FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County Commission and City of Cumming held a joint meeting July 22 with officials from the Atlanta Regional Commission following the county’s recent move into the planning organization. The overriding theme was how the county and city could get a slice of the ARC’s dollars.

County Commission Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills joked that when asked about what she wanted from joining the ARC, it was “money.”

With the county joining the group July 1 — ending a 60-year stint with the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission — the county and Cumming will now be eligible to receive funding grants from the ARC.

Much of the talk at the July 22 surrounded the group’s Livable Centers Initiative. Through the program, funds are allocated to counties and cities within the ARC to “incentivize local jurisdictions to re-envision their communities as vibrant, walkable places that offer increased mobility options, encourage healthy lifestyles and provide improved access to jobs and services.”

Since 2000, the initiative has funded about $300 million in improvement projects and about $20 million in funding studies to improve areas within the ARC region. A representative with the ARC said the group doles out about $2 million per year to fund studies that can lead to real-world improvements. These can include “reimagining town centers or downtowns,” expanding a transit network, studying who can live in downtown districts, arts and culture, and green infrastructure.

Forsyth County became the 11th member of the Atlanta Regional Commission July 1, a move that could have major ramifications for its future growth and forge connections between Forsyth and counties surrounding Atlanta.

Transportation funding is also on the table as the county continues to grow and traffic is snarled.

Mike Anderson, senior director for the Livable Centers Initiative, said Cumming and the county can undertake transportation studies and become eligible for a “large pot” of dollars.

“It’s another stream of funding that will help you improve your quality of life,” Anderson said.

With infrastructure improvements a hot topic at the federal level, the ARC, as one of just two “metropolitan planning organizations” in the state, could be in line to receive its own additional funding for transportation improvements under the Biden administration.

However, Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow said his city’s main traffic issues are on state roads, which would not be eligible for improvements through ARC grants.

ARC Chair Kerry Armstrong suggested Cumming could look at transportation improvements through a wider lens. He said focusing on a specific intersection improvement only impacts those who use it, but creating a “livable center,” where people can walk around and live, creates excitement.

ARC joint session

Atlanta Region Commission Executive Director Doug Hooker (left, standing) addresses the Cumming City Council and the Forsyth County Commission at a joint meeting of the two governing bodies July 22.

While neither the city or county have dipped their feet into the ARC’s programs, Armstrong said both jurisdictions should begin brainstorming on where ARC grants could come into play, including for transportation projects or areas in need of redevelopment.

“Find those places you need to work on, and call us up,” he said. “We have no interest in sitting on pots of money.”

Anderson added that he was “thrilled to have Forsyth join us in the bigger picture of what the ARC does.”

Forsyth County became the 11th county to join the ARC on July 1. Other members include Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties.

The organization also includes a 41-member board with representatives from counties and cities in the region. Mills and Brumbalow were recently sworn-in to serve on the ARC board.

Reach Joe Parker at 770-847-8334. Follow him on Twitter @joeparkerga.

Joe Parker is an Editor with Appen Media Group and covers Milton, Forsyth County and high school sports.

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