Planning Commission opts to take time with high-rise rules

LAWRENCEVILLE - New regulations that would allow 25-story condo towers in some parts of the county are getting a close look from Gwinnett's planning commissioners.

The Planning Commission was slated to vote on the development rules Tuesday night, but instead tabled them so commission members can devote an entire meeting to the issue next week.

The late hour - it was close to 11 p.m. - and a desire to thoroughly discuss and understand the regulations led to the deferment, planning commissioners said.

"We decided that because it's such an important issue and such a big change for the county, we wanted to discuss it during a special work session," said At-Large Planning Commissioner Julianne Thompson.

Thompson said she "strongly supports" the rules that would allow high-rise condo towers and mixed-use development in business districts along Interstate 85 and limited-access portions of Ga. Highway 316 and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.

"I'm very excited about what this can do, especially in the areas targeted for revitalization like Gwinnett Place and Jimmy Carter Boulevard," Thompson said.

Planning Commissioner Chuck Warbington said the panel, which advises the county commission, simply wanted more time to wrap its arms around the regulations.

"We didn't want to rush through this," Warbington said. "It's a very important change and a needed change in the county."

Warbington said he thinks the Planning Commission will ultimately endorse the regulations.

"We just want to understand it so we can explain it to people," said Warbington, whose district includes Snellville and Dacula.

Planning Commissioner Jose Perez said he supports the high-rise rules and thinks county planners did a good job drafting them.

"it's just that it was a lot of information and it was getting late, so we tabled it to make sure we have all our ducks in a row," said Perez, whose district includes Norcross and the Peachtree Corners community.

"What we've heard in our district is that people want this happening," Perez said. "They have been asking for this for some time."

A work session to discuss the regulations will be held Wednesday, and planning commissioners could vote on them as early as Nov. 1. The final say, however, belongs to the county commission.

The rules would permit the high-density development in "major activity centers," or areas where businesses, shops, restaurants and offices and even entertainment venues are massed together.

Locations along I-85 where mixed-use projects and high-rises 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. Highway 316 near Ga. Highway 120, and along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard between the DeKalb County line and Holcomb Bridge Road.

Condo tower projects could only go on parcels that have direct access to major roads and are in close proximity to public transit.

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

Before developers start a tower or mixed-use project they would have to get a rezoning from the county commission.