FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — County commissioners moved Aug. 20 to take no action on the City of Cumming’s annexation of some 13.5 acres of property along Pilgrim Road.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, and beneath the formal silence, shouts of indignation rang loud and clear.

In recent weeks, the county has taken a dim view on a string of bids by the city to grow its boundaries.

Earlier this month, county commissioners voted to challenge a bid by the city to annex 151 acres on the eastern edge of town. That request, filed with the city July 8, originated from One Alliance Center of Atlanta and includes plans for a mixed-use development to the west of Market Place, with retail, office and residential elements. The proposal would increase the density in the area by nearly half what is currently allowed under the county’s comprehensive land use plan.

The latest annexation proposal includes three parcels on 13.5 acres, all zoned agriculture. The property includes a portion of a planned facility for the Forsyth County School District. Part of the school property is already within the city limits.

County Commission Chairwoman Laura Semanson called the move “absolutely a grab” by the city.

The site represents a sliver of land sandwiched between the historic city limits and another tract to the north – some 125 acres – that the city annexed in July.

Under the proposed annexation, the city would rezone the property from its current agriculture use to institutional on two of the parcels and “AP” on the third.

AP is a new zoning category that would allow the city to keep the property at its current agriculture zoning for one year, then change it to something else before another four months elapses. If the property is not rezoned within the first 16 months following the annexation, it automatically converts to residential zoning. 

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said he’d never heard of this before and was not familiar with AP zoning used anywhere.

“The notion that it’s going to be kept at our zoning criteria is probably to blunt any objection we might have that says it’s a material change of zoning,” Jarrard said at an Aug. 6 commission work session. “They can say ‘that’s not true, it’s your very own zoning.’”

Under Georgia law, a county cannot challenge an annexation unless it can show, among other things, that the property’s new use would either add burden to the county’s services or dramatically change land use.

At that same Aug. 6 meeting, Semanson called out the city for telling the school district it would not issue permits for construction unless all its property was within the city limits.

“This has never been the case,” Semanson said. “We’ve worked with split parcels in the past. I don’t see what the gain to the board of Education is playing along with this. I really don’t, unless they legitimately felt like they were not going to be served by the city in any other way.

Indeed, at the Aug. 20 work session, County Administrator Eric Johnson reviewed a string of emails he had received that chronicled communication dating back to April between the school district, the City of Cumming and Forsyth County regarding permitting for the school district’s construction project.

The emails relate a progression of the permitting process with all three entities in agreement. Then, in July, city planners notified the school district that after meeting with Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow, the city would be going before the Board of Education requesting approval of an annexation for that portion of the district property not already within the city limits.

“I can only assume that the [city] planning director’s commitment to work consistent with how we previously have [with] projects that crossed over jurisdictional lines had been overruled by the mayor,” Johnson said.

Reached later in the week, Mayor Brumbalow said it was the school’s decision to annex. 

At the same time, he said, the school district is proposing two buildings – one almost completely within the current city limits, and another almost completely outside the limits. He said it would make no sense for the city to permit and inspect a building it has no jurisdiction over.

“That would be like us inspecting a building in Dawson County,” he said. “We have no jurisdiction there.”

In voting to take no action on the annexation, county commissioners said they hope their silence speaks volumes to the city.

Just in case, though, they directed the county attorney to draft a letter informing Cumming city leaders that they were disappointed by their decision to abandon a tradition of cooperation that had served both sides well in the past.

Viewing this year’s progression of Cumming annexations on a map prompted Commissioner Todd Levent to sit back in wonder.

“That’s clever,” he said. “I’m not saying I like it, but it’s clever. Wow.”

To which Semanson remarked: “There are other words to describe it better.”

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