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An Atlanta developer is asking the city to annex a 1,037-acre tract along Smith Road so the property can get city water and sewer service with an eye toward development.

“We have no definite plans,” said Tye Hanna of H & H Timberlands. “We’re just trying to get water and sewer to the property. People have told us ‘until you get sewer and water don’t talk to us’.”

If approved by council later this summer, the city of Forsyth would expand its boundaries by 28 percent. Adding the property would extend city limits from the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to the north along Smith Road along the west side of I-75.

Hanna said he expects it could be anywhere from 1-3 years to get city utilities depending on how it goes. But he added there’s a lot of unknowns right now.

“Given the shutdown and the country’s workforce and COVID-19, it’s a whole new world out there,” said Hanna.

Hanna and Ken Hurt of H & H Timberlands applied to annex their large tract into the city last week and met with the city zoning board on Monday about the request. Back in March residents of several upscale neighborhoods in the Johnstonville Road area met to raise objections to commercial development on the property.

On Monday, city manager Janice Hall and City Attorney Bobby Melton told the city’s Planning & Zoning board that it doesn’t have a big role in the annexation. But the zoning board was asked to approve that if the land is annexed into the city, it will be zoned as the just-created Agricultural/Rural zoning classification, which is comparable to its zoning in the county. 

Now the city must give the county time to object to the annexation if it chooses. One county official told the Reporter that the county will ask for some restrictions on development on the property in exchange for its support. A county official said he’s concerned that the city created an agricultural zoning for the H & H tract so that the county cannot object before it’s annexed.

Hall told the Reporter she expects the annexation to come to council for a final vote as early as July 20 but more likely on Aug. 3.

Forsyth city limits now encompass about 5.88 square miles; the annexation would expand the city by about 1.6 square miles, roughly growing the size of the city by 27.6 percent. 

H & H has assembled the large tract of land along the west side of I-75 north of the city limits beginning at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center and extending toward Johnstonville Road. 

Planning & Zoning Commission members saw no problem with the land being zoned agricultural. Hanna said it is undeveloped and has no homes on it. 

“Is it now all timber production?” asked P&Z vice chair Martin Presley.

“Yes, but I wouldn’t call it an active timber farm,” said Hanna. “We’re not planting and harvesting every five years.”

P&Z chair Steve Coleman recused himself from the vote to recommend agricultural zoning for the property if it’s annexed because he has done work for H & H Timberlands as a surveyor. P&Z members Presley, Hal Clarke and Cason Ogletree voted in favor; members Silas Peed, Kathy Rowland and Phillip English weren’t at the meeting.

In March, Monroe County District 4 commissioner George Emami, who represents the area, hosted a meeting at River Forest to hear concerns from over 100 residents concerned that H & H planned to put distribution centers there. The reported plan was to request annexation into the city in order to use city water and sewer. Annexation would also pave the way for easier zoning for development since River Forest isn’t in the city limits and the opposition of its residents would possibly carry less weight with the city than the county. 

Forsyth did not have an Agricultural/Rural zoning designation until council approved one at its June 15 meeting. Since the existing city limits doesn’t have large tracts of undeveloped land suitable for agriculture, it has not had a need for the zoning; at one point the city even banned roosters from the city. However, Melton brought the county’s agricultural zoning guidelines to P&Z and then to council to adopt into the city’s zoning code with few modifications.

Melton brought the amendment to the zoning code to council on June 15. He said the amendment was to make the city’s zoning code compatible with the county code. 

“I don’t think we’re going to be herding cows on the courthouse square,” said Melton.

Council member Julius Stroud asked if the new zoning would affect Hamlin Hills, which is an agricultural tourism business. Melton said that it wouldn’t affect it because there is already zoning for Hamlin Hills. The amendment passed unanimously and says property zoned agricultural/rural will be used primarily for cultivating crops, dairying, raising livestock, plus rural residential and selected commercial uses. The minimum lot size is 3 acres. Among the conditional uses allowed on property zoned agricultural are airplane landing fields and helicopter port with accessory facilities, with a minimum of a 25-foot evergreen buffer. Another conditional use is for solar energy farms. 

After P&Z recommended the zoning requested by H&H, Hanna and Hurt thanked Hall for all of her assistance and left. P&Z then turned to discussing its new Agriculture Zoning District Guidelines. Presley noted that the zoning allows production of livestock, including dairy, and of poultry barns and commented that these industries produce odors that aren’t compatible with city residences and businesses.

“You can smell those things a mile away,” said Presley.

“That’s fertilizer,” said Forsyth Economic Development Director Tammie Pierson. “This is the county’s code.”

Melton said the code includes setbacks so that livestock barns aren’t close to property lines and said there aren’t many places in the existing city limits where a large livestock or poultry operation would fit. He said anyone with property in the existing city would have to request a change in zoning to come under agricultural zoning, and council would have to approve the change.