According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, Forsyth County is projected to hit over 400,000 residents by 2050, which means development isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
But what should residents do when they see that colored sign for a new project go up in their neighbor’s yard?
To educate residents about public participation, county meetings and public involvement, Forsyth County News sat down with Vanessa Bernstein-Goldman, the deputy director of the county’s department of planning and community development.
According to Bernstein-Goldman, information about “that new yellow or orange sign” is just a few clicks away on the county’s website.
Color is key
The color of the sign makes a difference.
• If the sign is orange, that indicates an upcoming public participation meeting;
• If the sign is yellow, that indicates an upcoming public hearing.
The difference between the two is simple: County staff presence.
Bernstein-Goldman said a public participation meeting is held by the applicant of the project. They are required to write down concerns and questions from the public to send to the county. Forsyth County staff is not present at these meetings.
Public hearings are held during one of three county boards in Forsyth County:
Both meetings allow residents to make their voices heard, but public participation meetings allow for more of a question-and-answer style session.
All yellow public hearing signs are posted a minimum of 21 days prior to the meeting.
I see the sign, now what?
Bernstein-Goldman says that residents can pull over and take a picture of the sign or try to remember the number displayed prominently at the top.
If you can’t take a photo or remember the application number, call the Planning and Community Development department at 770-781-2115 to get more information on the location of the project and additional details.
Once you have an application number, Bernstein-Goldman recommends going to the county’s geographic information system, or GIS, portal.
“The easiest way is to, in my opinion, go to the map first,” she said.
Once on the GIS portal, click ‘Zoning and Permits’ to see a map that shows past, present and future zoning and permitting applications in Forsyth County.
• Approved applications are highlighted in green;
• Pending applications are highlighted in yellow;
• Denied applications are highlighted in red;
• Withdrawn applications are highlighted in gray;
• And all other values are highlighted in blue.
Operating the GIS and CSS portals
While the map can be overwhelming, Bernstein-Goldman said she recommends typing the application number into the search icon located in the right-hand corner of the map, then click apply.
After finding the correct parcel of land, click ‘More info’ which will take you to the county’s Customer Self Service, or CSS, portal.
All data on this site is updated as soon as it’s made available to county staff, and residents can find out more about a project by looking through the project summary and relevant attachments.
This site will also display the type of application which could range from a rezoning, conditional-use permit, home occupational permit or zoning amendment.
Any documents from the applicant that are required by the county are uploaded to the CSS, like the concept plan and informal staff recommendations.
The most important piece of information on the CSS site is the timeline of the project. This will let a resident know if a public participation meeting or public hearing has been scheduled.
Bernstein-Goldman recommends residents get involved in a project’s process as early as possible, either speaking at public hearings or attending them.
Making your voice heard
Bernstein-Goldman stressed the importance of going to public participation meetings, particularly to the planning commission meetings. This is often the first chance for residents to give feedback.
She said not everyone is comfortable speaking in public on the record but encouraged residents to attend the public hearing to “hear the communication with the planning commission before they make a motion.”
It’s important to attend planning commission public hearings because an outcome has not been determined; only a recommendation for the Board of Commissioners to consider and at some point, approve or deny.
Public hearings and public participation meetings are free to attend, and those unable to go can watch the meetings once they are posted on the county’s website under the ‘Meetings’ tab.
Contacting local officials
Forsyth County operates under the commission-county manager form of government and is divided into five districts. Each district has a representative for the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners.
To find out who your county official is, use the map tool at bit.ly/3aknkqn to locate your address.