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Heard makes pitch for massive annexation

LAWRENCEVILLE - Everyone is welcome to Lawrenceville, including the cows, officials said Tuesday at a public hearing on a legislator's proposal to annex 3,500 acres into the city.

The massive proposal from Rep. John Heard includes industrial land in the Gwinnett County Progress Center as well as rural land along the route of the proposed Sugarloaf Parkway extension.

It was the still rural Sugarloaf area land between Chandler and New Hope roads that drew the most attention from the 150 people in attendance.

One man even asked if he'd have to get rid of his cows if Heard is successful in his attempt to extend the city limits.

"We're kind of seeing a double whammy with the annexation and the Sugarloaf extension going right behind our backyards," said Dennis Roberts, president of the Northcliff subdivision's homeowners association. "We're feeling kind of abused at the moment. We don't see the benefit."

Heard said he wants to maximize the city's development opportunity at a time when a new college is forming, Ga. Highway 316 is developing into a bioscience corridor and a passenger rail plan is gaining momentum.

"I think it's a natural occurrence for us to expand our city limits," Heard said. "We're the center. We're the hub, and the opportunity here is tremendous. ... The opportunity for job creation is what this is all about."

While Heard is devising the proposal as an "involuntary" annex General Assembly and not the City Council, he held the meeting to get input from the citizens and allowed them to fill out questionnaires.

Reps. Donna Sheldon of Dacula and Len Walker of Loganville, whose districts include some of the land in question, also appeared at the hearing. Sen. Don Balfour and a representative for Renee Unterman, who must also sign on to the plan, were also in attendance.

"If the stakeholders are not in favor of it, we'd be a fool to go through with it," Heard said.

According to officials, the land would retain its zoning classification - and yes, the man can keep his cows - unless the property owner asks for a rezoning hearing. Heard and other officials have said they are interested in allowing high-rises near the Gwinnett Progress Center.

Councilman David Rodriguez said the City Council members could be even more willing to protect homeowners because of the smaller size of the government.

"It's a unique concept," developer W.S. "Bill" Bumgarner said. He owns two pieces of property included in the annexation proposal, including one that had caused an annexation battle between the county and the city of Dacula.

He said he was interested in the way the city could speed up the development process, since rezoning applications and building permits take less time than in the county government.

"I think people who are landowners will be somewhat happy if the city can make the right moves to speed up the process," he said. "That property has sat there a long time. ... You've got to be a little more friendly to businesses if you want to attract them."