Suwanee Council casts rare non-unanimous vote in rezoning request

SUWANEE -- A rare dissenting vote was cast at Tuesday's city council meeting.

For the first time since January 2011, and the first non-unanimous vote on a policy issue since December 2007, the Suwanee City Council voted 4-2 to table a decision to Oct. 11 on a rezoning request in the Gateway area of the city. Councilmen Dick Goodman and Kevin McOmber voted against postponing the rezoning.

The last time a policy issue had a dissenting vote was in 2007 when Councilman Dan Foster voted against denying a special-use permit for a Hertz rental vehicle location at the intersection of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and Sharon Industrial Way.

Last year, a 5-1 vote made Jace Brooks Mayor Pro Tem.

This time, a rezoning request to allow for a self-storage facility at 345 Sawmill Drive in Suwanee, near Interstate 85, was tabled by the city council until the Oct. 11 City Council Workshop meeting. Councilman Doug Ireland made the motion because he said the proposal didn't match the concept design of the Gateway, and didn't go along with the city's comprehensive plan, which called for office space in that area.

"I got an uneasy feeling after looking at (the concept design), I thought we needed to revisit," Ireland said. "I wanted to make sure before we take a step and put something there that is indeed permanent, we make sure that's exactly where we want to go. And that indeed may be where we go."

Because city staff had worked for nearly four months with Waylon Hoge, whose company Integrity Engineering did the civil design of the proposed facility, and the project had staff approval, the Council's 4-2 vote to table surprised Hoge.

"We hope it gets approved because we think it would be a great improvement to the city," Hoge said. "I don't think any changes need to be made. I think we need to just go to the work session and find out what Council is looking for."

Hoge said his group delayed the proposal to council one month so it could receive feedback from city staff.

"I grew up in Dacula and remember when (the property) used to be an old Waffle House," Hoge said. "It's time for it to be something else. We want to find out what the city's concerns are."

Ireland said he's looking for more discussion from his colleagues.

"I want to hear from my fellow Council members on their vision for what they want that property to look like," Ireland said. "This project would be an improvement over what's there, a huge improvement. It's a pretty storage facility. It has nothing to do with the quality of the project. It has everything to do with the overall vision."

The area was previously zoned commercial, but the proposal was to make it light industrial. The property is owned by Regency Church of God, and the rezoning request was made by Amburgy Properties.

The self-storage facility would be 70,000 square feet and include three buildings. City Planning Director Josh Campbell told council members that a rezoning of the area would present a positive image that city officials hope would continue their efforts to improve the Gateway, which has several closed or vacant businesses.

About 10 days ago, the city unveiled a new police substation and training facility near Interstate 85. Jerry Spangler, director of architecture with Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh and Associates, advises the city on what buildings should look like along Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and in the Gateway area.

Campbell told the Council that Spangler said he was impressed with the design plans for the self-storage facility.

Councilman Dick Goodman said the Council should not let something that's not perfect stand in the way of something that's very good.

"I'm not sure what would change between now and two weeks," Goodman said.

McOmber said he realizes the work that city staff and Hoge have put into the project.

"It caught me as being different than what was discussed in the comprehensive plan," he said. "They're trying hard to do the right thing, and I think we'll figure out a way to get there."