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BOC votes to treat plans as 'redevelopment'

Company plans to recast 75 acres on OFS site

LAWRENCEVILLE - The wheels are in motion for a residential and retail development that could reignite real estate investment in the Jimmy Carter Boulevard area.

Pennsylvania company Preferred Real Estate Investments wants to recast 75 acres of weedy parking lots, empty industrial buildings and idle railroad tracks into seven-story condos, shopping centers and a hotel as large as any Gwinnett County offers.

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners gave unanimous approval Tuesday to treat the plans as a "mixed-use redevelopment." The move at least opens the door for public hearings on the project later this year.

"The Board essentially said this has merit, and it's telling (Preferred) to 'proceed and let us know exactly what you plan to do," said Gwinnett County Planning and Development Director Mike Williams.

The project gets the "redevelopment" moniker because it's a makeover for part of the Norcross OFS plant, an optical fiber maker at Jimmy Carter and Interstate 85.

Preferred has a contract to buy a little more than one-third of the OFS campus that once housed the space and resources to make copper wire for telephone communication. Today, in the era of fiber optics, this part of the plant is no longer needed.

OFS wants to use the sale to generate money that could be reinvested in the plant.

County Commissioner Bert Nasuti, whose district includes Norcross, said the project can kick-start investment along Jimmy Carter Boulevard.

The area, a center of commercial development several decades ago, has struggled as the wave of new restaurants and stores moved north to Buford and Hamilton Mill.

"When a company makes a large new investment like this, it can bring the quality of development up for the entire area," Nasuti said.