Neighbors strike up deal with developer
Proposal bulldozes homes for retail center

LAWRENCEVILLE - Janet Weaver doesn't want to save the neighborhood she's lived in for 20 years.

"We're all wanting to get out of here," she said of her Essex Drive and Essex Court neighbors. "We are not fighting for the neighborhood anymore, we're fighting for a little dignity to leave."

Weaver and her neighbors live off Ga. Highway 124 behind the second phase of the Avenue Webb Gin on nearly 34 acres developers hope to purchase to build a J.C. Penney and other stores.

The close-knit development has 19 homes, Weaver said, but after years of construction in their backyards, increased traffic and the fear of crime brought on by more and more stores, residents no longer want to live in the community.

Tuesday, planning commissioners are scheduled to hear a proposal that would buy out their subdivision and put a shopping center in its place.

Planning Commissioner Floy Jumper said he hasn't yet decided whether the plan is a good idea or a bad one. He's almost sure this isn't the first time an entire subdivision has been purchased to make way for new stores, but attorney Michael Sullivan, who represents Strategic Realty Group, said he believes it is.

"It's probably not a bellwether, but it certainly provides a positive example for other areas," Sullivan said. "Redevelopment and adoptive reuse of underutilized properties is a growing trend in the county. We should encourage it."

Zefja Pavleka, an eight-year resident of Essex Drive, said she is both sad and happy to leave her home. Developers told her she could take her hydrangeas, calla lilies, pineapple and avocado trees when she left, but the mother of two is still looking for a new place to live.

"It's so hard to find another house in a quiet subdivision. There's so little space in between," she said. "If I want more privacy, I have to go far away from here."

Connie Davis, a six-year resident, is moving to Minnesota to be closer to her daughter.

When she first came to the area, Davis said, there were pastures, trees and a few small businesses. Since then, the area has ballooned with businesses; in addition to the Avenue Webb Gin, an International House of Pancakes, Aldi, Starbucks and other stores recently opened up across the street.

Davis said she had already considered leaving the area when an offer was made on her home, and she didn't have to think long before accepting it.

"I'm going to be happy to get out of here," she said.

For Weaver and Pavleka, the decision took a little longer. Residents signed an agreement saying they could not discuss the terms of their sale with neighbors, but Pavleka hopes to use some of the money from selling her house to pay off her credit card bills. Weaver said she intends to move to Lilburn, where she knows the big wave of development has already taken place.

Sandra Brooks has lived in the house since 1988 and said leaving will be bittersweet.

"I have mixed emotions. I have lots of memories in this house," she said. "I'm sure I'll ride by and shed a tear or two when I drive by and see my house torn down and a big J.C. Penney sitting there."

But like her other neighbors, Brooks said she knows leaving the community is the best thing for the area. She expected it to happen at some point, she said, but didn't think the transition would be this soon.

Sullivan said the project is a natural extension of the commercial corridor that Ga. Highway 124 has become.

While Weaver said she has no regrets about her decision to leave, she thinks there is such a thing as too many businesses, and she's living in the middle of it.

Neighbors fought the Avenue Webb Gin when it was built and succeeded in keeping it from being connected to their development. But now, residents don't think the next project is worth fighting.

"Who wants to be surrounded by massive retail and traffic?" Weaver asked. "This has got to happen. This neighborhood will not survive as a neighborhood in this environment."