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County set to buy land

LAWRENCEVILLE - One of the largest collections of land for Gwinnett's proposed Sugarloaf Parkway extension could be approved this week.

On today's schedule for the Board of Commissioners is consideration of 11 parcels totaling more than 25 acres for the route, which would continue Sugarloaf from where it ends at Ga. Highway 20 south of Lawrenceville to Ga. Highway 316 east of the city.

After a planned later phase of construction, the road would eventually go to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, creating a loop around the county seat.

"Sugarloaf is one of the most important things we've got to get done," Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said. "If it was up to me, I'd buy it all today. We need to build that road as quick as we can."

According to Gwinnett Transportation Director Brian Allen, the purchases - valued at $4.4 million - would bring the amount the county has purchased to about two-thirds of the land needed for the first section of the road, which would end at New Hope Road. Officials are hoping to begin construction on that section by the end of the year.

The purchase under consideration today, though, encompasses the entire stretch to Ga. 316.

While the acquisitions would bring the total parcels of land to 37 out of more than 100 parcels, Allen said the county has concentrated on the larger acreage parcels and the ones where homes will be encroached upon. That way, homeowners have a year to relocate.

"We know we're disrupting lives, but we believe it's for the betterment of the county to get that road built," Allen said. "We know that's difficult for folks."

Purchases for the road don't always come easily, though.

Two weeks ago, the county commission approved the condemnation of 16 acres of land on a tract where Dacula's City Council considered an annexation and rezoning request two days later.

The day after the condemnation process was approved, officials signed an option on the land, but Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said he wasn't happy that the city followed through on the rezoning without considering the road.

"If they could hold on to it until after the annexation, they could get it valued at a higher density" and therefore a higher price, Beaudreau said. "If we hadn't been able to act that quickly, we would have paid even more for the land."

Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks said the county had months to negotiate on the land, and the route did not factor into the zoning application. Because the county is purchasing the land, Wilbanks said the zoning density may end up being lower.

"They've been talking about this for a very long time," he said. "I think they need to buy the right of way so folks will know how it's going to affect them. ... We know Sugarloaf is going to come there, but we don't know where it's going to go."