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Mixed-use center OK'd for Ga. 316

LAWRENCEVILLE - Townhomes and an upscale retail center will come to a busy intersection on Ga. Highway 316, near Gwinnett's first four-year college.

The 42 acres at the intersection of Ga. Highways 316 and 20 will be developed like a mixed-use community, with 144 townhomes and a lifestyle retail center similar to those at The Avenue Webb Gin or The Forum on Peachtree Parkway.

County commissioners approved the

proposal Tuesday over residents' objections that the project would be detrimental to people who live on Lendon Lane, part of which would be used to access the project.

"We need something to happen there," County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said. "We need to dress the area up."

Kenerly said several gas stations near the intersection and a shuttered Ingles supermarket have blighted the area, which needs to be redeveloped. Although the mixed-use project would be built on a wooded tract of land, Kenerly said its presence would increase property values and enhance the community.

Jennifer Stephens, a spokeswoman for Georgia Gwinnett College, said previously that the school does not comment on potential rezonings. Kenerly and attorney Lee Tucker, who represented developer M&W Land Development, both praised a proposed road that could be constructed as part of the project and ease access to the school by connecting Ga. Highway 20 with Collins Hill Road.

But because the developer does not own all of the land, the connectivity is dependent on an agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation, which has proposed an upgrade for transportation infrastructure by creating interchanges at Ga. Highway 316's intersections with Collins Hill Road and Ga. Highway 20. Funding for the $247 million project does not yet exist.

Masood Salim, a Lendon Lane resident who owns two homes and three additional lots on the road, said the success of the project hinges on whether the GDOT will allow a traffic light at Lendon Lane and Ga. Highway 20. The intersection may be too close to other improvements to warrant a light, he said.

Salim requested a 100-foot buffer and a wall to separate the commercial components from his residential neighborhood, and said many residents planned to move out of the neighborhood if it was approved.

"We've already got too much traffic as it is on 20 and 316," he said. "I only wish it doesn't turn out to be some sort of situation there. I only hope for the best."

The project, which was originally proposed as a traditional strip center with a big-box anchor, barely avoided requiring a Development of Regional Impact study, required for projects that are more than 400,000 square feet. The yet-unnamed development is just under that threshold, Tucker said.

He said previously that because of the land's proximity to the college, it would be a good location to house professors or other staff and faculty members. The townhomes would not be intended for students, Tucker said, but they could live there.

Tucker said getting a traffic light for the project would be of the utmost importance.

"It could really be a help to the area," he said. "It would have a positive economic impact to have a high-end retail component with mixing residential uses."

Kenerly agreed, saying he thought the project could help increase property values tremendously.

"With this going in, we will definitely and drastically help the neighborhood," he said.