FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County is joining the ranks of other Metro Atlanta counties in matters of regional planning, severing ties to its North Georgia neighbors after nearly 60 years.

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.

Forsyth County administration building

County officials began talks of leaving the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission in 2019. Its transition into the ARC was made official earlier this month after legislation allowing the switch was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

The ARC is a regional planning agency that includes Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties. The organization includes a 41-member board with representatives from all 11 counties, which guides policies and strategies on regional issues, including transportation, workforce and business initiatives, natural resources and growth.

“Forsyth County is one of the most dynamic and important parts of metro Atlanta,” ARC Chairman Kerry Armstrong said. “In many ways, the county’s fast-growing and evolving population reflects the future of our region. This growth also brings ever-increasing challenges in long-range planning. We look forward to having Forsyth join our efforts in improving the quality of life for everyone in the Atlanta region.”

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Forsyth County Commission Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills said the move will give Forsyth County a “seat at the table” for guiding regional policies and plans that will impact residents. Mills and Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow will serve on the ARC board.

“The transition to the Atlanta Regional Commission will give Forsyth residents a stronger voice about our future in key areas, including transportation planning and water quality,” Mills said.

Interim Director of Communications Russell Brown said the county will be able to apply for the ARC’s Community Development Assistance Program, which focuses on creative development, green infrastructure, historic preservation and other initiatives. It will also have access to the ARC’s research and analytics programs to delve into specific demographics of the area and to help guide policies.

Those resources will likely by mined to help guide the county’s future growth, one of the catalysts for the switch to the ARC as it continues to transition from a rural area to an expansion of the Metro Atlanta metropolitan area. Brown said the county will be able to learn about various strategies for managing growth from its neighbors, both what has worked and what hasn’t, as the county continues to grow.   

Forsyth County’s population, and its number of businesses, has soared over the past 20 years. Census figures show the county’s population was just below 100,000 in 2000. While official 2020 census figures have yet to be released, estimates put the current population closer to 250,000.

“The move still gives the county authority to make the decisions that are in the best interest of Forsyth County and does not change the identity of Forsyth County,” Brown said. “However, with a growing population, the transition to the ARC gives the county the ability to put together more comprehensive planning and gives the county availability to resources that will help plan for infrastructure growth with a growing population.”

An ARC study predicts Forsyth County’s population will exceed 400,000 residents by 2050, and it will gain more than 35,000 area jobs over the next 30 years, mostly along Ga. 400.

Forsyth County’s move to the ARC ends its longstanding membership with the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, dating back to 1962. The GMRC includes more rural counties in the northeast portion of the state.

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

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