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Neighbors upset by city's plan

GRAYSON - John Wayne helped set up the planning and zoning laws in Grayson more than 30 years ago.

But now, the former mayor and his neighbors are troubled the City Council is considering a future for his sleepy street that could increase the number of homes tenfold.

City officials say they are simply trying to delineate Britt Street as a "character area" integral to the city's future, but some residents are afraid their own future will be limited by the plan.

"What will happen at some point is developers will purchase those large acre (lots) to be developed," Mayor Jim Hinkle said of the homesteads. "Britt Street is an area that needs to be coordinated for redevelopment, if that occurs. When somebody comes in, we don't have a hodgepodge development. We'll have a consistent look to it."

But Eugene Hunter, who has lived on the street for more than 50 years, said he's afraid that after he passes on, his children won't be able to sell the land to someone who wants to build a large home.

"To tie somebody up like that isn't right," he said, noting his biggest complaint is he heard about the project through rumors instead of the city addressing the neighbors. "I know it's progress, but if something is going to happen, you'd think they'd invite someone on Britt Street."

Hinkle and Councilwoman Allison Wilkerson said the determination, which will be voted on June 18, would not restrict development according to current zoning laws. But if landowners wanted to change the zoning designation, they would have to follow the plan.

"I think they've all gotten half the story," Wilkerson said. "The first step is to define the district. ... We haven't sat down and agreed on (the guidelines). We've got to have a public hearing and see what the residents want."

The plan, Hinkle and Wilkerson said, came out of a 2030 comprehensive master plan that every community in Gwinnett is required to complete over the next year or two.

Hinkle said he is not in favor of a drawing submitted by architects that shows 138 houses and 56 townhomes on 17.7 acres, but he said a plan had to be created so residents would have something to discuss.

That discussion will begin at a planning board hearing Monday night.

But Hunter, whose daughter is on the City Council and whose wife, Joan, is a member of the Britt family for which the street is named, said the plan struck him as ludicrous in the tiny town.

"They are just seeing how many houses they can stick in Grayson," he said. "The schools are overloaded. The streets are overloaded."

Wayne, a former mayor, councilman and postmaster, said he was offended by the idea Britt Street is blighted and in need of redevelopment.

He lives beside the entrance to a new 44-home subdivision, and he said he was approached about selling his property.

"I'm not wanting to move," he said. "I'm all for the betterment of Grayson, but I don't like the way they are going about it. ... We're not in the business of making developers rich and the city shouldn't either."

The developer of the subdivision, Tom Perdue of Black Diamond Communities, said he wishes he could take on a project to transform Britt Street, but with the current housing market, he can't afford the land.

He likes the idea of a neighborhood, where residents can walk to the nearby elementary school, drug store and post office, and he loves Grayson so much that he wants to relocate his family there after his daughter finishes her last year of high school.

"It helps focus on keeping Grayson a community," he said of the plan, which he called "landowner friendly." "Instead of thoroughfare streets, they are trying to create neighborhoods."

Linda Turner, a Britt Street resident who serves on the advisory planning and zoning board, said she only learned of the plans a few weeks ago, when a City Council work session ran late into the time she arrived for her own meeting.

While Turner said she did not want to be disloyal to the city, she said she was surprised about the plan. Her husband, Thomas Turner, said he was concerned that he would eventually be forced to sell to Perdue, and he wasn't happy about the size of the proposal.

Linda Turner is concerned about the future on the street where the Turners' grandchildren are also being raised.

"I care about now and I care about the future," she said. "But I'd sooner die here rather than have a subdivision come here and take over everything. This is home."