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Sugar Hill mulls variance

SUGAR HILL — If you’re building commercially in Sugar Hill, be prepared to be a cut above.

The Sugar Hill City Council again made that clear at its monthly work session Monday night, when it contemplated whether to allow Ashton Gardens, a wedding and reception venue with locations in Houston and Dallas, to construct a 30,000-square-foot chapel and hall largely of stucco exterior. Having recently become Gwinnett County’s third-largest city, Sugar Hill has allowed variance to its building requirements, but selectively.

Mayor Gary Pirkle and council members didn’t indicate whether they’ll allow variance come Monday’s monthly meeting, but City Planning Director Kaipo Awana sensed the council might grant variance for construction of the facility on about nine acres of undeveloped land on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard just north of West Price Road. As it did in recently abridging architectural design standards and sign regulations for a new McDonald’s, the council leaned toward conditional approval of Ashton Gardens’ request.

Awana saw few similarities between Ashton Gardens’ request for its Greek-style facility and the council in February allowing McDonald’s a different roof type and greater signage. Rather, he said the parallel was the council’s willingness to deviate from printed requirements, while still ensuring aesthetically pleasing construction.

“We’re (considering whether) it meets our intent to have unique, enduring, high-quality architecture in Sugar Hill,” Awana said.

Awana said written requirements guard against what Sugar Hill considers architecturally inferior strip centers often made of stucco or metal siding with glass fronts, which it believes can be constructed cheaply and look it. The council might vote Monday to allow more than the 25 percent of stucco permitted on facilities of Ashton Gardens’ size, provided horizontal and vertical, grout-like lines make the exterior appear constructed of large stone work. Additionally, should the council allow variance, it likely will require Ashton Gardens’ proposed setback more than 300 feet from roads and landscaping to shield it from either, making the facility visible to only intended visitors.

“We’re trying to attract more sophisticated businesses willing to spend a little more on building and design to contribute to the fabric of our community,” Awana said.