A development that has been “a long time coming” in north Forsyth County is making its first real step forward.
At a work session on Tuesday, Jan. 11, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to direct county staff to begin a development of regional impact, DRI, review for the Coal Mountain Town Center off Browns Bridge Road and Dahlonega Highway, better known as Highways 369 and 9 respectively.
A DRI is a term used for different land use projects that have substantial effects on the health, safety and welfare of residents in the surrounding areas. In Forsyth County, the Atlanta Regional Commission is responsible for reviewing DRIs.
As presented by representatives from the developers, Toll Brothers, the proposed project could include 158,000 square-feet of retail space, 108,000 square-feet of office space, 130 townhomes, 201 units for senior living and 300 multi-family and 278 single-family detached units.
The project is slated to encompass between 145-180 or so acres and is east of Hwy 9, north of Hwy 369 and west of Settingdown Road, all situated within the Coal Mountain Overlay.
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Christopher Light, an attorney representing Toll Brothers, said that the item on the agenda would only direct county staff to begin the DRI review process and review the overlay that had been drafted.
“This would not be putting it on a public hearing agenda; we’re not making any decisions yet,” Light said. “It’s just to get it studied, reviewed by your professional planning staff and the state in regards to traffic.”
Adam Guercio, a representative from Toll Brothers, explained that the idea of the overlay is “to incorporate a lot of the infrastructure improvements that are taking place already … and to create … a Coal Mountain Town Center area … to guide development via architecture, massing, fenestration, design and use and density.”
Within the town center, residential, retail and office space would be available to provide for a “consistent thoroughfare … to be known as the new Coal Mountain Town Center district.”
While the impacts to traffic are “undeniable,” Guercio also explained that the plan contemplated anchoring the town center’s primary entrance onto the intersection of Hwy. 369 and Settingdown Road, which would be altered to include a safer 90-degree angle off Settingdown Road.
District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson asked if there would be any other modifications to infrastructure in the area alongside the development.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t comment that this entire area is very difficult to drive in right now,” Guercio said. “It’s under … heavy construction right now with the [Highway 400/369] interchange going in.”
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District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said that the project was “a blessing” because it would include multiple infrastructure projects such as adding traffic lights, expanding roads and altering intersections.
Semanson was also curious if Toll Brothers had an estimated phasing plan or timeline for the project.
Guercio explained that, since the project is still in its early stages, the DRI results could alter the timeline.
However, he said that the projected timeline for the proposed site plan as presented was “somewhere between a five and a 10-year project, more towards 10.”
While the proposed overlay would incorporate residential, retail and office spaces, Guercio explained that they wanted to keep the design aspects the same, drawing inspiration from architecture in downtown Columbus, GA.
“This will all be cohesive,” Mills said.
Some proposed design features could include purposeful distressing of building faces to make it look like “they’ve been there for 100 years” and a feed mill, something that Mills said was “historical” to that area.
After looking at the project, District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper said that the development was “very impressive.”
“We’re getting closer,” Mills said. “There’s a lot more we’ve got to come back to [the BOC] with.”
Mills explained that the “tricky part” will be developing consistent codes for the overlay and town center, but the board would be returning to that issue “on another day.”