On Sept. 27 Forsyth Planning & Zoning Commission looked at sketches Jane Pennington and her builders had prepared for three duplexes on vacant lots on Hilltop Ave. After discussion, Planning & Zoning asked Pennington and the builders to come back to its meeting next month (Oct. 25) and ask for a zoning change instead of a variance.
Pennington had come before Planning & Zoning when it last met on Aug. 23 to apply for the variance and was told she needed a sketch of the project. The builders were asked to create a sketch of where the buildings will be on the property showing the size of the buildings and the distances from the road and adjacent properties so that Planning & Zoning could determine whether these setbacks were in compliance with the city codes.
However, when Pennington came to the September meeting the issue became whether the duplex units could be big enough (1,200 sq. ft.) to comply with R3 zoning requirements. Planning & Zoning chair Steve Coleman finally recommended that Pennington ask for re-zoning from R3 to RM (residential multi-family) where the required unit size is only 900 sq. ft. rather than 1,200 sq. ft.
If the Planning & Zoning Commission makes a recommendation on a variance or zoning change in October, it will be advertised and then go to city council for a final decision. If approved, Pennington’s building plans will have been delayed by several months at that point.
In her letter to Planning & Zoning requesting the variance Pennington, who serves on Forsyth’s Housing Authority, wrote, “I am building these properties to aid the housing deficit of Monroe County. The duplexes will offer multiple families a new place to reside. It also increases the quantity of affordable spaces available for rent in the county.”
Planning & Zoning also heard a similar variance request from James Green who wants to build two duplexes on a lot off Sharp Street. Like Pennington, Green had previously presented his plans to Planning & Zoning on Aug. 23 and had been told Planning & Zoning needed a sketch of where the buildings will be placed on the property with all distances indicated. In August, Pennington’s request was tabled, and Green’s request was denied. The result was the same at the September meeting.
Although Green submitted the paperwork requested, he didn’t attend the September meeting. As with Pennington, a minimum of 1,200 sq. ft./unit had not been emphasized at the August meeting, where the discussion had been about the setbacks.
When city manager Janice Hall said Planning & Zoning could tell Green to ask for rezoning from R3 to RM, Planning & Zoning member Martin Presley said he would be opposed to doing spot zoning of one lot, but would consider rezoning the whole street. Coleman then motioned to again deny Green’s request because the proposed buildings aren’t the required 1,200 sq. ft., and Green’s application was denied.
At the end of the meeting, it was observed that Jackie Green, James Green’s wife, was in attendance and she was asked if she wanted to say anything. During the meeting George Emami had presented two proposed developments to Planning & Zoning. One is very different from Pennington and Green’s plans, but the other is similar in that it also plans multi-family housing on vacant space next to single family housing.
“You guys bend over backwards with Mr. Emami,” said Green. “I’m very disappointed.”
Planning & Zoning also heard a request for a sign variance from Keisha Rawls who will be operating Turtlemashers at 93 East Adams Street, doing embroidery, designs, prints, etc. at the Old Mill Village. After reviewing plans for the sign for the building, it was determined that it fits within the city’s sign requirements and doesn’t need a variance.
Hall said the sign ordinance says that a sign in the central business district can’t cover more than 50 percent of a wall. However, the Turtlemasher sign is not painted on the wall and isn’t nearly as big as half the wall. It is a metal sign. It seemed that confusion came from a rendering that was meant to show the design of the sign rather than the size. It appeared to cover most of the wall.
The agenda said Planning & Zoning was to consider approval of the preliminary plat for the Preserve at Fox Run. In presenting the item to Planning & Zoning, Hall said that in the files it said the preliminary plat had been approved but she didn’t think it was and that Planning & Zoning should look at it for any changes. Coleman recused himself from the discussion and vote because he has done survey work for the developers and may be asked to do work for the project.
George Emami presented the plans for the Preserve at Fox Run, which is a large development of 267 lots off Thornton Road. Coleman said he could see the design for the Thornton Road entrance to the Preserve at Fox Run in the plans but wondered about the back entrance/exit on Highway 41, such as whether the developer will build acceleration and deceleration lanes. Emami said the engineer is working with DOT since Hwy. 41 is a state road, and they plan to build whatever DOT requires.
Emami said plans are to build the phase of the project on the Thornton Road side first; the Hwy. 41 entrance won’t be needed initially, but there will be an entrance for emergency vehicles available until the permanent entrance is built. Emami said he and his partners are prepared to take 10 years to build out the project if necessary rather than sacrificing its quality. He said they are building the community amenities in the first phase. He said the bank wants the first phase finished in two years.
Planning & Zoning members expressed concern about traffic because of the schools across the street from the project on Thornton Road. Emami said one of the selling points for the project is that it is within walking/golf cart distance for students from pre-K through 8th grade. Coleman asked if Emami would be satisfied with approval of Phases 1 and 2A & B, where there is not a great need for the second entrance/exit on Highway 41.
“We’re jumping into this head over heels. It takes all the houses to fund the amenities,” he said. “We asked Jenny [the engineer] to design 100 percent by code. I’ll take the condition that no lots in Phase 3 are built until the [second] entrance is completed.”
The preliminary plans for the preserve at Fox Run got approval from Planning & Zoning with the condition that DOT approves plans for a Highway 41 entrance/exit before building of Phases 3 & 4 begins.
Emami also presented preliminary plans for multi-family dwellings in an underdeveloped area off Lovers Lane. The plans were for six buildings with four units each, dwellings for 24 households. Emami described them as townhouses, and there was discussion about the difference between condominiums and townhouses.
Emami said the main difference is that when one owns a townhouse, the owner owns the land underneath whereas a condominium owner doesn’t. He said he plans to retain ownership of the townhouses on Lovers Lane initially but envisions selling them to residents later. He said he plans to build full firewalls as are required for townhouses but not condominiums.
Emami’s planned units are close to 1,200 sq. ft., and he said he can meet that size, if needed. The total acreage for the project is 1.98 ac., which affects the number of units allowed. Hall said the number of multi-family dwellings allowed in the zoning is 12 units/acre. She said part of Emami’s project is zoned Central Business and part is zoned Neighborhood Shopping.
“But do you like it better than what’s there now?” Emami asked Planning & Zoning to consider.