Newsletter #7 - Part 2 - March 21, 2014 - School Overcrowding & Development Impact
Please Forward this Newsletter to Your Forsyth County Neighbors
Dear Forsyth HOA & Homeowners Members,
This is the second part of a two part newsletter focused on addressing the accelerated development in Forsyth County, and the strain it is putting on our infrastructure. If you missed the last issue, you can view it here: "Important Community Update" Recap: In 2013, there were 2,800 building permits issued in Forsyth County, and another 3,200 issued in the two years prior. In addition to the building permits, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted to approve the zoning of 1,767 additional housing units. 78% of those units are on lots that have a minimum lot size requirement of between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet. That means more houses on less acreage, and at a faster pace than ever before. In fact, experts expect the population of Forsyth County will more than triple to 600,000 people in less than 16 years.
Why is this important?
One reason for concern is that most of the housing units that were approved are being built in school districts that are "overcrowded to severely overcrowded. In general, our infrastructure improvement cannot keep up with the pace of growth being approved. Money is needed for roads, athletic field space, services and the like. Where will that money come from?
Bonds - Bonds and more Bonds -
Are Bonds the Best Answer?
Last week the Forsyth County School System announced a May 20th vote on a 195 million dollar education bond.. Some of the purpose of the bond is to alleviate school crowding. Will 195 million dollars be enough? Will we be putting trailers in the parking lots of our new schools while they are still being built? Think it can't happen? It did in Gwinnett County, as their school rankings plummeted. There is more about the proposed school bond in the next article.
Parks and Recreation Bond
This week at a Smart Growth Forsyth County (SGFC) meeting, Brian Tam presented another $100M parks and recreation. bond just 6 years after we passed the last one.
Commissioner Tam also introduced the $230M transportation bond. If all 3 pass that is over half a billion in debt. $4,238 per household, not counting current debt, which is also in the hundreds of millions. As Claudia Castro, Managing Director of SGFC said, "this is an overwhelming amount of debt to vote on in 1 year."
A Few Thoughts
> Since our Forsyth County Commissioners have voted to zone all this new high density housing, traffic has gotten horrible, schools are packed and athletic field space is limited....and now we need to vote to tax ourselves to fix it. Our district 3 (Levent) and 5 (Boff) commissioners have been making motions to slow down development (one zoning per district per month) and the lessen impact (increasing res 3 lot sizes), but they have been voted down by the other three.
> All of the high density development is coming to South Forsyth, and that is where the majority of bond money will be spent. Yet the fact is that all tax payers will be paying for the bond. Will the taxpayers in North Forsyth be crying "foul!", once they get hit with the bond debt that was created by their own commissioners' votes?
> When we tax ourselves to fix the problem, that improvement to infrastructure will be used to justify more high density zonings. County officials will then say: "We need more high density growth to pay for the bond", "We have the infrastructure to support the growth now", etc, etc.
> If the school bond passes, we will have $12,500 in debt per student. What happens if the economy turns south?
> Under the current system, a family with a $300k home with 2 cars pays twice as much for the road bond than does a family in a $150k home with 2 cars. They also pay more for all other services. Experts estimate the bulk of new zonings are at a price point where the taxes received for each unit will cause the county to break even or lose money. Without any higher end homes to cover the difference. This leads to even more new bonds.
> Our county does not even know exactly what the revenue vs. expenses break even point is per housing unit. Matthew Broms from Fix Forsyth Traffic, and Forsyth County Planning Commissioner Greg Dolezal have asked the county to commission a study to find out. The cost of the study is $10,000, or .00001% of the cost of the bonds. So far, our County Commissioners have failed to support that request.
> The "Homeowners Coalition" has also asked our commissioner to increase building permit fees to help cover the cost of the impact of development. That request has also been ignored.
> Here is the complete list of requests for balanced growth that the Homeowner Coalition made to our commissioners. To date, we've only seen any real movement on variances, and how they are applied. Commissioner Boff and Levent supported #1, but it was voted down 3-2. Commissioner Boff asked Commissioner Tam to join him in adding #6 to the agenda, but that request was denied. The Coalition later added a request for the Commissioners to get behind the zoning transparency initiative covered in our last newsletter, and that was also voted down 3-2 (Levent/Boff for and Tam/Mills/Amos against.)
> The key point for all to understand is passing future bonds will simply provide the county permission to continue unchecked development without regard to our infrastructure.
The School Bond:
Is Approving a $195 Million bond (tax) the Solution for OUR Severely Overcrowded Schools?
That depends, but certainly not without conditions. We must make sure we plan for the most return on our investment and insure Forsyth doesn't follow the rabbit hole Dekalb and Gwinnett counties chased down. Without conditions and just adding another $195M tax will only open the door and invite our county commissioners to continue approving higher density neighborhoods in severely overcrowded school zones. Continuing this trend only compromises the successful education environment so many parents, children and teachers have created in Forsyth County.
Why are the Forsyth County Commissioners continuing to violate the policies outlined in the Forsyth County Comprehensive Plan which specifically states: “We will continue to ensure that new and existing development is supported adequately by necessary infrastructure, particularly roads, schools, public safety protection and waste water treatment systems.”?
Why are the Forsyth County Commissioners continuing to ignore the Forsyth County Unified Development code, that in chapter 8 states they should take into consideration: "Whether or not the applicant’s proposal would result in a use that would cause an excessive or burdensome use of existing streets, transportation facilities, utilities or schools;"
Superintendent Dr. Buster Evans said," We have one of the best school districts in the nation, and it's because of the commitment from each of our staff members, parents and business/community partners that our young people are afforded the best opportunities to help them succeed, not only as students, but as productive citizens." He is absolutely correct. How does Forsyth County keep it going? To compete at the national level our county should take notice at what other areas of the country have done to heal from the damage caused by the Suburban Experiment. The majority of top ranked high schools in the nation are located in states who have gone before us and paid the massive price of the over-development - California, New York, Florida and the DC suburbs of Maryland. All have some form of growth management tools in place to protect their infrastructure (schools, water/sewer and roads/traffic). It's time Forsyth County recognize the "success model" for growth is not Gwinnett, Dekalb, North Fulton or Henry counties
Why have we not heard of any summit meeting between the Forsyth County Board of Education, and the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners regarding their plan to work together to maintain the quality of our schools (the very thing that is drawing people here in the first place)? .
How do we ensure our schools continue to lead the state and even pursue top national ranking? Pursue Quality, Not quantity. The performance and condition of our schools is a foundational indicator of our quality of life in the community. Feeding the hungry out-of-control Growth Machine called “New Higher Density Housing” not only cause gridlock on our roads and daily schedules, but also gridlock in our schools in the form of lower academic performance. Just look to Gwinnett if you need the evidence. According to Randall Toussaint, VP of Economic Development at the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, “Quality of Life” is now the most important factor for companies deciding to relocate. If you consider the best high schools in the US, (ranked by US News and World Report), then you’ll find most are located in communities who truly value QOL and include growth management tools in the planning process to protect schools from becoming overwhelmed. They know and realize the important role schools play in relation to the quality of life.
For instance, Pine View High School located in Sarasota County Florida is the #1 high school in the state, and #6 in the nation. Consider the following excerpt from the Sarasota City Plan: “Schools can act as an anchor in the community. They are a symbol of a neighborhood’s stability and serve families in the community. They transmit knowledge to new generations, advance knowledge, display the achievements of society, plus bring neighbors together for Parent Teacher Association meetings, school plays, and sporting events. They offer their classrooms and media centers to residents for adult education classes, community and club meetings. They are key determinants of the quality of life and are valued symbols of community identity and achievement. The entire community benefits from schools. Moreover, the community is often evaluated on the basis of the quality of its schools. The planning process that guides decision -making on school size, location, and programs should therefore be coordinated with the process that guides all community development. “ (emphasis added) In 2005, they put legislation in place that required specific LOS standards (school capacity rate) to be met at public schools prior to any residential development approval.
Another example is Winston Churchill High School and Walt Whitman High School. Both are in Montgomery County Maryland and ranked in the top 10 nationally (non-magnet/charter). Montgomery County along with 14 other counties have Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances (APFOs) to ensure that public schools, roads, sewers, water for firefighting, police and rescue response times and other infrastructure or services are “adequate” to support proposed new development. APFOs are timing devices that can be a useful tool for managing urban growth. When properly used, they can help ensure that needed facilities and services are available for new development and can signal to planners and elected officials what types of infrastructure, in which particular growth areas, are in need of additional capital improvement spending.
Both Sarasota and Montgomery counties also require developers to pay Impact fees. The usual is $8,000-$12,000 per Single family home depending on size AND $12,500 per student.
If in 2013 alone, Forsyth county government had a similar school impact fee schedule in place, the then 1,767 housing units the BOC approved would have generated $37 Million for tax payers to pay the entire bill for Middle School #10 included in the 2014 School Bond.
It’s time for Forsyth County government to recognize their need to upgrade the Unified Development Code and Comprehensive Plan to include Growth Management tools (APFO’s, Impact Fees, etc.) that will promote a Sophisticated Strategy for Growth which enhance and preserve our schools, water, sewer, traffic systems and ultimately our quality of life.
Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Buster Evens announced his retirement last month. He will be leaving this Summer. Contact Buster Evans to ask him to work with the Board of Commissioners to ensure the schools remain at the level of quality we expect.
Dr. L.C. Buster Evans 770-887-2461 ext. 202133 firstname.lastname@example.org
Zonings,Variances and Zoning Condition Amendments Approved in the Past 30 Days:
There was so much action at the Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners over the past 30 days, there's not enough room in this newsletter to document it all. Please visit our web site to see the what's and where's of what has been zoned. www.ForsythHOA.org.
Featured Zoning: Home South Communities, LLC, ZA3652 Commission District #3 (Levent)
Applicant requested to rezone from Agricultural District (A1) to Single Family Residential District (RES4) on 36.88 acres for 96 residential lots with a density of 2.73 units per acre.
With a variance to reduce the distance between structures to 11 feet (UDC, Chapter 11-5.3, Table 11.2(b)) Note: The variance request has been removed.
Located: This property is located at 280 & 290 Mullinax Road, Alpharetta, GA 30004
There was a motion by Commissioner Levent and a second by Commissioner Boff to approve at A1 to RES3 with a minimum lot size of 14,500 square feet and with the conditions.
Motion failed due to lack of a majority vote with two members in favor (Boff and Levent) and three members in opposition (Amos, Mills and Tam).
There was a motion by Commissioner Levent and a second by Commissioner Boff to approve at A1 to RES3 with a minimum lot size of 13,500 square feet and with the conditions.
Motion failed due to lack of a majority vote with two members in favor (Boff and Levent) and three members in opposition (Amos, Mills and Tam).
There was a motion by Commissioner Mills and a second by Commissioner Tam to approve at RES3, 12,000 square foot lot sizes and with conditions:
Motion passed 4-1 – Levent against
Identifying Streams on Zoning Application Sketch Plats:
On 3/11/2014 there was an agenda item regarding the identification of streams on zoning application sketch plats. Stream identification issues have been a red herring to Smart Growth Forsyth County for years. In fact, Smart Growth Forsyth County's Environmental Compliance Officer, Jack Gleason was recently quoted as saying: "I don't like to use 'absolutes', but LITERALLY EVERY rezoning I've physically walked or otherwise come to review for environmental compliance of stream delineation has been found UNDERSTATED (by the developer)." What this means is that when site plan sketch plats are presented with rezoning applications, they should show all of the streams, but in fact they do not. The number of streams are miscounted, and the locations and sizes are usually off. In past history, streams have actually been illegally buried by developers. The egregiousness of this issue has compounded to the point that often the law firm that represents the developer advises their client to NOT allow anyone from Smart Growth to physically walk the property. The excuse, as with ZA3625 Ballantry (Ethan Underwood, Attorney), usually is a concern about "liability." Certainly a waiver of liability could have been signed, and Smart Growth could be accompanied by our county engineering department?
Forsyth County has a state of the art "Geological Information Services" (GIS) tool that can easily be used to create birds eye depictions of the proposed development(s) -- in less-than ten minutes -- thus showing "Streams" and other "Part V Environmental Criteria" over-laid directly against the"Lay-of-the-Land.
So during the 3/11/2014 work session:
Tom Brown introduced the item brought by District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, with regards to stream identification on sketch plats. She had before her a zoning her first where a plat showed 1-2 streams and the site plan showed no streams.
Mills's concern was potential for developers to request one thing then ask for a [self-serving] hardship zoning variance later knowing full well that an existing, but not necessarily reported waterway would have made the initial approval not realistic.....an aside from Boff that he had made a related proposal to state not only RES X but also the density, be required on the site plan.
Tom Brown said that it is already a UDC requirement to show preliminary location of streams on a site plan, so rather than a UDC modification, it would be a policy change.
Tom Brown recommended that when existing practice of bringing Engineering Dept. to applicant's site to perform traffic study, they also review site map/walk property to affirm accurate representation of the property with regard to buffered state waters (not unbuffered, and not wetlands).
All five commissioners nodded in agreement to this policy when asked (this was not a vote and a vote wasn't required).
Tom Brown said coordination of departments to implement the policy of the Engineering inspection begin immediately.
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.
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.