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Forsyth may get the mall
Commission OK could come in spring for huge shopping center
Taubman Centers Inc., a Michigan-based developer, is seeking approval to build a massive mixed-use development in southern Forsyth County. The project could include nearly 1.4 million square feet of retail space, 375 residential units and a 500-room hotel. - photo by For The Times
A massive development in Forsyth County that could include 1.4 million square feet of retail space, generate $12 million in annual sales tax revenue and create 7,900 jobs cleared one hurdle this week.

The five-member Forsyth County planning board agreed 3-1 Tuesday night to recommend approval to the commission of an overlay district for the 164-acre site along Ga. 400 between Union Hill and McFarland roads.

According to the county’s unified development code, such districts establish minimum standards for elements such as development, design and the area’s overall character. An overlay district can supplement or replace pre-existing requirements in a zoning designation.

With commission approval, which could come after a second public hearing in April, the property will become home to an upscale development pitched by Michigan-based Taubman Centers Inc.

The vote followed the first of two public hearings on the district. Barry Russell was absent and fellow Planning Commissioner Bettina Hammond voted against the measure, saying she thought the vote was pointless.

"It was apparent to me that the overlay is being negotiated between the board of commissioners and the Taubman developers," Hammond said. "What we had here tonight was just a formality."

A planning board is nonbinding and serves as a recommendation to the county commission, which that body can choose to ignore.

Taubman representatives have worked on plans for the site since 2005 with county officials and Brian Dill, vice president of economic development for the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.

Dill told the planning board Tuesday that the project "represents an immediate positive impact to the tax digest."

The development is expected to include up to 1.4 million square feet of retail space and at least 375 residential units. Plans also include 900,000 square feet of office space and a 500-room hotel.

According to a fiscal analysis by Georgia Tech, the project could bring in 7,900 jobs and generate $12 million in annual sales tax revenue. The project would also benefit the local school system.

Mark Putney of Taubman said if things go smoothly, Taubman hopes to have the first phase of the project completed by fall 2011.

"We’re ready to move as quickly as possible," he said.

Forsyth County Commissioner David Richard reiterated to the planning board some concerns he had expressed at a January commission work session. Richard, who appointed Hammond as North Forsyth’s planning board representative, also voiced some new concerns, including what would happen if the overlay district is adopted, the economy has a downturn and Taubman bails out.

"We now have an overlay in place that was never intended for the developer in question and could be built very differently by a newcomer coming in," he said.

Richard said he is not against the development Taubman has proposed because he doesn’t know the overall ramifications of the project.

"The bottom line here is that a large amount of tax dollars are being waved in front of commissioners for their consideration of this development," he said.

"Your decision should be based solely on whether this is a good planning practice and whether this county has followed previous and well-established rules of public participation in this process."

Hammond also raised a variety of concerns about the proposed development.

Among them were water use, green space and transportation issues for employees who will work in the development’s commercial areas.

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