County OKs zone for Tryon plan

JOHNSTOWN – The Fulton County Planning Board unanimously approved Perth’s plan to create a business and technology zone on the east side of town – one of the steps required to free up hundreds of acres at the former Tryon juvenile detention center for commercial and industrial development.

The county’s Industrial Development Agency expects to take control of the former Tryon site’s 515 acres from the state in the next few months and rename it the Tryon Technology Park & Incubator Center. But the zoning laws need to be updated to allow potential development, since most of the town, including the Tryon site, is restricted to agricultural-residential use.

“The way the town code reads now, it wouldn’t be an allowed use,” county Senior Planner Sean Geraghty told the Planning Board at its meeting Tuesday. “We didn’t want people who wanted to come in there to have any problems.”

Geraghty authored the proposed revisions to the Perth’s zoning laws, which still require approval by the town. Two public hearings relating to the proposed changes will be part of the Town Board meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at the municipal complex.

The business and technology zone covers only the footprint of the Tryon site, which sits along County Highways 107 and 158. The property includes about 40 buildings – including former dormitories, meeting areas, storage spaces and classrooms – that could be repurposed as office space.

“Each one of those spaces is going to have to be renovated if people are going to go in there,” Geraghty noted. He said the buildings were shut down after the state ordered Tryon closed in 2011 as part of a restructuring of the juvenile justice system.

About 320 acres are available for new industrial construction, he said, and developers would not need town subdivision approval to change lot sizes. Geraghty also said businesses looking to simply move in to existing buildings won’t be required to seek site-plan approval.

Geraghty also told the Planning Board that high-density housing, such as condominiums, could be part of a development plan, because much of the property is close to water and sewer infrastructure. Perth has the lowest vacancy rate in Fulton County, with only 4 percent of homes unoccupied, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Part of the property straddles the Johnstown town border, but that part of the site is landlocked and not likely to be developed soon, said Planning Board member Ryan Fagan, who is Johnstown’s code enforcement officer.

Board member Karen Smith asked how the property’s large auditorium and swimming pool would be used in the new park. Newly elected board Chairman John Blackmon noted the site also includes a gym, which could accommodate 400 people – likely the county’s largest open indoor space that’s not part of a school.

“I’m not sure if the IDA has gotten into the nitty-gritty, whether they will be used for tenants of that park,” Geraghty said.

Planning Board members said the potential for truck traffic could be a concern in the future. The county plans to repave part of County Highway 107, which connects Route 30 and Route 30A, as part of the park’s anticipated $3.14 million construction cost. But the state Department of Transportation has no pending road construction projects on routes 29, 30 or 30A.