What is a County Initiated Zoning?
A County Initiated Zoning is brought forth by a County Commissioner, usually at the request of a landowner. It can be a request to rezone land; apply a zoning variance; a zoning condition amendment; conditional use permit (CUP); and/or sketch plats.
This type of zoning is not clearly defined by any parameters in the Forsyth County Unified Development Code (UDC), and is purely at the discretion of the Board of Commissioners (BOC).
What is the Problem with County Initiated Zonings?
The typical Forsyth County land zoning process follows a series of steps:
1. Application for Preliminary Zoning Review
2. Preliminary Zoning Review Meeting
3. Applicant Work Time Period
4. The public participation meeting
5. Application for Board Consideration
6. Planning Commission (PC) Public Hearing/Vote
7. Board of Commissioners (BOC) Meeting/Vote
Within the last few months we have seen a phenomenon of “County Initiated Zonings and Amendments”. The county initiated process allows the commissioners to fast track a request, cutting out all but the last step of the process above. It completely undermines all of the principles of transparent and representative government. The planning staff gets shut out. The public gets shut out. The commissioners have “absolute power”.
Historically county initiated zonings and amendments occurred in instances when:
a. An error was made.
b. To directly benefit the county taxpayers.
c. In situations of unique hardship.
For example, there have been instances when a property was re-zoned and the applicant found they were unable to use the land for the purpose they had intended. Instead of requiring the land owner to go back through the entire zoning process, the county can initiate a zoning reversal and return the land to it's prior zoning. Another example includes a number of requests by land owners who had had their land rezoned from agricultural (A1) to residential (RES1,2,3,4,6) just before the recession. These land owners found themselves unable to sell their land and were saddled with a higher tax bill that corresponds with a more dense use zoning. Many land owners requested and received a zoning reversal that was county initiated.
Can the County Initiated Zoning Process be Abused?
In spring 2016, three county initiated zonings were brought forward by the BOC that caught the attention of Forsyth HOA and Homeowners (FHOA) members. The three requests included:
- A (Master Planned Development) MPD ZA3789 on the corner of Sharon Road and 141 requesting housing with no minimum lot sizes.
- A RES 6 ZA3781 on South Clement Road, asking to build town homes on a parcel that was to be reserved for commercial development.
Community members raised awareness through social media and circulated petitions to deny ZA3789. The RES 6 application had already been approved by the BOC after one nearby community supported residential townhomes to be built on land designated on the Forsyth County Land Use Map as commercial. We believe that the public outcry to deny ZA3789 as a County Initiated Zoning persuaded the BOC to withdraw the application prior to their vote.
As for the MPD on Sharon Road and 141, as expected the landowners are now applying for an owner initiated MPD (ZA3807) but it will now follow a more defined process which includes a completed application, concept plans, review by the planning staff, public participation meetings, public hearings before the PC and BOC, and finally a recommendation by the planning commission to the board of commissioners.