been against this zoning, as presented, from the first time I saw it.  While many meetings took place between the developers, the attorneys, the landowners, the mayor, the council and the public, nothing of a significant material difference has changed from the very first presented proposal,” Ledbetter said at the meeting.

“Throughout the process, the citizens of Cumming, my constituents, have spoken against the zoning. I truly feel that their voices were not heard,” she said, “and the changes did not address the issues that have been repeatedly brought up as concerns, namely high-density, infrastructure strains on the roads, the schools and the utilities.”

According to a copy of the letter obtained by Forsyth County News, attorney Melody A. Glouton, requested that Ledbetter “recuse herself from all public hearings, deliberations and voting by council on this matter” due to her allegedly taking public positions on the matter in social media posts and that a family member has interests in property adjacent to the zoning.

On Tuesday, Ledbetter said the accusations were “unfounded, unproper and unprofessional” and the zoning was “not what the city wants or needs.”


The plan

According to plans submitted to the city and discussed at previous meetings, the development will include 102 attached townhomes and duplexes, 262 multi-family units and six vertical mixed-use units on Dahlonega Highway, along with a detached single-family community with 221 units and, east of Pilgrim Mill Road, 122 single-family detached lots around the perimeter and 98 townhomes in the middle for a total of 220 units. 

The development will include 44, 55-foot, front-entry, detached residential units on 12.5 acres; 105, 45-foot rear-entry, detached residential units on 24.6 acres and 72 motor court lots on 21.1 acres.

More than 50 acres of the total development will be used for attached residential units, which will include 26, 20-foot, rear-entry townhomes and 38, 24-foot, rear-entry duplex townhomes near Dahlonega Highway.

The development will also include 220,000 square feet of institutional-senior living units on 14.6 acres and 18.4 acres of commercial uses.

A portion of the development will also include more than 50,000 square feet for retail, restaurant and office uses near Dahlonega Highway, a 7,000-square-foot restaurant and 26,000 square feet for indoor amenities.

The senior living portion of the project is proposed with independent living, assisted living, and memory care units and is being included with 21,000 square feet for retail, office and restaurant on the west side of Pilgrim Mill for another mixed-use area.

The proposal also includes a central amenity area with a clubhouse, pool, fitness center and outdoor patio space.

Plans for the project also show the potential North Cumming Bypass, which is proposed to extend from Sawnee Drive to Pilgrim Mill Road.

The plan approved at Tuesday’s meeting was the second time a project had been proposed on the land in a year.

In January 2021, members of the Cumming City Council voted 3-0, with Councilwoman Linda Ledbetter abstaining and Councilman Christopher Light recused due to a conflict of interest, to deny an application to rezone the land to a PUD for a project called The Villages at Brooks Farm.

The previous proposal was for a mixed-use development with 231 age-restricted single-family homes, 25 traditional single-family detached homes, 56 single-family attached townhomes, 335 multi-family units and 42,500 square feet of vertical mixed-uses with 60 residential units over commercial and retail units on the 152 acres of land.

As part of the motion in January, council members gave the property owner an exemption to a typical one-year ban on filing applications for the land where an application has been denied.