Stadium: Public upset about zoning

LAWRENCEVILLE - When the Board of Commissioners gave the go-ahead to build the Gwinnett Braves stadium, residents who lived near the Buford Drive site knew the area was bound to change.

One of those nearby subdivisions was Habersham Hills.

The residences of Habersham lost a small battle Tuesday when the Board of Commissioners decided to follow the planning commission's recommendation and rezone 10 acres of vacant, office and institutional property across from the new minor-league stadium to commercial property. The lot was adjacent to Habersham Hills.

Planning Commissioner Paula Hastings delivered 19 conditions to the board to soften the blow to the neighborhood, but one that was discarded by Commissioner Kevin Kenerly has the most vocal Habersham homeowner, Joe Primm, disappointed. That condition stated that potential restaurants in the facility could only be open from the hours of 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.

With the stadium going in across the street and with games expected to finish while the night is still relatively young, Primm worries that the cut of the condition will pave the way for a late night restaurant and sports bar.

"The stage has now been set," Primm wrote the Daily Post in an e-mail. "Week nights after the games, people will fill the bar and at closing time will spill out into the parking lot - noise, potential public drunkenness, climbing the decorative fence out back to possibly relieve themselves. There's even the potential of wandering into backyards of the adjoining homeowners," Primm wrote. "I hope (commissioners) are cognizant of the fact that homeowners are a mere 50 feet from the parking lot."

Commissioner Kenerly said he understands Primm's concerns and wants him to be assured that those concerns do have his attention.

Kenerly said the parking for the development would be in front of the facility and not around back. He said he wants people to know that he cares about the area, especially Ga. Highway 20 and the entire Mall of Georgia overlay district.

"In 10 years, I don't want it looking like Gwinnett Place Mall," he said. "And as long as the development can create jobs and do some good, in this economy I think that's important."

The other concern Primm has with the conditions laid out is the one-story height restriction for buildings. He doesn't think that condition will stick long term.

"I'm still of the belief that RBS Development will now sell the property for a higher price due to the more valuable commercial zoning classification," Primm said. "And then the new owners will return in six months to ask again for a special-use permit to get the restriction lifted."

Attorney Michael Sullivan represented RBS Development during the zoning proceedings. He said after the approval that his client intended to develop the property. Asked if the 'For Sale' sign currently on the property would be coming down now that the rezoning passed, Sullivan said, "I assume."

Kenerly added that he doesn't want a four-story hotel located on the property either and wouldn't allow that to happen.

As a compromise to the rezoning request, a special-use permit that was requested by RBS for a large hotel was subsequently denied without prejudice at the request of RBS.

Primm said the homeowners of Habersham were always opposed to the commercial rezoning, but were also led to believe from the beginning that they had no chance to prevent it from happening. Reluctantly, he said, they agreed to the compromises proposed by the planning commission. And then on Tuesday, one of those conditions that might have given homeowners a little protection was cut.

After the decision Primm offered a bit of reflection on some of the decisions commissioners have made concerning the new Gwinnett Braves stadium.

"The county commission has proven on several occasions that development interests come before that of homeowners," Primm said. "The homeowners of Habersham Hills lost one; homeowners in Gwinnett County lost another round and development won once again."