It appears developers can move forward to bring industry to a 1,037-acre tract on Smith Road after a panel ruled that the city can annex the land, expanding the city limits by 28 percent.

“I enjoyed it because the city prevailed,” said Forsyth attorney Bobby Melton of spending over seven hours in arbitration proceedings on Monday in a dispute between Monroe County and Forsyth over Forsyth annexing 1,037 acres in northern Monroe County into the city limits.

Forsyth held a public hearing on the annexation at its July 20 meeting and several people, primarily residents of the adjacent Oakridge subdivision, spoke against the annexation, which will substantially increase the size of the city. The tract extends from Georgia Public Safety Training Center northward between I-75 and Smith Road toward Johnstonville Road.

 Owners of the property, Tye Hanna and Ken Hurt of H&H Properties, said they requested the annexation so they can get sewer and water from the city. Hanna said they have been planning to develop the property for 15 years but no developers will talk with them until they have access to sewer and water. Monroe County doesn’t provide sewer to any property. Although the city provides water to properties that aren’t in the city limits, such as River Forest subdivision, it has declined to provide service to the H&H property without annexation.

 Hanna told those concerned about industrial development on the property, which is zoned agricultural by the county, that he has no specific plans for development. He said he and Hurt aren’t developers; they are looking for proposals from developers for the best use of the land, whether that is for subdivisions or industry.

Monroe County Board of Commissioners filed a 280-page document in opposition to the annexation, leading to the arbitration. Four commissioners were opposed to the annexation, but commissioner Larry Evans was in favor because he said Monroe County needs industries that will offer jobs, especially since Georgia Power Plant Scherer might be cutting back.

Melton said the five-person arbitration panel asked good questions and at the end of the day rendered the decision that Forsyth can go forward with the annexation. Melton said the county has 10 days to appeal the arbitration decision, with restrictions on the basis for appeal. An appeal would go to Monroe County Superior Court.

“I hope they’ll have the good sense not to,” said Melton. 

Melton advised council to advertise and hold another public hearing on the annexation because the code requires action winton 65 days of a public hearing and it had been 82 days since the July 20 public hearing. The city agreed to hold another public hearing on the annexation at its Nov. 16 meeting. 

Council member Greg Goolsby asked if starting this part of the annexation process again would give the county basis for another appeal. Melton said he will be careful with the wording on the advertisement for the public hearing to show that it is a continuation rather than a new issue. 

Melton told council the arbitration was much like a jury trial, with each side allowed the opportunity to strike three persons it didn’t want on the arbitration panel. Those chosen have held city and county positions in Cartersvile, Twin Cities, Cobb County, Dahlonega and White County. Melton said it took them about 30 minutes to return with their decision. 

“It was a long day,” said Mayor Eric Wilson, who was present at the arbitration. “I commend Mr. Melton.”