It appears Forsyth is ready to expand its boundaries again by another large annexation for H & H Timberlands and its subsidiaries even as tension still festers from the first one.
“I smell a rat,” said Monroe County commissioner George Emami, referring to a recent flurry of activity related to the H & H tract.
The annexation plan to add another 591 acres to the city of Forsyth came to light on Monday at a city zoning meeting. Emami happened to be at the meeting and now wonders if it’s connected to last week’s request to Monroe County commissioners asking them to abandon Mays Road, which cuts through the same property that is seeking annexation into the city. Emami had questioned last Tuesday whether H & H developers Tye Hanna and Ken Hurt had anything to do with the request since they were the only property owners affected. Commission chairman Greg Tapley, county manager Jim Hedges and code enforcement officer Jeff Wilson all denied any communication with H & H about the road closure. They said the dirt road had become a dumping ground for trash and mud boggers. But Emami, in whose District 4 the road lies, had questions. He said property owners ask the county all the time to close roads with similar complaints and the county hasn’t closed one single road in his 4 years in office.
“I get called about tons of roads,” said Emami, “but I’ve never been called about Mays Road.”
Emami noted that no one lives on the road and wanted to know why the sudden urgency.
“Who initiated this process?” asked Emami. “I want straight answers. I did ask our DA and it’s a felony not to share the truth with this board. Where did this originate? I want the real answer. The more I looked into it the more it’s bothered me.”
Hedges said that county road superintendent Junior Watts and code enforcement officer Jeff Wilson approached him with photos of the trash and mud and asked that it be closed. Hedges said he took it to county attorney Ben Vaughn who said he would talk to the landowner to make sure they didn’t object. Vaughn said he thought that would be a good idea, but was not able to talk to them before the meeting. He didn’t say why. Monroe County filed a lawsuit last year to try to prevent H & H from annexing a connected 1,037-acre tract into Forsyth city limits. The suit failed.
Emami pressed on.
“I want to know has anyone that works for the county or any board members had any conversations with H & H about this road?” said Emami.
Hedges said he did not. Then Tapley said that he did not either. But Tapley said he thought the closure was a good idea.
“It makes sense to me to close the road,” said Tapley. “We’re maintaining a road for that guy. I’ve had someone kind of accuse us of something….”
“Time out!” retorted Emami.
“Well you insinuated…” Tapley replied.
“I queried,” said Emami. “I had a right to query.”
Tapley noted that Emami had his own history with the property owner. H & H partner Tye Hanna had opposed Emami’s efforts to put tiny homes on property nearby. But Emami said he wasn’t the only one.
“We all do,” said Emami, “we spent thousands on litigation.”
Tapley said closing Mays Road made sense to him but commissioners agreed instead that they needed better enforcement of littering laws and he is fine with that.
“I don’t have a dog in the hunt,” said Tapley.
Emami motioned not to formally abandon Mays Road and it was seconded. As the debate continued, Tapley interjected tartly, “we have a motion and second to not do something.”
The motion passed 5-0.
Instead of abandoning the road, commissioners asked Vaughn to set up a meeting with the district attorney, probate court prosecutor and sheriff to discuss ways to step up enforcement of littering violations.
That was last Tuesday. But when Emami learned six days later, at Monday’s zoning meeting, that H & H was seeking to have the same 591 acres annexed into the city, his concerns revived.
“I fear someone is not telling the truth and there has been contact with H & H,” said Emami.
Emami said they had wondered why H & H didn’t try to annex all of its property into the city last year. He said now he knows it’s because they needed the county to abandon Mays Road so the property would be free and clear.
“The whole thing does not pass the sniff test,” said Emami. “I believe there was communication (between the county and H & H). It’s too coincidental.”
On Monday, city Planning & Zoning Commission members were told that they weren’t to discuss the annexation itself but only to vote on whether to recommend the zoning Hanna is requesting “if” the land is annexed. As he had done in 2020 Planning & Zoning chair Steve Coleman recused himself from the vote because he has worked for Hanna’s company as a surveyor.
Input from Planning & Zoning was necessary because the county’s zoning designations, which presently apply to the land in question, do not exactly match the city’s zoning designations. Before last June the city didn’t have an “agricultural” zoning designation. It approved one only a week before Hanna brought his last application to Planning & Zoning.
As he had in 2020 Hanna told Planning & Zoning that his company has no immediate plans for developing the property but wants it annexed into the city to make it more attractive to developers. The owner of the 1,037 acres annexed in 2020 was H&H Timberlands. The owner of the 591 acres now being discussed is FJH, LLC and Timber Assets, LLC as joint venture tenants in common.
The 591 acres is divided into six tracts of 206.51, 188.20, 36.61, 20, 109.82 and 30 acres. They are zoned residential, planned mixed use development, commercial district, residential, agricultural and agricultural respectively. Hanna provided information showing that he requested as close a zoning in the city as possible to the zoning in the county.
FJH, LLC and Timber Assets, LLC applied for annexation on March 16 on the basis that all six tracts are contiguous and touch the existing city limits, that is, the previous 1,037 acres annexed by the city. The property is north and south of Johnstonville Road, to the west of I-75. It touches Smith Road, Rocky Creek Road and High Falls Road, and Mays Road runs through it.
After asking if any lots have been surveyed in the residential properties or if Hanna is planning a subdivision and being told “no” in both instances, Planning & Zoning vice chair Martin Presley asked why the undeveloped property was zoned residential. Hanna said he didn’t know but thought maybe the owners had planned a subdivision 7-8 years ago before he bought the property since it adjoins Rocky Creek subdivision. Coleman said that about 15 years ago, when the development of River Forest subdivision began, the owners had ideas of building a golf course on the property and developing the land around it. However, the land has remained undeveloped.
Planning & Zoning recommended that council approved the zoning requested for the six parcels, with Presley, Phillip English and Cason Ogletree voting in favor, Coleman abstaining and Kathy Rowland, Hal Clarke and Ben Granitz absent from the meeting.