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Judge denies proposed Sugar Hill apartments

SUGAR HILL - After a four-year battle, the fight to keep a three-story apartment complex off Peachtree Industrial Boulevard is over.

Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Timothy Hamil ruled earlier this month against the 240-unit complex proposed for 451⁄2 acres south of Ga. Highway 20 near Pinecrest Drive. The property is owned by Wendell Starke.

In 2002, Dick Myrick Jr., Myrick Co. president, petitioned the City Council to rezone about 70 acres from heavy manufacturing to commercial on the front 25 acres and multi-family classification on the rear 451⁄2. Myrick

originally planned to build a 292-unit, four-story, gated, swim/tennis apartment complex with 28 fee-simple townhomes along its outskirts, fronted on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard by an office facility.

In February 2002, City Council members rezoned the front 25 acres to commercial property, but denied the multi-family rezoning. Myrick had promised to run the long-desired sewer lines up Peachtree Industrial Boulevard to service the complex. Even that didn't convince Sugar Hill's Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council members to vote in favor of the project. Ron Johnson was the only council member who voted for the apartments, and he defended them until his term ended in

December.

Myrick and attorney Doug Dillard sued the city after council members voted against the rezoning. They claimed the heavy manufacturing zoning was unconstitutional because the hilly topography was unsuitable for a manufacturing facility and several more acres of the same zoning classification lay undeveloped inside the city's boundaries.

Magistrate Gene Reeves upheld Myrick's claim in August 2004. Reeves ordered the City Council to rezone the property to a classification other than heavy

manufacturing.

Sugar Hill's Planning and Zoning Commission reduced the proposed apartment complex to two stories of 144 units and allowed Myrick to develop 18 of the 451⁄2 acres. City Council members voted 3 to 1 in October 2004 to rezone the acreage to office/industrial.

"I'll see you in court," Myrick told council members after the vote.

And, for two years, he did. Dillard and Myrick hauled the city back into court, contending that Sugar Hill was in contempt of Magistrate Reeves' order. They claimed the O and I zoning was unconstitutional because of a weak market for commercial business in the area.

Myrick was unavailable for comment at press time.

Sugar Hill's liability insurance covered most of the cost to defend the city's case. Overall, the city spent about $100,000 out of pocket to keep the apartment complex from materializing, according to Mayor Gary Pirkle.

"It was a worthwhile expense," Pirkle said. "Some people said it was a waste of time and effort to defend, and said we would never win, and we did. People living nearby probably thought it was worth it."

The property is bordered to the west by a single-family home, to the south by acreage zoned heavy manufacturing, and fronts Peachtree Industrial Boulevard to the north, which is zoned light manufacturing.

Neighbors opposed the

apartment complex

Brookside at Parkview subdivision on Level Creek Road, an established community of single-family homes, borders the northwest side of the proposed site. Many of its residents have fought against the apartment complex for four years. Residents said they didn't want to live in the shadow of a four-story apartment building and all the trouble it could bring to their neighborhood. They also voiced concerns of school overcrowding, increased traffic and environmental disruptions.

Alan Brooks, a Brookside resident, told council members in 2004 that the construction would disturb a natural wetlands area that supports deer, crane and other wildlife.

Steve and Tammy Wright have lived in Brookside at Parkview for 11 years. Their house backs up to the property line shared with the proposed development. A thick stand of trees creates a natural buffer between their backyard and the site. A creek flows under those trees only a few yards from the Wright's patio.

"Every time they build something upstream, the creek floods," Tammy said. "The construction runoff from a project that size would have turned this place into a swamp."

Ideas for development

Although no apartments will fill the 451⁄2 acres, Starke still holds a chunk of acreage zoned for office and industrial uses along Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Both Pirkle and Wright look to Norcross for development examples. Pirkle visualizes a technology area taking shape.

"A lot of us live in Sugar Hill, but not a lot work in Sugar Hill," Pirkle said. "If an office development or a small technology park, like in Norcross, came in, it would give more opportunities to do that."

Tammy Wright wishes it could remain untouched. Nevertheless, she realizes the land will be eventually developed.

"I would like to see something like a Forum go in," she said. "Something tasteful and nicely done. We don't need another strip center."