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Mixed-use rules eased for offices

LAWRENCEVILLE - If your plans call for high-rise office buildings with penthouses on top, never fear.

The Gwinnett County Commission has changed its rules for mixed-use developments, making such projects possible in unincorporated areas.

Before the change was approved Tuesday night, offices could not comprise more than 70 percent of a high-rise structure, leaving the rest of the space for condos or shops.

County Commissioner Lorraine Green, who proposed the change, said removing the restriction permits high-rises geared almost exclusively toward offices.

She said the amendment was spurred by plans for an office campus in the area of Sugarloaf Parkway and Satellite Boulevard.

Those plans call for office buildings topped by penthouse condos, and under the previous rules the project was not possible without adding more residences - something that would have pushed the amount of office space below the 70 percent limit.

"One of the great concepts we have seen in mixed-use is to have an office building with perhaps a penthouse or a restaurant on the top floor," Green said.

"As it was written, our mixed-use ordinance would not have allowed that, and I think that type of use is very upscale. It is very desirable and that is the type of development we want for the county."

Green, whose district includes Duluth and part of Lawrenceville, declined to discuss details of the potential office project that spurred the change, including its proposed location.

County commissioners adopted the ordinance in January that allows developers to create mixed-use projects by meshing together offices, shops and restaurants on the same piece of land. It was paired with another ordinance that allows high-rise condo towers on major roads in business centers.

Mixing different types of development together in a village-type setting with street trees, wide sidewalks, bike racks and benches encourages walking and cuts down on traffic congestion and 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.

Dwellings still cannot make up more than 70 percent of a mixed-use project.

Commissioners put the limits in place because they did not want an unscrupulous 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, County Commissioner Bert Nasuti said in December.

No groups or citizens spoke for or against the office-space amendment during a public hearing Tuesday night. It passed unanimously.