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Forsyth County explores avenues to alert residents of annexations

Officials say Cumming has acted irresponsibly

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Rich Willits

Emerald Springs subdivision resident Rich Willits speaks to Forsyth County commissioners Nov. 23 about a proposed residential development the City of Cumming is considering on property near his home just outside the city limits. Willits said he and his neighbors were not aware the property had been annexed into the city, and there was little warning the land would be developed for a subdivision.

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — In a possible display of holiday giving, the Forsyth County Commission is taking steps to help the City of Cumming alert residents about annexations.

Cumming officials were put on the spot Nov. 16 when a group of county residents showed up before the City Council to complain about a proposed rezoning for an adjacent property they didn’t know had been annexed into the city. Southern General Development Corporation had sought a rezoning to allow some 176 residential units on the 78-acre parcel on Pilgrim Mill Road which had been annexed into the city in 2019.

Cumming residents object to plans for housing development

The matter was deferred until Dec. 7, but council members, including Mayor Troy Brumbalow, said the city should do more to inform citizens about newly annexed property and any changes in zoning planned for the land.

County Commissioners on Nov. 23 said they’d be happy to help.

The county has taken a hard stand against what it has termed a land grab by the city over recent years. Since 2019, Cumming has extended its city limits by almost 500 acres through more than a dozen separate annexations, according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Forsyth County faces another annexation request

Under state law, the county can challenge annexations if the property is proposed to be rezoned by a city or its land use is changed to add greater burdens to the county’s infrastructure.

County commissioners say they want to step up efforts to alert residents what the city is doing and that, based on past experience, annexed property may become the site of high-density development in the future.

County Commission Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills said that when the Pilgrim Mill annexation was proposed back in 2019, the city said nothing would change to the property’s use, which at the time was zoned for low-density single-family residential.

“I feel like these taxpayers are not being represented,” Mills said.

The difference in what the city is allowing on the property and what the county would allow is “night and day,” she said.

“I think this rezoning has opened some eyes,” Mills said.

Forsyth formally objects to latest annexation bid

County officials say they will set up a system by which property owners near proposed annexations are notified of the possible consequences they could face if their adjacent acreage is absorbed into the city. They said Cumming officials need to face residents, inside and outside the city, for their land use decisions.

Rich Willits, who lives in the Emerald Springs subdivision next to the Pilgrim Mill Road property, said he knows all about it. Willits told Cumming council members at the Nov. 16 meeting that no one in his neighborhood knew about the annexation two years ago, and they were hard pressed to find out about the rezoning application.

Willits told county commissioners Nov. 23 that signage about the rezoning, a legal requirement, had been placed off the main roadway. He said there was little he could do about it now, but other county landowners need to be warned.

County officials said that while the Pilgrim Mill property was beyond their control, they would intensify efforts to notify other property owners about Cumming’s future efforts to annex land.

“The best we can hope to do is inform our residents,” County Commissioner Alfred John said.

Commissioner Todd Levent said the city’s actions over the past two years of absorbing county-controlled land, then changing its use to allow for high-density development is an insult to the thousands of residents who participated in drawing up the Forsyth County Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

In light of the discussion, the County Commission acted quickly to file a formal challenge with the state over the City of Cumming’s latest annexation plans — a 34-acre tract on Sawnee Drive that is home to the Horizon Christian Academy campus.

Commissioners noted that the campus includes a large portion of undeveloped land that the school could later sell for development if the city approves.

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