Forsyth mayor Eric Wilson says nothing has changed on possible plans for a 1,700-acre industrial park despite the county’s vote last week to try to pre-emptively block the city from annexing the property.

“Philosophically, we want to encourage annexation where we can deliver city services,” said Wilson. Wilson said he’s never heard of a county pre-emptively voting to try to stop a city from annexing land. He said he thinks people may be jumping to conclusions and encouraged residents to “wait and see” what happens.

Wilson said he has had several meetings with the property owner, H & H Timberlands, and District 1 commissioner Larry Evans, whose district includes most of Forsyth, about developing the property. The land is located on the southwest side of I-75 from the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth all the way to Johnstonville Road. Despite county commissioners’ 3-1 vote last Tuesday against the city annexing the land, Wilson said it has not changed his expectation that H & H Timberlands will apply for annexation.

Wilson noted city and county officials have been talking about development of the H & H tract for years. But commissioners blasted Evans before last Tuesday’s vote for pushing it without their input.

“I want to point my finger and say this is ‘back door’,” said District 2 commissioner Eddie Rowland. “We tell people, ‘come build your big house here’ and then we tell them ‘here’s a distribution center’.” 

Rowland was joined by commissioners John Ambrose and George Emami in criticizing Evans for meeting privately with H & H and city officials to have the large tract annexed for industrial development. They called the move a way around county opposition to it and allow the landowner to change its zoning to industrial. The recent push has brought howls of protests from residents of upscale subdivisions along Johnstonville Road including River Forest, Riata and River Walk.

Ambrose said he thinks it’s sneaky.

“I feel like it was underhanded,” Ambrose told Evans. “I don’t think you’re being up front with us. Even the development authority (of which Evans is a member) didn’t know about your secret meetings going on.”

Emami, whose district includes the Johnstonville Road area, said almost all of his constituents oppose it.

But Evans responded that in 30+ years as a commissioner, there’s always opposition to new things.

“People were against River Forest,” said Evans. “People were against starting the rec department. People were against the landfill. You’re always gonna have people opposing stuff.”

Evans said the county isn’t in a position to pick and choose what development comes to Monroe County because average people need jobs.

“I’m hearing ‘we need industry. We need industry.’ We’re suffering. But then they say ‘not in my backyard!” said Evans.

And Evans told residents he couldn’t believe they would buy a home contiguous to I-75 and “didn’t have an inkling development is coming.”

“Just because you’re better off than those who can’t afford those (mortgage) notes,” said Evans, “you still have an obligation to the future to make sure we have jobs here. We need to make sure people can work here and not have to drive 40, 50, 60 miles to work.”

Frank Bunn Drive resident Nipper Bunn said he thinks Evans has the county’s best interest at heart but wonders how the city would provide water to any new industry on the property when it almost ran out of it during last summer’s drought.

But Wilson told the Reporter that the city has excess water capacity. He said the city can produce up to 3 million gallons per day and only uses about 2.1 million, plus it can also buy up to 1 million gallons per day more from Bibb County.

Commissioners voted 3-1 not only to oppose annexation of the land, but also to hire outside counsel if needed to oppose it in court. Evans was the lone opposing vote.

After the vote, Sheila Delgordo of Ponder Trammell Road told commissioners it was her first commission meeting and she was shocked that some of them talked down to their constituents.

“I really don’t like that,” said Delgordo. “You should listen to us. We love this county and we moved here because we like it here. It’s semi-rural and Atlanta and Macon are close. Nothing against industry but it should not affect the people living in the county. I grew up in Gwinnett County and it’s been ruined by industry and people making quick decision. It takes an hour to get across that county because of traffic and we don’t want to see Monroe County turn into that. We see Monroe County as a beautiful place people can live and work. Consider what kind of businesses you’re allowed into the county and let citizens have a voice.”