After months successfully fighting off legal challenges so it could annex 1,000 acres into city limits for commercial development, city council on Monday unanimously decided not to do it after hearing opposition from neighbors.
“I’ve heard from 12 different people tonight and heard a lot of things I wasn’t totally aware of,” said councilman Julius Stroud. “I’ve got a sawmill in my backyard and I hate to see it everyday.”
And so after opponents spent more than an hour objecting to the annexation, council passed Stroud’s motion to reject the proposal 6-0.
Developer Ty Hannah of H & H Timberlands, who owns the 1,000-acre tract along Smith Road and I-75, said he was disappointed in the decision.
“I thought I had both county commissioners and city council support,” said Hannah. “I’m not sure where we go from here honestly. I’ve been trying to work with the county for 17 years and been told no for 17 years. I don’t know what else to do.”
Mayor Eric Wilson said the vote surprised him because he thought council was on board. The city just paid attorney Bobby Melton to fend off Monroe County’s challenge to the annexation. An arbitration panel ruled that the city had the right to proceed.
Wilson said the city would benefit from new water and sewer revenues if H & H attracted commercial development to the property.
“I still favor annexation,” said Wilson. “Mr. Hannah is a genuine person who wants to do good things in this community. As a city I don’t see the downside.”
But about 20 nearby residents of the area, many of them refugees from overdeveloped Henry County, expressed another view before Monday’s vote.
Brian Perry of Orchard Ridge Drive. said he was willing to lose money on his home in Henry County to get to Monroe County and out of the crime and congestion.
“The schools are great, the people are great, this is where we wanted to be,” said Perry. “And now, Henry County has followed us down here. I left Henry County because I didn’t like it. Don’t make me leave Monroe County too. It breaks my heart. We left Henry County to get away from that.”
Lewis Young of Harper Lane said he’s concerned about noise, pollution and lower property values. He complained that the city is using state property as a means to connect to the 1,000-acre tract to make it contiguous. He noted the county already has industrial parks with available space.
“It may be legal, but don’t think it’s moral,” said Young. “Your home’s value is about to go to the bottom. Nobody wants to look out their house at smoke stacks or metal buildings.”
Young said they got rid of the one county commissioner who supported the project (District 1 commissioner Larry Evans lost on Nov. 3). But he said if the city annexes it, they have no voice with the city council.
“I’m mad as heck about it,” said Young.
Ryan Bell of Orchard Ridge Drive noted that the city had originally planned to zone the property for commercial, but now is seeking agricultural/residential zoning. He asked how long it would be before the property could be rezoned for commercial. City attorney Bobby Melton said it would be a year.
District 4 county commissioner George Emami, a River Forest resident who organized a meeting earlier this year about the project, said he’s met with Hannah and he’s a good guy. But he said Monroe County is an awesome bedroom community and needs to embrace that identity. He noted that he grew up in Gwinnett County and doesn’t even recognize it anymore, where some signs only have English in small letters at the bottom. Emami went further and suggested a city annexation might poison the relationship between the city and county.
Councilman Chris Hewett shot back, asking Emami what his plans were for a 10-acre tract he owns adjacent to the H & H property.
“Is that relevant?” retorted Emami.
Matt McGraw told council he grew up in Macon but enjoys living in quiet Monroe County.
“I love where I love,” said McGraw. “I love my neighbors. This is where I want to be. I love the city of Forsyth. It’s the feel of this community. This is gonna ruin our sense of community.”
McGraw said the city has never answered opponents’ question of why they’re pushing for annexation when there’s no specific project in mind.