New mixed-use rules may be eased to encourage offices

LAWRENCEVILLE - Two weeks ago, the county adopted rules so developers can create mixed-use projects by meshing offices, shops and residences on the same piece of land.

Already, changes are in the works for the ordinance that was paired with another allowing high-rise condo towers in business centers.

An amendment proposed by County Commissioner Lorraine Green would lift a restriction that says offices can make up no more than 70 percent of a mixed-use development.

Deleting the restriction would permit high-rises and mixed-use projects geared almost exclusively toward offices.

"Basically what it would do is allow for primarily an office building with, for example, a penthouse condominium," Green said. "You would have 80 to 90 percent office and a residential component on top, or you could have a project with five or six office buildings and one condo building."

The ordinance's current language could impede some office developments - a concern that was expressed by some developers before the rules were adopted by the county commission, Green said.

"We've got a developer that is currently looking at creating a campus of several very large office buildings," she said, "and because of the square footage of those buildings, they would have to build a huge, huge residential component in order to comply with that 70 percent cap.

"They don't want to do that. They just want to build a very small residential component for the users of that campus and right now they can't do that.

"This is much more for specialty type situations," Green added.

Green, whose district includes Duluth and part of Lawrenceville, declined to discuss details of the potential office project, other than to say it would go in the Sugarloaf Parkway area.

Dwellings could still make up no more than 70 percent of a mixed-use project under the proposed ordinance change.

Commissioners put the limits in place because they did not want a developer to build a project that was 95 percent apartments with a few shops thrown in so it could be called a mixed-use project, said County Commissioner Bert Nasuti.

Nasuti said he had not seen the proposed change that would cater to offices, but he conceptually has no problem with it.

"It may be prudent to increase the flexibility and allow a greater percentage of something that is not residential," said Nasuti, whose district includes Norcross.

Mixed-use projects, which can have buildings up to 25 stories tall, are allowed on land with direct access to, or located beside, major roads. Their density can be up to 32 dwellings per acre.

The maximum density now allowed with standard zoning in the unincorporated county is 13 units per acre, and developers must leave a buffer of land between homes and businesses.

Mixing the two together in a village-type setting with street trees, wide sidewalks, bike racks and benches encourages walking and cuts down on driving, which congests roads and contributes to air pollution, according to planners.

Such pedestrian-friendly development can also help revitalize areas struggling with urban blight, in part because residents in the new developments would shop and eat at area businesses, according to planners.

Along with high-rise condo towers, mixed-use projects can only go in business centers along Interstate 85 and a southern stretch of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Rezonings must be obtained before the projects are possible.