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Forsyth County Demographics Attracting Mixed-Use Aspirations

Some of the big names in Atlanta mixed-use development, like Roca Point Partners, Fuqua Development and now Lennar Corp., are spearheading new projects in a suburban market that has seen a surge of population growth rich with disposable income.

Rendering of Roca Point Partners' Halcyon mixed-use development in South Forsyth County

Lennar is the latest to spearhead a new mixed-use development in Forsyth County. The developer filed plans with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for a project called The Villages at Brooks Farm, a mixed-use development that could include 455 single-family houses and more than 52K SF of commercial space on a 153-acre parcel off Pilgrim Mill Road in the City of Cumming. The state community affairs department reviews certain development plans that could have a wider regional impact.

Another developer, registered as Central Forsyth Properties LLC, filed plans last week seeking to develop 480 apartment units, 150 senior living units, 85 single-family houses and 118K SF of commercial space on more than 60 acres off Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Cumming. Neither Lennar nor the law firm attached to the Central Forsyth Properties application returned calls seeking comment.

Roca Point principal Patrick Leonard — who is leading the development of the firm's 135-acre Halcyon project off Georgia 400 and McFarland Parkway — said the country's attractiveness to developers is obvious.

“Forsyth is the fastest-growing county in Georgia,” Leonard said. “The demographics are phenomenal, some of the best in Atlanta.”

Halcyon is slated to include some 460 apartments, 230 for-sale homes, two hotels, 260K SF of retail and 220K SF of office. Forsyth County is nearly an hour's ride north along Georgia 400 from the City of Atlanta.

Rendering of The Brookwood, a new project in Forsyth County by Fuqua Development

While Atlanta has been the focal point of new development since the end of the Great Recession, Forsyth and its county seat, Cumming, have perhaps seen an even greater surge of population. From 2010 to 2016, Forsyth tallied nearly a 26% increase in new residents to more than 221,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That helped Forsyth rank among the 100 fastest-growing counties in the entire nation for that period.

Forsyth's growth is more than four times the percentage population growth for the State of Georgia in the same period.

Forsyth is also one of the state's most affluent counties. Median household income, as of 2015, was $88,800/year, according to the census bureau. That is well above the statewide median income, which is just shy of $50K.

“A lot of tech people live up there and move up there for the schools,” Fuqua Development principal Jeff Fuqua said.

Fuqua is developing The Brookwood, a 60-acre mixed-use project off Georgia Highway 141 in Cumming. The project will include single-family and townhouses, a grocery store, a movie theater, a health club and a food hall, Fuqua said.

Fuqua said the influence of urban mixed-use projects has spread into the suburbs. 

“People really want that entertainment … close to their home,” he said. “They want that in their own neighborhood on a smaller scale.”

Leonard said these suburban mixed-use projects also attract a wide swath of demographics, from empty nesters to millennials. As millennials marry and start to have families, the suburbs become more attractive than life in the city for the better schools and more housing for the dollar. At the same time, millennials still want a clustered walkable lifestyle.

“Obviously those types of people want to have a new type of environment and be a little less auto-centric,” Leonard said.

Colliers International Associate Payton Herschberger and Senior Vice President Mike Neal at a 2015 Bisnow event

There also is a financial reason for mixing up development in the suburbs, Colliers International Senior Vice President Mike Neal said.

“The construction costs today on building retail are greater than the rents that can be supported,” Neal said. "In today's market, construction costs are driving the rents to a level that the [retail] sales volumes won't support."

By including a mix of uses on a single site, developers can make the numbers work. Plus, adding a permanent residential base so close to shopping is attractive to retailers.

“I think [retailers] want to be part of something that will generate better demand. That's just being a smarter developer,” he said.