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What residents had to say about proposed mixed-use development off Keith Bridge Road, Freedom Parkway
elysion
Rendering of Elysion, a proposed mixed-use development off Keith Bridge Road and Freedom Parkway. Photo courtesy Christopher Light.

Developers hosted a public participation meeting for a mixed-use development project called Elysion that could bring restaurants, residential units and apartments to the north Forsyth area.

The public participation meeting was held on Wednesday, June 15, and concerned residents attended to ask questions and learn more about the project.

 

What is it

EAH Acquisitions LLC has requested to rezone from commercial business district (CBD) and agricultural district (A1) to master planned district (MPD) on approximately 73 acres for 60 residential lots, 69 attached residential units and 295 apartments with a density of 5.8 units per acre.

The proposed project is anticipated to also include commercial buildings totaling 43,000 square feet with 276 parking spaces.

The property is located on Keith Bridge Road and Freedom Parkway in north Forsyth County.

The applicant is also requesting variances to reduce the commercial component from 25% to 20% and to increase the percentage of total residential units for apartments from 20% to 69.5%.

A team of developers behind the project attended the meeting, representing groups like Empire Communities and Toro Development Company which have designed and planned for Halcyon and Avalon respectively.

According to the developers, most of the townhomes and single-family homes on the property will be alley-loaded, meaning the garage entrance would be located at the rear of the unit.

The developers said they have used this type of product at Halcyon, and it has created units facing greenspace, common areas or amenities.

“We didn’t stick a bunch of lots on here and say let’s just get as many units as we can, we really thought through how we want to design it, how we want to sell,” said Kelley Rhino with Empire Communities. “And a lot of that had to do with how successful we were at Halcyon.”

As for the commercial node, Richard Munger from Toro Development Company said they were building to attract mostly interesting restauranteurs, favoring food and beverage over shopping.

In a preliminary action, county staff was non-supportive of the project “based on variances.”

The informal recommendation stated that “a large portion of the proposal appears to be Res-6 with a limited amount of CBD rather than a mixed-use development that meets the purpose and intent of the MPD zoning category. The proposal does not provide a creative arrangement of land uses and does not include an appropriate focal point that creates character and identity.”
elysion
Proposed master plan for the project. Photo courtesy Christopher Light.
What residents had to say

Traffic

Like most large projects in the county, one of the main concerns was impacts on traffic in the surrounding area.

Traffic engineer Abdul Amer with A&R Engineering explained that the traffic study is still in its final stages of review and the project was proposing three entrances and exits on the site: one on Freedom Parkway and two on Keith Bridge Road.

Because Keith Bridge Road (Hwy. 306) is a state highway, Amer said it would be up to the Georgia Department of Transportation, or GDOT, whether this project would warrant a traffic light at its main entrance on that road.

The entrance and exit on Freedom Parkway would connect across from Kroger where there is already a light, filling out the fourth leg of the intersection.

The last entrance and exit would be on Keith Bridge Road and would be a right-in, right-out only situation, connecting to the commercial node of the project.

Many residents asked if Keith Bridge Road would be widened to four lanes, stating there was already a large problem with traffic in that area.

Amer said the county was in communication with GDOT to get the road widened to four lanes with a median, and that it would likely appear on a SPLOST in the future for funding.

One resident asked if the developers would proceed with the project before Keith Bridge Road is widened to accommodate extra traffic.

“So you could build [the development] and [we] could still be sitting with the two lanes that we have and the 5 o’clock traffic could be worse,” the resident said.

The developers said they were hoping to implement complementary timing of the project and the possible widening of Keith Bridge Road, stating that even if they “hit the ground running” today, the project would not be complete for another four years, giving the county and GDOT time to work to expand the road.

Other residents asked if Amer and his team looked at possible effects the project could have on Pilgrim Mill Road, which connects to the south of Freedom Parkway. Amer said he believed “traffic from this project really is not going to contribute too much to those backroads unless people who live there want to come shop here … .”

Amer also said he was hopeful that GDOT would approve a traffic light at the entrance and exit to the project on Keith Bridge Road, basing his confidence on the density of the project and traffic numbers.

More commercial development

Many residents said they were not opposed to development in the area, but they wanted more commercial opportunities, saying there were not enough restaurants and retail opportunities in north Forsyth County.

Munger said the reason why the project’s proposed residential density is so high is to entice sought-after retailers and restauranters to the area.

“The retail and commercial world is very analytical. They look at one, three, five and seven-mile radiuses, and they look at [existing] rooftops,” Munger said. “They’re counting population, so population and density is a good thing. That’s what drives the decision for those restaurateurs that we all seek to want to come out further … is density.”

One resident referenced Halcyon in south Forsyth, which the developers were also comparing Elysion to.

According to him, Halcyon is on 134 acres with 690 residential units and 456,000 square feet of commercial space. He equated this to about 661 square feet of commercial space per resident of Halcyon.

At Elysion, he said 424 residential units on 74 acres with 43,000 square feet of commercial space was only about 100 square feet of commercial space per resident.

He said he would “appreciate this coming in if it matched Halcyon, if it created a commercial space that people could gather that didn’t serve just the homes in the neighborhood.”

Another woman said other pieces of land in north Forsyth have a residential zoning but have not been built out, stating that the “rooftops are already there.”

“The rooftops have already been zoned, they’ve just not yet come out of the ground,” she said. “We know in north Forsyth we need more commercial, and that’s what we’re asking for.”

She asked if the developers would consider striking the variances from the request.

“Give us the project that the MPD [zoning] calls for … and the [unified development code], and you’ll probably get most of [our] support,” she said.

Munger said it was a “tug of war” with retailers as they like to have certain densities in areas before leasing a space.

Another resident asked if the developers considered putting retail facilities underneath apartments, combining the two.

Munger said the idea was considered but the rent would not support the construction costs of the buildings.

Other residents suggested getting rid of the apartments entirely, opting for more commercial space on the property.

 

Next steps

Following the county’s procedures, the project will next face a public hearing before the planning commission.

According to Christopher Light, an attorney representing the project, the developers have not submitted an application for board consideration as they are “currently considering some changes to the plan based on community feedback.”