Forsyth refused to rezone 9.45 acres near the Highway 18 Industrial Park for a 64-unit apartment complex for tenants with “workforce” incomes. Council members, and even citizens speaking against the rezoning, said Forsyth needs housing like this complex but that the location isn’t suitable for residential development.
Current zoning is Manufacturing-Industrial; Integrity Development Partners (IDP), LLC asked for re-zoning to Highway Business, which would allow a multi-family complex. Forsyth Planning & Zoning Commission had recommended making the change to allow the apartments but only by a 3-2 margin, with dissenting members saying the site next to the industrial park was not a good one for apartments.
Rhett Holmes, president of IDP, gave a presentation about his company, which he said has been building “workforce housing” for 25 years in non-metropolitan Georgia and surrounding states. The company is based in Valdosta; its closest project to Forsyth is a 72-unit apartment complex in Perry, which is almost finished. He showed examples of IDP projects in Pelham, Tifton and other Georgia cities.
He said his company finds a location that will meet Department of Community Affairs (DCA) criteria and competes with other companies for funding. That is why he was asking for 24 months to complete the project along with his request for re-zoning. DCA criteria includes access to groceries, pharmacies, schools, jobs, downtown areas and transportation arteries, like I-75.
Holmes said IDP found the property in Forsyth and asked property owners to consider selling it to IDP. Plans were to build on about 7.5 acres of the property. He said the complex would be something like the Brentwood apartments in Forsyth, serving a lower income working population. Some of the units would have income restrictions, but others wouldn’t. The complex would have a playground, picnic pavilion, handicapped access, a dumpster and other amenities.
Holmes said only 25 projects in Georgia get DCA funding each year. IDP won’t buy the Forsyth property if it doesn’t get picked for funding.
Lee Willingham owns land next to the property in question. He said he has no connection to the project even though the complex is called “Willingham Place” on the prospective plats submitted with the rezoning requests. Willingham asked his sons, Richard and Chris, to speak for him in opposition to the re-zoning.
They presented a petition signed by businesses in the area opposed to the re-zoning. They noted that the “groceries” convenient to the area were convenience stores where residents without other transportation would have to pay twice as much for a loaf of bread. They said there are already about 120 trucks per day coming in and out of the industrial park that will go by the apartments. That includes about 10 cement mixer trucks daily and at least 20 tractor trailers from the truck driving school. They said the nearest home is about a mile in any direction.
The Willinghams said that since 2019 truck traffic at the location has increased considerably. The new truck-only lanes planned for I-75 northbound, which is taking some property from the Willinghams, will bring a major truck exit and more truck traffic on Highway 18.
“I want to know what 13, 14, 15-year-old kids will do in the area from 3-5 p.m.,” said Willingham. “There’s a lot of liability in the area. I do like the concept, but I like it somewhere else.”
Greg Head, who owns a business across from the proposed apartment site, also expressed opposition to the re-zoning. Speaking as a member of the Monroe County Development Authority, he said the industrial park is designed for industry.
Head said many drivers use the industrial park as a cut through and find that trucks from the truck driving school travel very slow and often block the streets. These trucks travel a local loop designed for training all day; people stuck behind them get irate. There are trucks coming in and out from the Perdue feed mill, and two to three times per day traffic is blocked by a train. Head expects the new Quik Trip to bring more traffic.
“There’s a lot more trucks than you think. There’s a lot goes on down that road,” said Head. “I love the plans for the complex, but it’s not the right location.”
Blake Horton said he uses the industrial park as a cut through daily as he takes his children to day care. He agrees that train and truck traffic affect daily lives. He agrees there is a need for more affordable housing in the Forsyth area because the demand for houses in the community is greater than the housing available, but he doesn’t think the location is right.
“I wouldn’t want to live in the middle of an industrial park,” said Horton. “It would be difficult to say I’m proud to live near a cement plant and a convenience store.”
“I appreciate your concerns, but I’ve heard it all before in other locations,” said Holmes. “It’s a great place if you need quality affordable housing. You have to think outside the box. They’re not that picky; something is better than nothing.”
Holmes said his traffic studies show there are less vehicles on Highway 18 than there are in front of most of his apartment complexes, and he said that 80 percent of the vehicles are cars and pick-up trucks. He asked council to “consider folks who need safe, secure, affordable housing.”
“Make sure we measure twice and cut once whenever we’re talking about development,” said council member Julius Stroud. “At the end of the day I don’t want my granddaughter to live at the end of the road in an industrial center.”
“I think our industrial property is too valuable for what we need to support our community,” said council member Greg Goolsby. “I encourage you to work with [Forsyth economic development director] Tammie Pierson to find another location. I think it’s a great project. There are a lot of undeveloped properties that touch Forsyth. In the First Step program we meet with developers. Don’t be discouraged. We need affordable housing up to million dollar homes.”
“I understand the issue about location, but the gentleman is right. We need affordable housing,” said council member John Howard. “So I’m going to abstain.”
The other five members of council voted to deny the rezoning request.
After other council business, Goolsby returned to the topic of the need for housing in Forsyth. He said he has a “big concern” for how fast Forsyth is growing and the need to manage the growth. He said Forsyth needs houses in all price ranges.
“We may need to have someone help us with some kind of master plan,” said Goolsby. “If you read the paper there’s so many permits every week.”
“They wanted to beat us over the head that there was only one place [for the proposed apartment complex] and that’s not so,” said council member Chris Hewett.
Goolsby said people are selling a lot of family land around Forsyth that has been undeveloped because the price for land has risen so high. He said council will be having a lot more discussions about what type of development should be where. He asked how building permits are issued and what control the city has over them.
City manager Janice Hall said the joint city-county building department issues permits. She said applicants have to get building compliance certificates from the city before they can get permits. Hall added that Forsyth has a comprehensive plan it adopted in 2017 that outlines the city’s master plan for growth. She said council can work on updating the plan.
Hall said by the end of May she will be sending letters to property owners for council’s Phase 1 annexation plan that it adopted at its January planning retreat.
“We can’t tell people how to use their property unless it’s through zoning,” said Mayor Eric Wilson.
Wilson said it’s council’s job to make the city attractive to developers so that they want to come, not to decide exactly what needs to be built in the city.
“It’s a frustrating topic,” said Goolsby. “I just don’t want us to think in two years, ‘How did we let this happen?’ I don’t want to see trailers stretched from here to Mary Persons [for classrooms]”
Hall said that Holmes came to Forsyth’s First Step program and met with city department heads about his project. She said in some instances First Step has been able to suggest other locations or changes for projects, but it didn’t work with the IDP apartment project.
“Maybe we need to give Tammie [Pierson] better instructions,” said Wilson.