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Dear Forsyth HOA & Homeowners Members
In 2013, 1,767 new single family homes were zoned in Forsyth County. By the end of the first quarter of 2014, our County Commissioners will have approved nearly as many new homes as they had in all of 2013. According to Forsyth County Commission Chairman, Pete Amos, Forsyth County has issued 6,000 new building permits in the past three years. 2,800 (46%) of them were issued in 2013 alone. The Forsyth County School system is bursting at the seams; but the silence from the Board of Education on the overcrowding burden has been deafening. Is our county school system going to suffer the same fate as those in counties who have experienced crushing growth before us? Will our home values follow?
In 2013, the BOC approved to build ten RES4 (high density) neighborhoods (980 new homes) feeding into schools that were 125% overcapacity. Research performed by the US Department of Education considers schools over 125% as "Severely Overcrowded". Currently, four FCS are "severely overcrowded" (Riverwatch, Lambert, South Forsyth HS, Midway) ("Quality of Elementary and Secondary School Environments” http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/2001072_4.pdf)
Quote from Forsyth County Resident Dwight Kieser : “ It's much easier to stick our heads in the sand (clay), but I've learned I already lived that way in Gwinnett county for 17 years and experienced the steady rise in crime and lost nearly $100K in the value of our homes. We watched our elementary school ranking go from a top 50 spot and plummet to the 392 spot. It currently is at 345 just above the MOST overcrowded Forsyth Midway ES (ranked 339).”
This two part newsletter is dedicated to informing our readership on how our county and state elected and appointed officials have been serving the taxpayers of Forsyth County (or not). We’ve been taking notes. But equally important is a study of how the financial burden of building the infrastructure to accommodate this explosive growth is going to be addressed. The buck stops here… literally. Money for roads, services, parks and of course schools is needed. Who should pay the bill for the impact of the new high density developments? Why won’t our commissioners vote to keep development in pace with infrastructure? Why have they pushed through changes to the UDC to lessen building standards? Is our community being protected? Are we? You decide.
In this Newsletter:
Because of the mass growth in Forsyth County, this newsletter is being published in two parts.
A note about the accuracy of content in this newsletter
2013 Zonings Approved
Year to Date 2014 Zonings Approved
Residential 3 Lot Size minimums were reduced from 14,500 square feet to 10,000 square feet.
Side Yard Set Backs Reduced by Three Feet in 2013
Zoning Transparency: - DENIED
Castleberry Road… The Debate, and The Outcome of the Vote
Zonings approved by the Board of Commissioners (past 30 days): Are our Commissioners representing us as citizens and taxpayers?
Zonings sent up by the Planning Commissioners (past 30 days): Are our Commissioners representing US as citizens and taxpayers?
Stream Identification on New Zonings
New Traffic Study Requirements for RES4 and Higher Zonings.
Preview of our Next Newsletter
Bonds, Bonds and More Bonds… How WE will be paying for the accelerated growth.
Qualifying for County and State Seats has Closed. Who will represent YOU the best?
Accuracy of Content
This newsletter is put together by a group of highly dedicated volunteers. The content is reviewed by group members, and is also sent to at least two commissioners for verification of accuracy before it is distributed. To date, we are proud to say we have not had to retract anything we have published. If you dispute any facts presented in our newsletter, please advise us as soon as possible.
As stated in the introductory paragraph of this newsletter, 1,767 new homes were zoned last year. Most of them were zoned in the second half of 2013. Here is a breakdown of the number of home units, and how dense these new developments are.
District Distribution (of total new units): Density Distribution:
District 1: 11% - Pete Amos Res 1: 0%
District 2: 44% - Brian Tam Res 2: 5%
District 3: 32% - Todd Levent Res 3: 32% (under ¼ acre lots)
District 4: 0% - Cindy Mills Res 4: 47% (under 1/5 acre lots)
District 5: 13% - Jim Boff Res 6: 16% (apartments)
Forsyth HOA & Homeowners supports responsible growth. Would we like to see every piece of undeveloped land stay intact? Sure! But we are not naïve enough to think that will happen. We certainly would like to see a return to the days when developers did not strip out every single tree in a neighborhood. Every tax payer in the county will be paying to develop the infrastructure needed to support this accelerated growth. But considering the rate in which we are growing, we can expect years of overcrowded schools, roads and parks. We can't keep up. Where is the balance? Where is the commercial tax base?
That was then: This is now:
Although the newly revised Forsyth County Comprehensive Plan calls for most residential developments to fall under the designation of “Suburban Living” which is RES2 and RES3, the greatest number of zonings approved actually fell in the RES4 category. That is under 1/5th of an acre. Only 5% of the zonings actually fell in the RES2 category.
To make matters worse, just after the newly revised comprehensive plan land use map was approved, our county commissioners voted to reduce the size of the RES3 lots from 14,500 square feet (1/3 acre), to 10,000 square feet. They also amended the Unified Development Code to gift the developers an automatic three foot variance by allowing eves and gutters to encroach into setbacks (18” on each side of each structure). There is more about these issues later in our letter.
2014 Zonings Year to Date
Approved by our Board of Commissioners 230 units
Approved by our Planning Commissioners (PC)
– Going before BOC on 3/20/2014 465 units
Applications not reviewed by PC or BOC yet 1,023 units
Total Approved & In-Process 1,718 units
2013 Total Units Zoned 1,767 units
Is a Mass Influx of High Density Growth Good for Our Community?
According to Frank K. Norton Jr., president of the Gainesville-based Norton Agency, a real estate data analyst and market forecaster, in 2012, Forsyth County was the No.1 issuer of building permits. In 2013 we fell under Gwinnett County by a mere 100 permits. Considering Forsyth County’s population is about 190,000, and Gwinnett’s is 800,000, it is clear Forsyth is still the “winner in the losing race.”
Nortonon said. "What we still have is a disproportionate share of growth on the north and northeast side." He described this to the real estate community as a “huge achievement”, and “a success”. Forsyth HOA & Homeowners heartily disagrees.
Norton said Forsyth County's school system, quality of life and reasonable taxes continue to attract new residents. Projections say that by 2030, the county's population will more than triple to 600,000 people.Is that a success? No. Forsyth HOA & Homeowners members are alarmed at the rate of growth, and many members are concerned the very things that are bringing people to this county in droves will quickly disappear.
Side Yard Setbacks Reduced by Three Feet in 2013
On July 18th, 2013, our county commissioners unanimously voted to allow gutters and eves to encroach into side yard setbacks. Why? We’re not sure. But the net effect was a “gift to developers” to allow them to space homes three feet closer together (from 20 feet down to 17 feet apart). Did that make the developers happy? Apparently not, because despite the concerns from the Forsyth County Fire Department, many variance requests have come and been approved by our Commissioners to put structures 15 feet apart. That means 12 feet eve to eve. We are pleased our Commissioners have now started approving variances in cases of unique hardship, as is described in the Forsyth County Unified Development Code.
Residential 3 Zoning Category - Lot Size Minimums were Reduced from 14,500 square feet to 10,000 square feet in 2013
On July 18, 2013 There was a motion by Commissioner Mills and a second by Commissioner Amos to reduce the RES3 lot sizes from 14,500 square feet (1/3 acre) to 10,000 square feet. The vote was unanimous.
Since then, and because of the massive influx of zoning applications, both Commissioner Levent and Boff have asked Commissioners Amos, Tam and Mills to set the standard back to the larger lot size. We support this request, and have asked our readership to email the commissioners.
Despite the pleas of the voters and taxpayers, Commissioners Tam, Amos and Mills all voted to delay any discussion. In the meantime, hundreds more homes were zoned in the RES3 zoning category.
The Motions and the Votes:
There was a motion by Commissioner Mills and a second by Commissioner Tam to postpone Item #19 (Proposed UDC modification to change the lot size of Res3 to 14,500 square feet with a maximum of 2.1 density) to the Work Session of March 11, 2014. Motion carried with three members in favor (Amos, Mills and Tam) and two members in opposition (Boff and Levent)
On March 11, 2014 There was a motion by Commissioner Tam and a second by Commissioner Mills to postpone the proposed UDC modification to change the lot sizes of RES3 to 14,500 square feet to the work session of April 22, 2014. Motion carried with three members in favor (Tam, Mills and Amos) and two in opposition (Boff and Levent).
Meanwhile, thousands of homes are being zoned. KEEP EMAILING OUR COMMISSIONERS! – Contact emails are below. Commissioner Tam has had an item on the work session agendas since 11/12/2013 to increase the lot sizes in the South East Portion of Forsyth County only. Commissioner Tam has then motioned to postpone his agenda item every month for the last five months. Commissioners Amos, Mills and Levent (who do not have constituents in the South East portion of the county) have voted to postpone. Commissioner Boff voted in opposition to tabling the item. Since the initial 2013 proposal has been delayed, thousands of homes have been zoned in the South East portion of Forsyth County (see the statistics above).
Castleberry Road Update - from Fix Forsyth Traffic and Forsyth CRG
This was another topic in our last newsletter. We asked you to contact our commissioners and ask them to vote “no” to the prioritization of widening Castleberry Road - a 12 million dollar job. Here’s a brief summary of the Castleberry issue, along with how the votes came down.
In 2004, there were 6,270 cars per day on Castleberry north of Bethelview Road.
According to a traffic study commissioned by our county in 2004, the expected volume of cars on Castleberry, north of Bethelview in 2013 was predicted to be 14,519.
This was the study used to justify widening the road, rather than just doing the improvements as described on the SPLOST ballot.
The number of cars per day when a 2 lane road is at capacity and level of service requiring widening =14,500
In 2013, the ACTUAL number of cars on Castleberry, north of Belthelview Road was 7,034 cars per day.
This means the traffic study was off by 106%.
If Forsyth County was to experience the same rate of growth as we have from 2004 to 2013, we would reach the 14,500 number of cars needed to justify widening by 2067.
Did seeing the facts make a difference to our Forsyth County Commissioners? At first yes. In 2012, the Board of Commissioners voted to table the widening of Castleberry Road. But just over a year later, they voted 3-2 (Tam, Amos and Mills for and Levent and Boff against) to put the widening of Castleberry Road out to bid. And to add insult to injury, county engineering is using the same firm that messed up the 2004 traffic study to do the engineering drawings for the road widening. And while millions of dollars are being spent on widening Castleberry, thousands of Forsyth County residents are stuck in traffic on roads that are much more congested.
The Motions and the Votes:
On 2/4/2014, The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted to remove the Castleberry Road widening project from the table (tabled 12/10/2013) (Tam, Amos and Mills for and Levent and Boff against)
AND On 2/11/2014, Commissioner Tam made the following statement: I provide notice of my intention to seek rescission of the Board’s action taken on November 15, 2012. I would ask the clerk to place this notice of intent to rescind on the February 20th Old Business agenda. At that time, I will make a motion to rescind the November 15, 2012 action.
On 2/20/2013 Commissioners Tam, Mills and Amos voted not to reconsider widening Castleberry, and to send it out for bid.
Email your Commissioners if your are dissatisfied with their vote on Castleberry – Contact information is below. For more information, visit FixForsythTraffic.com or ForsythCRG.org
The Importance of Transparency in Government - and which of our Commissioners voted against it.
What is Transparency, and Why is it so Important? Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. It eliminates conflicts of interest during policy making and voting, and inspires trust throughout the constituency. The Forsyth County annual budget for Fiscal Year 2014 is 95.0 million dollars. Do the taxpayers not deserve to know who that money is going to? And when it comes to zonings, the issue is the same.
Transparency in Zoning Applications How would they know if there was a conflict of interest, if they don't know who is actually submitting the rezoning request they are about to vote on? When asked, Commissioner Amos said he had a “pretty good idea of who was submitting the requests.” Forsyth HOA & Homeowners believes that “pretty good” is not good enough. There should be 100% disclosure to the Planning Department, the Commissioners, AND to the Taxpayers.
Would “not being aware” of a conflict of interest protect our Commissioners? Forsyth County Attorney, Ken Jarrard, has weighed in on this question. He told the Planning Commission, "If you have a conflict, and even if you were unaware of it at the time. . . the law won't care.” For instance, he said, "If there was a challenge to a zoning by a neighbor, who says you had a conflict and you answered, 'I didn't know I had it', I don't think the court will care whether you knew it or not." He further stated, "A conflicted vote in a zoning manner can render the entire zoning void, invalid." Former Planning Commissioner Joe Moses said it more directly, "Ignorance of conflict of interest is not an excuse if you've cross over the line."
That is why he former Planning Commissioner Moses made a motion in the November 19, 2013 Planning Commissioner's Meeting to require corporate entities that apply for rezoning to reveal the identities of its stockholders, officers and directors (unless traded on the national stock exchange). Dr. Moses contended a corporation could apply for rezoning and not everyone would know who was behind the request. He wanted that changed. You would think that the vote would have passed 5-0, right? That did not happen.
The Motions and the Votes:
For the record, the initiative that Planning Commissioner Moses brought to the meeting on November 19, 2013 failed. In fact, he was the only one that voted in favor of it.
Not to be discouraged, Commissioner Boff announced that he and Commissioner Mills would take up the discussion at their December 10 work session.
At the December 10 work session, there was a motion by Commissioners Boff (second by Commissioner Levent) to direct the County Attorney to modify the UDC (Unified Development Code) to "require applicants to disclose the ownership of a piece of property that is being considered for zoning and list all of the members of the entity," -meaning if a property is owned by an LLC or other unnatural person, tell us who is behind the entity. Commissioners Boff and Levent voted YES and Commissioners Tam, Amos and Mills voted AGAINST.
The result is what? Those persons that want to hide their land holdings from the general public and ask for a rezoning of their property can do so by paying the 100 bucks to form an LLC.
Is this issue over? No. If you live in District 2 (Tam), District 1 (Amos) or District 4 (Mills), you could drop them an email ask them to amend the UDC to require transparency in zoning application requests.
Certain Commissioners will sweat and stammer, and say, "There's no problem here with Transparency." So if there is no issue NOT knowing… then there should be no issue knowing.
What's Happening? The Sharon Springs Alliance is a local non-profit comprised of neighbors in South Forsyth County who are studying whether the formation of a new city is both necessary and feasible. We are comprised of citizens who love our quality of life but are concerned about the rampant growth in our area and would like local control returned to our community.