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Family withdraws petition
Requests rezoning, special use variance
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A Dawsonville family has withdrawn a petition to deannex property from the city in order to start a farm.

Jack and Cynthia Forester have instead filed requests for a special use variance and a zoning map amendment for their 30-acre farm on Hwy. 9 north of downtown.

The new requests follow a series of hearings and discussions about the property.

"We have been talking to some of the councilmen and they have been working with us," Jack Forester said Monday night following the Dawsonville City Council meeting. "We went to the extension office and got some estimation on numbers [of fowl] and what would be appropriate.

"I think we came to an agreement that this is not as big of a deal as it was made into. It is not going to be a hog farm, as was stated in one the meetings by the opposition."

His zoning request seeks to change his property from restricted single family residential to restricted agricultural. He hopes the amendment will be approved at the May 7 council meeting so his family can "move forward" with the farm.

When Forester entered into a contract for the site last year, he said he wasn't aware it was in the city limits.

He also didn't know that per a March 2011 ordinance, agricultural businesses that could be a nuisance to residents are prohibited in the city.

The Foresters began inquiring about the matter in October.

Forester has said he and his family want to grow and raise their own food, including hens for fresh eggs. They may someday add cattle, horses, rabbits, sheep, dairy goats, honeybees and possibly pigs.

The situation has caused some community members to fear foul smells from animal waste. But Forester said that stems from misunderstandings.

"We are open to create a sustainable farm environment that can be used as a model and not for the commercialized production of meat that usually comes with the smells people are afraid of," he said. "We want to teach our kids where the produce comes from and how to farm without destroying everything around you."

At times Forester has grown frustrated with the process.

"If we hadn't come to request permission, I don't think anybody would have ever known that there was any type of farming really going on," he said.

Yet, he also understands the city's desire for more specifics before moving forward.

"It's true that we didn't give them numbers in the beginning, but we weren't trying to be elusive," he said. "We just wanted to be able to plan and manage a farm without the government doing it, which I think most people want in their lives - less government."

At the March 5 city council meeting the Foresters thought the city had approved their deannexation to be part of unincorporated Dawson County. Days later, however, the city rescinded it.

In a letter to the family, the city explained that the 2-1 vote in favor was premature. According to its policies, the council can vote only after the second reading of a petition. It had voted after the first.

At this week's meeting, Forester's petition was scheduled to be voted on in accordance with the charter. However, Forester issued his withdrawal of the petition after recently meeting with councilmen.

"I met with councilmen [James] Grogan and [Calvin] Byrd, which were the two who were in opposition," he said. "We worked through some stuff with them."

The city's planning commission is scheduled to hear the requests April 16, followed by the council's scheduled meeting May 7 at city hall, 415 Hwy. 53 East, Dawsonville.

Forester said he also plans on attending the council's special called meeting and work session April 26.

"Hopefully by May 7, we will get approval to move forward," he said.