Forsyth commissioners approve six unified development code changes

Builders and developers have new standards to get used to in Forsyth County.

At a recent meeting, Forsyth County commissioners held public hearings and approved six changes to the unified development code related to multi-family zonings, revised definitions and other factors facing the county’s Department of Planning and Community Development.  

As the District 2 seat is vacant, all votes are 4-0 unless otherwise noted. 


Multi-family districts

Changes to the multi-family zoning districts primarily focused on multi-family residential districts R3, which commissioners voted to postpone any decision, and Res-6, and the item was split into two votes to separate issues. 

“It really is disallowing apartments in the current residential districts with the idea that apartments would only be allowed in [master planned district zonings],” said Deputy Director of Planning and Community Development Vanessa Bernstein-Goldman said. 

For the first vote, commissioners voted to postpone a decision to remove apartments from multi-family R3 zonings to a future work session and to change standards for other residential units.

For single-family residential Res-2 district, the minimum lot size for properties with septic tanks was raised from 25,500 to 30,000 square feet and reduced the maximum density from 1.5 to 1.3 units per acre for lots with septic tanks and 1.8 to 1.5 units per acre for lots with sewers. 

The maximum density for single family residential res-3 district zonings on sewer was reduced 1.8 units per acre form 2.2.

Changes to all residential districts for minimum exterior buffers were changed to remove a requirement that those standards only apply to “major subdivisions more than 50 acres” and extended the buffer from 25 feet to 40-50 feet for properties paralleling right-of-way. 

District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos recused himself from the discussion on multi-family residential res-6 properties as his wife’s family has a financial interest in a property discussed. 

Mary Helen McGruder, a member of the Mashburn family and Amos’ sister-n-law, spoke to commissioners about a piece of property owned by the family that the zoning had been a part of the legal settlement between the family and county. 

Though it will likely now have an industrial use when developed, the family wanted the option to build apartments, as had been the case in the settlement, if that deal fell through.

Commissioners approved by a 3-0 vote changes to no longer permit apartments in Res- 6 and removed language dealing with the minimum heated floor area for apartment floors. The Mashburn property was exempted from the change.


Master Planned Districts

To go along with the change, meaning apartments can only be in MPD zonings, those requirements were also strengthened by a vote of 3-1, with Amos opposed. The change deals with commercial and office use and open space on a sliding scale.

In recent months, commissioners have voiced concerns that some developers may only want the residential portion of such zonings and wait or leave off the commercial. Developers have also previously discussed trading commercial space for open space. 

Under the change, MPD zonings must have at least 10 percent of the total site used for commercial or office to receive a maximum density of 3.3 acres and 36 percent of the total as open space. 

The table continues on a sliding scale, rewarding more commercial with more density to a maximum of 25 percent total commercial and office with 6 units per acres and 22 percent open space. 

Residential caps were also introduced to limit 30 percent of the total residential units be for townhomes or condominiums and 20 percent for apartments. 

A proposal to remove language referencing a conditional use for a non-residential building over two stories or 26 feet in height was not approved and will be discussed at a work session.


Terms

Definitions for a number of categories were also approved at the meeting.

Changes included: definitions cleaned up for bed and breakfast inns, removing items from commercial recreational facilities, adding a definition for escort services, separating traditional hotels and motels from extended-stays, removing the previous definition for lodging services, removing dance studios and instructional schools for personal service establishments and removing convenience stores, pawn shops and tobacco shops from enclosed retail establishments.


Removing CR-2

In one of the evening’s shortest hearings, commissioners approved changes for conservation subdivisions. The change was meant to clean up language referencing single-family community residential CR-2 districts, which commissioners voted in June to do away with, to not allow them existing zonings to be accepted for conservation subdivisions.


Methane plants

One change that was discussed but not approved was to allow methane plants to be built on agriculture zoned properties, a move needed for a potential methane gas refinery at the Eagle Point Landfill on Old Federal Road. 

Speakers opposed to the gas facility and a proposed expansion of the landfill said they had health concerns and wanted the decision delayed until an environmental assessment was done.

Christopher Light, who was representing the development, said state environmental protection division said the two issues are separate.


Process changes

A final change was made to alter some steps in the zoning process. 

Under the change, the county’s planning director can remove applications pending for more than 180 days if “the application enters applicant work time without being placed on a public hearing agenda.”

Other changes were to require an affidavit be signed 21 days before a scheduled hearing; that public participation reports must be turned in at the time of commission consideration; and that any changes to a “site plan or any other element” remand the decision to  the zoning review meeting portion of the process.