FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners and planning staff have begun work on possible changes to the county’s mixed-use zoning codes.
The initiative follows recent complaints on the language in the current regulations. The board began the initial stages of rewriting its mixed-use zoning, or Master Planned District, at its Aug. 25 work session.
The talks were spurred by a development recently approved under the MPD zoning, though representatives on the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners stated it did not conform to the intent of the category.
In June, McDonald Development Company requested to rezone 119 acres along Ga. 400 and Ga. 9 to MPD designation. The Planning Commission said the site plan, which included 907,000 square feet of office/industrial space and 88 age-restricted homes, did not align with MPD stipulations. Specifically, planning commissioners said the mixture of land uses were not complimentary and it lacked a town center, community park or focal point, both required for an MPD in the county’s Unified Development Code.
The Planning Commission ultimately recommended approval with the caveat that the development did not meet MPD regulations. However, planners said they recognized the economic benefit of the project. The rezoning was later approved the County Commission, but not without further discussion on needed changes to the MPD zoning code.
McDonald developers said their only viable option was to seek MPD zoning because the property had three separate zonings, and that would hamper their ability to create a cohesive site plan.
Planning Commissioner Stacy Guy said in June the county should update its codes if it wants to prohibit certain uses or mixed-use complexes. He also said the county could set a precedent for developers to seek an MPD when their project did not meet other zoning regulations.
Tom Brown, director of Planning & Community Development, presented county commissioners with some proposals that could be built into a draft of the new MPD code. Instead of creating other zoning districts to accompany mixed-use development that do not conform to an MPD, the county is proposing giving the Board of Commissioners more leeway in approving or denying a mixed-use development.
Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said she would like to see the code mimic that of Alpharetta, which gives elected officials some ability to shoot down projects not to their liking.
“They have to bring us what we want, or we can turn it down flat,” Mills said. “I think we’ve looked so many times at being fearful of what they might bring that we have literally boxed ourselves in. We’ve got to have 30 percent this and 20 percent this and this much open [space]… that we’ve really restricted the visioning process so much that no wonder every development looks the same.”
County Attorney Ken Jarrard suggested in this case the county either develop a backup plan for an alternate zoning to the site. Another option would be to create a pre-application process in which the county can review the site plan and elect not to send it to public hearing if it does not meet the parameters.
A significant change proposed would permit MPD developments to have a mixture of residential types or commercial types without a blend of homes and businesses/offices.
“[An MPD] is generally intended for walkable, mixed-use community, however, a quality proposal that conforms with our [comprehensive] plan and is located in the appropriate area, there is the potential that this code would allow it to be exclusively residential or exclusively commercial,” Brown said.
Commissioners debated the minimum size requirement for an MPD. Brown suggested an MPD should be at least 40 acres, but he said commissioners could consider the zoning designation for smaller sites with an “expectation of higher quality” to compensate. Brown said what constitutes “higher quality” would still need to be defined.
Commissioner Todd Levent suggested a 30- or 35-acre minimum because he said fewer larger properties are available in the county’s nodes, the only areas MPDs are permitted.
For reference, Brown said the “downtown” portion of Halcyon is 40 acres.
The standard density of an MPD is six units per acre, but Brown said they could incentivize developers by allowing two more units per acre for “blighted” developments, using older developments along Ga. 9 as an example.
County staff will now begin to draft an updated zoning code that Brown said will be presented at a future work session.