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Planning commissioners disagree on mixed-use development. Here's why
11202022MIXED USE
Proposed site plan as of January 2022. Highlighted in blue is the commercial component, in purple the residential component and in green the open greenspace. Photo courtesy Forsyth County government.

After over a year of discussions, postponements and public participation meetings, a proposed mixed-use development in south Forsyth will be returning before the Board of Commissioners for yet another decision, but without the planning commission’s blessing.

Applicant Northpoint Capital Investment Holdings has requested to rezone about 140 acres for 250 single family lots, 228 townhomes and commercial buildings totaling 63,640 square feet with variances to increase the percentage of townhomes allowed and decrease the commercial component required.

The land in question is nestled between Fowler Hill, Union Hill and Mullinax roads next to Denmark High School.

Neighboring residents who stated they have been working on and fighting against this request since 2021 spoke in opposition to the project, citing traffic congestion and the high density proposed as the bases of their issues.

Christopher Light, attorney representing the project, said the current request was more like 320 single family lots with 137 townhomes and 80,000 square feet of commercial space, taking the proposed density from 3.4 units per acre to 3.25 units per acre.

This plan was not, however, on file before the public hearing and could not be considered.

Speaking about traffic concerns, Light said the Forsyth County Department of Engineering gathered information on the average daily trips on Fowler Road.

According to the county’s engineers, Fowler Road sees an average of 7,300 trips per day. The proposed development would likely add 1,800 more trips per day.

Light said a Level D, which is still a passing level of service on a two-lane road, is about 14,500 average daily trips. The development plus the current daily trips would not exceed this limit, meaning major improvements to the road would not be needed as a result of the development.

David Blevins, whose land abuts the proposed land in question, said he did not mind development in this area. He did, however, speak in opposition to the density presented.

Paul Lawler, resident of the Olde Union Preserve neighborhood and an HOA board member, shared similar sentiments with Blevins.

According to Lawler, at previous meetings with the developer, the total density per acre proposed dropped to as low as 2.8 units per acre. But now, he said it was back up to 3.25 as Light presented.

Lawler asked planning commissioners to continue discussions about the project to work on “more reasonable” density numbers, as nearby neighborhoods like Olde Union Preserve had a density of 1.5 units per acre.

Light countered that statement by saying a mile away sat developments with densities of 5.99 and 4.5 units per acre.

District 2’s planning commissioner Stacy Guy said despite finding higher density residential products a mile away, he did not agree with the plan.

“Fowler Road is a rural road,” Guy said. “This is a very rural part of the county right now; it feels that way. You go to Denmark [High School] … to a football game, you can hear roosters crowing. That’s how rural this community is. And you’re going to put 3.2 units per acre on that. I have a problem with that.”

District 3’s Jessica Thorsen, who represents the area, said she disagreed with calling the project high density, stating she felt it was more like “medium density.”

She also argued that having a mixed-use development would create character and offer more amenities to the area, such as connectivity to Denmark High School, the proposed Denmark Library and the Big Creek Greenway.

According to Thorsen, many people were in favor of the project but had been “run off from being involved.”

“[This request] got ugly on all sides,” Thorsen said.

Planning commissioners also discussed the McFarland/Shiloh Road Regional Node, which has been a topic of conversation along with this rezoning request.

In March 2021, Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved a partial update to the county’s comprehensive plan. Within the update, the McFarland/Shiloh Road Regional Node increased in size to include almost all the McFarland Character Area.

During Tuesday’s meeting, District 4’s Nedal Shawkat spoke about the previous regional node boundary changes, which he said were presented to the planning commissioners in 2021 as something the District Commissioner needed to help with “blighted areas” in the community.

District 5’s Tim Dineen said recommending approval of the boundary changes in 2021 was one of his more “regrettable” decisions.

“And then an MPD [rezoning request] appeared right away,” Dineen said. Northpoint Capital Holding Investment’s rezoning application was filed in June 2021.

In October 2022, Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved another partial update to the comprehensive plan, shrinking the area of the McFarland/Shiloh Road Regional Node.

While a master planned district is an allowable zoning category in the regional node, it is not allowed in the McFarland Character Area. The boundary update could affect county staff’s recommendation if the mixed-use development proposal was to be reviewed under the new comprehensive plan.

Planning commissioners could not come to an agreement on recommending the project for approval, even with Thorsen’s suggestion to recommend the item for approval without the variances.

Instead, planning commissioners voted to recommend denial of the project with a note to commissioners that the application needs to be reevaluated by county planning staff without the variances.

The motion passed with a 4-1 vote with Thorsen opposed.