PEACHTREE CORNERS -- In a city created last year with the intent of governing land use, officials are slated to make their first purchase, buying land to stop the development of apartments.

Peachtree Corners City Council voted unanimously Monday to purchase 20.6 acres across from The Forum on Peachtree Parkway. After winning a rezoning in a lawsuit more than a decade ago, developers with Lennar Construction had planned to break ground on more than 250 apartments there by the spring.

"All they had to do was file a building permit," Mayor Mike Mason said. "There was nothing you could say or do to stop it. ... The only thing we could do was buy it."

When voters formed the city of Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett's northwest corner, planning and zoning control was the No. 1 issue, and Mason said the council believed the purchase amounted to a quality of life issue since the city is close to a 50/50 split in rental property versus owner-occupied homes.

"We thought long and hard before we took this step," he said. "Apartments just don't belong right in the middle of that commercial area. ... This is about the highest and best use for a piece of property."

With contract negotiations under way, officials did not release the price but said the purchase would be made through a to-be-created downtown development authority. A 10-year bond is expected to be paid back with existing city revenues, Mason said, promising the purchase would not mean an increase in taxes.

Located in the heart of the community, city leaders are asking for the public's help in deciding what to do with it. A meeting was already scheduled for Thursday to help devise the city's comprehensive plan, and the property will be a key piece.

"It's a natural town center," Mason said, adding that a fountain or park would be nice in the midst of commercial development. But he stressed that the city does not intend to build a city hall there.

Mason said he had hoped to hold a referendum about the purchase, but the council decided to move quickly before the apartments were built or the cost of the land rose.

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