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Gwinnett Clinic branch to open up on U.S. 29 in Auburn next year

AUBURN - A new medical building, full of doctors with different specialties, will grace the U.S. Highway 29 main entry to the city of Auburn next year.

One asset of having the Gwinnett Clinic in town is that its physicians can refer patients to the Gwinnett Medical Center, an amenity lacking in Auburn's community, Mayor Harold Money said.

The clinic is part of a large network of facilities founded by Dr. J.J. Shah in the 1980s. The Auburn clinic is expected to be completed during 2007.

"We haven't had anything like this in Auburn," the mayor said. "For one thing, the doctors have to be on staff at that hospital to get patients admitted. Our people need that."

A rezoning for the facility, which Money has long been pushing and city planners have been working on for several months, was unanimously approved Thursday by the Auburn City Council.

The step changed the heavily wooded 1.74-acre tract near the Ingles supermarket and the Dollar General store from agricultural to commercial use.

But not before one council member, Charles Sewell, asked that the vote be delayed until he had a chance to study the package. The bulky recommendations reached Sewell's hands Monday, and he thought that was too late.

"I'm a little behind with the question on rezoning," he said. "I would like to defer this, so we can get together."

For the next few minutes, tempers flew.

James Abraham Jr., the city planner who had presented his favorable recommendation on Gwinnett Clinic's request, took offense. He stood, pointed to the council table and said he and his staff had turned over the package in plenty of time.

"I sent it a week and a -half ago," he said. "The planning department sends it straight to the elected officials. It's the system. I have some concern that I worked so hard. It's a slap in the face."

The hang-up occurred after the bundle left his hands, the planning chief said.

Money also joined in, chastising Sewell and telling his fellow council member that he had had access to the planner's materials at the same time as the entire council.

"Everybody knew this was coming," the chief executive said. "You could have been at the meeting. This is a quality product."

On another matter, Abraham warned the council that, under the law, a "no" vote would require the applicant to wait for one year before he could reapply. Sewell said he was not urging a negative vote but only more chance to examine the lengthy proposal.

"I want a vote," the mayor said.

Sewell went along with a "yes" vote.

After the meeting, Shah told a reporter that Gwinnett Clinic now has 13 buildings operating in many cities throughout the county, including one in Winder and one in Monroe.

Three others are now under construction: on U.S. 29 between Sugarloaf Parkway and Patterson Road in DeKalb County; on U.S. 29 just south of Jimmy Carter Boulevard; and at John's Creek on Ga. Highway 141 at Parsons Road.

In other business, two department heads gave reports to the panel.

Police Chief Fred Brown said he has increased the number on the night shift from two to three, in large part because of the number of calls and the general necessity of having more people working that shift.

In police business, Brown said:

•The department was unsuccessful in its attempt to auction off two Ford patrol cars at a service in Tucker, even though the city had set a minimum bid of $1,000 each. At least one car had a title problem. He suggested the department sell four cars through sealed bids.

•On Thursday, five eligible candidates will compete for the sergeant and corporal positions now open. He expects to make the two promotions within the next two weeks.

In public works, department head David Hawthorne said employees have replaced 398 service lines and 439 touch read meters. He said public works has:

•Ordered new software and handheld readers to improve accuracy.

•Begun the road patching program, doing the work as time allows.

•Requested bids for the repair and resurfacing of Scenic Lane and St. Andrews through the Local Assistance Roads Program with Barrow County.

•Posted help wanted ads to fill two positions created by the Water Meter Replacement

Program.

•Begun repairs to the pavers on the front of City Hall and filled the planters with flowers.

•Consulted with an electrical engineer on changes to the power source in the park to provide adequate power for

festivals.