'Exciting' project moving forward

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Doraville-area development described as an Asian-influenced Epcot Center will begin construction on its main feature this fall.

The gardens at the 84-acre Asian Village Atlanta will be the centerpiece of a project that will include a cultural center and shopping, attorney Michael Sullivan said.

The plans will move forward despite a recommendation from planning commissioners Tuesday to deny without prejudice a request to rezone more than 23 acres of the project for townhomes and villas and a change that would let more than 7 acres be used as commercial space.

Project Manager Suzy O'Neal said the developer asked that the two requests be denied so the project could proceed with a mixed-use redevelopment overlay instead of rezoning the land. Sullivan said he expects to apply for the MUR designation at the same time ground is being broken on the gardens.

"It's unique, and because of that, we need to do a lot of advance planning," O'Neal said. "We want to make sure it's pulled together just right before we get tied down to a zoning."

Sullivan said the project would be under construction for several years before it was completed.

The land is at Governors Lake Parkway and Jones Mill Road near the DeKalb County line. Its location near Asian-heavy Buford Highway would provide a potential market, Sullivan said, as well as an opportunity for cultural exchange.

Sullivan said the project will likely be divided into villages, with areas devoted to different aspects of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean cultures.

"It will be an ongoing cultural exchange that people can experience firsthand," he said. "Certainly, we believe it's a destination that folks from all over the country, perhaps the world, visit."

The village is designed by Chinese-born architect Yong Pan and will have an expansive Chinese garden, O'Neal said, created in the city of Suzhou, then dismantled and brought over. China's government is helping to fund the project, which is still seeking investors.

Whether the requested residential components will be included in the final design is still up in the air, Sullivan said. The cultural component will include rotating entertainment groups such as dancers or acrobats.

Jose Perez, a planning commissioner who represents the area where the village will be built, said he has been hearing about the plans for some time but has yet to hear anything concrete.

"They've been at this for a while," he said. "I hope they do what they're talking about. ... It has the potential to be a tremendous project."

When the mixed-use redevelopment request is filed, Sullivan said, the project will be subject to a development of regional impact study by the Atlanta Regional Commission. That process could take nearly a year and would require the developers to create specific plans, something they have not yet begun.

Now, the land is zoned for light industry and has been underused in that regard, Sullivan said. It is just outside the boundaries of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.

"It could be a real shot in the arm for redevelopment in that area," Sullivan said. "It's an exciting concept, an exciting vision for that area. It could be a tremendous improvement."