Lawrenceville to break ground soon on new low-income housing development

Officials from the Lawrenceville Housing Authority said this artist rendering shows a rough draft of what they plan to build in a new community that will replace three existing housing developments which will be torn down to make room for the city’s South Lawn redevelopment project. Officials expect to break ground on the new community next month. (Special Photo)

The Lawrenceville Housing Authority will break ground next month on the first part of a new housing community, which will replace a neighborhood that is being moved to make room for the city’s South Lawn development.

Housing authority officials presented details of the 36-unit community to the Lawrenceville City Council to get that body’s input Wednesday night. Richport Properties is working on the project, which will entail the existing Rob Durham, Ommie Harris and Sally Craig communities near City Hall being moved to a site on Constitution Boulevard at Scenic Highway.

The public-private partnership project is expect to cost about $4 million.

“We’re very close to breaking ground, and I wanted you to start seeing the progress and the elevations,” City Manager Chuck Warbington told the City Council. “This is nowhere near final.”

City officials announced plans for the 37-acre South Lawn mixed-use development last fall. Those plans call for large scale redevelopment connecting the Lawrenceville Lawn with City Hall and stretching out toward Scenic Highway.

That means existing neighborhoods and commercial properties in the South Lawn footprint have to be torn down to make room for redevelopment.

“This development will blend today’s new urban living style and walkable environment with affordable housing options for those in need,” Warbington said in a subsequent statement Thursday. “It is the goal of the city to focus on implementing the Downtown Master plan, fill in those areas needing a facelift and bring affordable housing, diverse housing options and a walkable environment to Lawrenceville’s core.

“This project supports that vision in redefining blighted corridor with a beautiful and new residential community that complements the Oak Street project and the South Lawn project in quality and connectivity of the downtown area.”

The first phase of work on building a replacement for the three housing authority communities is expected to break ground Feb. 23.

Architectural illustrations shown to the council Wednesday night were rough drafts of what the buildings could eventually look like, Warbington and Richport Properties’ Frank Wickstead said. They offer an idea of what the development could be expected to include.

The layout includes about eight buildings around a central green space with a pavilion.

Wickstead said the plan is to pursue permits for the development in two phases. The first is a horizontal phase, which will set out the footprint of the buildings and is what officials will break ground on next month. The other is a vertical phase, which will entail construction of the housing units and come later, after final exterior designs are settled upon.

“We know we like our site plan,” Wickstead said. “We’d like to have the engineering proceed so that we can begin that process, know what our footprint of the buildings are, but play with the facade between now and (beginning the vertical phase).”

Construction on the full project is expected to be in full swing later this year, and the housing authority plans to open the new housing community by early March 2019.

The low-income housing communities that this new development will replace date back more than half a century. The Rob Durham and Ommie Harris communities were built in the early 1960s while the Sally Craig community was built in 1951, according to Wicksted.

In addition to a literal ground breaking, Lawrenceville Housing Authority Executive Director Lejla Slowinski said this project has also figuratively broken new ground in how local governments and agencies that work with low-income residents treat redevelopment.

“The city of Lawrenceville is really unique in Gwinnett county and really in this region in the way that it has partnered with the housing authority to redevelop this in a way that’s going to work for the city’s master plan and also ensure that our units are affordable and sustainable for at least the next 20 to 30 years,” she said.

Rick Porter with Richport Properties echoed those sentiments. This is the second major project Richport is working on in the city. The other is the privately funded City View residential development on the old Lawrenceville High School site north of the Lawrenceville Square.

“This truly is a unique project that offers an unprecedented benchmark in affordable housing projects, providing quality homes to those in need and blending that development with the rest of the community for a more inclusive environment,” Porter said in a statement.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to work with the city and the Lawrenceville Housing Authority in realizing this vision as we continue to build for the private sector in Lawrenceville as well.”

Slowinski said residents of the affected communities are excited about the development. Those residents will move into the new community when it opens.

“A lot of thought and discussion has gone into this project to make sure that it works for city but also works for our families in terms of modernizing the floor plan a little bit so it’s an upgrade from the 1950s,” she said.

During the meeting Wednesday, and again in a joint statement released by the city Thursday, Slowinski praised the city for working with the authority make sure low-income families affected by the South Lawn project were not overlooked.

“Our goal with this project is long-term preservation of affordable housing,” she said. “Oftentimes when cities redevelop their downtowns, affordable housing is just an afterthought. I commend the city of Lawrenceville for working collaboratively with us to provide viable, quality housing options for residents at all income levels.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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