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High-rise regulations clear hurdle

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County planning commissioners signed off on new zoning regulations Tuesday that would allow high-rise condo towers and mixed-use development in commercial areas.

The rules still must be approved by county commissioners, who will hold a public hearing and take a final vote Nov. 22.

"This is a big thing," Planning Commissioner Rico Figliolini said after the advisory panel endorsed the proposed regulations Tuesday night.

"This is a big shift for Gwinnett County opening the door for the type of development you see in Atlanta."

The new regulations would allow 25-story condo towers and mixed-use projects in business centers that border Interstate 85, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Ga. Highway 316.

Areas along I-85 where the high-density development would be allowed are at Jimmy Carter Boulevard, the Gwinnett Place area, the Sugarloaf area, the Mall of Georgia and the Hamilton Mill area.

They would also be allowed on the north side of Ga. 316 beside the Lawrenceville city limits, and along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard between the DeKalb County line and Holcomb Bridge Road.

However, a majority of planning commissioners are uncomfortable with allowing the high-density developments in the Hamilton Mill area and on Ga. 316 at Duluth Highway, and are recommending those areas be removed.

A majority of planning commissioners also are asking that the Mall of Georgia high-rise district be shrunk, and that a density cap of 60 dwellings per acre be established for high-rises, along with a minimum dwelling size of 600 square feet.

As they are currently written, no density restriction or minimum dwelling size are contained in the proposed high-rise regulations, and some planning commissioners worry that could lead to undesirable development.

Not every planning commissioner agrees with the suggestions, though.

Planning Commissioner Julianne Thompson said she is concerned about putting too many restrictions on high-rises and mixed-use projects that blend shops, offices and residences.

"I would leave a density cap off because I think those are the kind of details that we need to deal with on a project-by-project basis," Thompson said, "and I don't want to overcondition this to the point it becomes unattractive to potential developers."

No planning commissioner is opposed to high-rise condo towers and mixed-use projects, but one of only two residents who attended the Tuesday meeting had a beef with allowing them.

"I think it's a terrible mistake," said Stephen Galoup, who lives in the Stephens Hill subdivision near the Gwinnett Place area.

Galoup said the county should improve roads and other infrastructure before clearing the way for high-rise rezonings.

"We don't have any major arteries that are passable," Galoup said, referring to a rule provision that would only allow high-rises beside heavily traveled roads known as "major arterials."

"They're all choked up," Galoup said.

Figliolini said the regulations would have a positive impact on Gwinnett by helping revitalize run-down and struggling areas, including the Jimmy Carter corridor. Other planning commissioners agreed.

"To me, this is the most important new regulations we have passed in a decade," said Planning Commissioner Peggy Boydston, "And honestly, I am surprised more citizens haven't come forward to speak on this."

Before building high-rises or mixed-use projects, developers would have to get their land rezoned by county commissioners.