Traffic woes plague county’s rapid growth

Groups call for slowed, planned development growth

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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The growth in southwest Forsyth County has caught many by surprise, but others have seen it creep and say it has to be reduced.

While development was predicted to take 10 years to catch up to the slowdown in the economy, growth has happened much quicker for this portion of the county.

A number of citizen-led groups have sprung up around Forsyth County uniting around the effort to stop high density development and traffic.

One of the groups, Forsyth HOAs and Homeowners, has collected some 5,000 signatures for a petition, while another, FixForsythTraffic.com, generated 300 personalized emails and letters to the county in five days.

Other groups that have been in place for some time have joined forces in the call for slowed development, including the Forsyth Citizens for Responsible Growth and Smart Growth Forsyth County.

Forsyth County Commissioner Todd Levent, who is the representative for most of the southwest portion of the county, said he’s working to solve these residents’ concerns.

Levent also places much of the responsibility with the state.

“There are no homes that have been built that have created new cars from anything I zoned,” Levent said. “They were created two years before I was in office. The day I got in office, I realized we were getting on this path.”

Being on the Department of Transportation Committee, Levent said he has held numerous meetings with state representatives asking for Ga. Highway 9 to be widened.

“If they would fulfill the state road obligations, we wouldn’t have to put so much traffic on our county and roads such as Mullinax Road,” Levent said.

Mullinax Road has been the outcry for many motorists behind the FixForsythTraffic.com website. But Post Road and the Fowler region are close behind in their calls for a solution.

County leaders say traffic relief is coming with commissioners asking the engineering department to put a priority on these intersection improvements, which were approved in the latest round of SPLOST VII.

Improvements to Union Hill and Mullinax roads are planned as soon as right-of-way can be purchased.

“When you look at Post Road, there are a number of improvements there. They were done by the county,” Levent said.

Levent said that when the state approved a sidewalk at Vickery Creek Middle School, he worked to increase the culvert pipe. This will create a 900-foot stacking lane to let parents with their children get off Post Road while they wait to get into Vickery Creek Middle School, thus allowing traffic to flow.

Forsyth County Chairman Pete Amos said money sometimes holds up road projects, but another state and county road improvement is underway at Ga. Highway 9 and Bethelview Road.

“When the state says do it, we do it,” Amos said.

He touted finishing Bethelview from Castleberry Road to Ga. Highway 20 and turning that into a four-lane road. In addition, work to make the area from the Chattahoochee River east to Samples Road on Ga. 20 into a four-lane road is next.

“We have to do it,” Amos said.

One thing that has held back road work includes being nearly $60 million short on SPLOST VI, the 1 percent sales tax added to goods that are bought in the county.

“We are trying to get projects done through SPLOST so that property taxes can remain low,” Amos said.

As far as high density development, Amos said all of these lots built in now were approved in 2005-06.

“They said it would take us 10 years to get rid of our empty lots, and in the southside we got rid of every empty lot in three years,” Amos said. “All those lots that were sitting empty caught everybody by surprise.”

Amos insists the county is not seeking high density developments. Most of the lots in the county are below 2.5 units per acre, he said.

“We are trying to keep everything with a normal rate of speed with medium density,” Amos said.

But bloggers and community grassroots groups say the county needs a better plan.

Smart Growth Forsyth County, which has been working toward balanced development for about 10 years, said they have a solution to the recent emergence of high density rezoning applications that includes changing the formula for buildable acres by decreasing the number of homes allowed by increasing open spaces.

Smart Growth has had pushback from landowners with large undeveloped lots of land, who want to develop their land to its fullest.

“The county doesn’t understand the position of strength they have — a great school district, great place to be, green space, great access into Atlanta and the airport,” said Claudia Castro, managing director for SGFC. “Yet, they want to give away the farm. We need to say, ‘here are the rules, if you want to play, these are the rules and if you don’t want to play by the rules, another county will welcome you.’”

To read SGFC's plan, visit www.bit.ly/16MCsQ1.