After my last article about the future Cumming City Center, I received a lot of constructive feedback. I learned much about the broad and open powers of local government and development authorities. Even while acknowledging that this project is a power of government, just or not, I still have concerns with the way this development is moving forward.
With Forsyth County government, despite the grief they get about new developments in Facebook comments, I am aware of numerous public input meetings on proposed projects. I personally have been to two meetings on the proposed North Forsyth trail network, where both the county and consultants have been happy to hear my feedback. I’ve also seen public comment meetings about parks, schools and transportation plans, plus town halls about future development. I’m aware of the Forsyth County Comprehensive Plan that lays out the model for growth into the future. This comprehensive plan had public feedback meetings and was subject to review by regional and state groups to provide their feedback as well.
The city of Cumming also has a comprehensive plan. The mayor, Troy Brumbalow, was even on the steering committee for the plan before he was elected. It might be hard to find the final adopted version online, but it was made available after I asked for it. The plan includes concerns about the existing downtown and plans for how to improve it. However, it does not include redefining the “central business district” as an area of undeveloped land away from the existing city center. And yet, that’s exactly what this development project has done. It also does not include a new police department office, despite that being included in the new development. I think it’s a valid question why this development is in progress considering it wasn’t on the long-term plan for the city. There are numerous other projects that were in the adopted plan that could be completed using the funds that are instead being invested into the new downtown.
Do the people of Cumming and the surrounding communities have any input in this downtown development and what services will be there? There were public hearings held to rezone the land. I’m not sure how well publicized they were and according to the mayor, no feedback was generated from that process. There have been no public meetings to give input on what is being included in this new development. Despite the comprehensive plan saying that projects should be coordinated with county, regional, and state stakeholders, the mayor has stated they have not been consulted or had input into the development.
As far as I can tell, the Cumming City Council and Development Authority Board are generating this project plan on their own, though their meeting minutes are public if you want to investigate. The Development Authority Board consists of appointees, so no public input into the leadership exists outside of the city council and mayoral elections. The development authority and their hired property manager will be deciding what and who are allowed in this development. Shouldn’t the residents of Cumming and the surrounding community have a voice in who gets access to this publicly-built real estate?
So how much of the public money has the development authority committed to spend out of the public treasury? Is it in the millions? The tens of millions? The mayor has indicated that the cost of the project will not be made public until the closed bid process is completed. I’m sure having a closed bid might enable the city to get a better price, but it doesn’t seem transparent to me. Additionally, where the funds for the project will come from will also be decided after the money is committed.
The mayor is confident that there will be only positive benefits from this development and that it will pay for itself in less than 10 years. However, I am curious if there were any studies done on the business value or the impact to the community. We can only hope that our elected officials are watching out for our best interests and all decisions are being made with the public benefit in mind. But all the projects I work on I use the mantra: Trust, but verify. So even if you trust the elected officials of the city and their appointed board, what verification is available to know that this development is being done for our benefit? I encourage you to do your own research and ask questions of your elected officials because they are committing an unknown amount of money that will ultimately come from you and your neighbors with the hope that it is eventually paid back.
If you are interested in any of the FOIA requested documents I’ve paid the city to obtain, feel free to contact me and I’m happy to provide them.
Daniel Fleck is a resident of Forsyth County, engineer and driving enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.