LAWRENCEVILLE - As county commissioners approved a rezoning Tuesday that will let an entire subdivision transform into a shopping center, Zejfa Pavleka clutched neighbor Sandra Brooks' hand.
"I was afraid, a little bit," Pavleka said.
"She just kept squeezing," Brooks said.
The two women and 17 of their neighbors will have to find new homes, now that the development they live in - Essex Square - has been rezoned to allow commercial growth.
After months of conversations and fear that the sale would not go through, neighbors said Tuesday they were relieved that the ordeal was finally over.
"It's the best thing that could have happened for us, the best situation," Brooks said. "We're all happy."
The neighborhood is adjacent to The Avenue Webb Gin, a lifestyle center that has brought more crime, garbage and traffic to their small subdivision, neighbors said. This is the first time an entire subdivision has been sold to make way for commercial growth, but in areas of Gwinnett County that are ripe for redevelopment, community leaders say it probably will not be the last.
Marc Schoen, who lives in the nearby Knollwood Lakes subdivision, said residents there were concerned that people coming to the new shopping center would use that neighborhood as a cut-through. He said commercial vacancies in the area mean there is no longer a market for retail properties and feared that if the stores remained vacant, there would be an increase in crime.
Commissioners took steps to appease the concerns of Schoen and other residents, requiring the developer of Webb Gin Crossing, Strategic Realty Group, to put in scrubbers that will minimize the smells from restaurants and upgrade and synchronize a traffic light at what will be the entrance to the shopping center.
Before the vote, Essex Square residents said, they worried that Knollwood Lakes residents' concerns could derail the sale of their homes. Afterward, they said closing details would occupy their time. Residents were not sure if they have two or three months to vacate their homes, but said they intended to keep in touch with neighbors via
e-mail and phone calls.
Janet Weaver, a 20-year Essex Square resident, said she has no regrets about leaving her house. She said neighbors had worried that with increased development on Ga. Highway 124, their homes could no longer be sold as houses but would instead be purchased by prospectors intent on making a quick buck.
"We've grown to understand that the residential value of our houses has plummeted," she said. "We were feeling very boxed in."
Charles Hays, another resident, said he had gotten solicitations in the mail before Strategic Realty Group offered to buy the whole development.
Residents have been told they can take anything they want from their homes. Pavleka said she intends to bring a cat, Garfield, that was buried in the yard, while other neighbors plan to dig up and sell their landscaping and even their doors and windows.
"It's going to be sad, but there's sure going to be some big yard sales," Brooks said. "We're just trying to leave with some composure."