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684 homes planned near Lake Lanier Islands

Islands leaseholder Virgil Williams makes plans through unrelated company

POSTED: July 11, 2008 5:01 a.m.

A company owned by Gwinnett businessman Virgil Williams and his family has filed an application for approval of a mixed-use resort community off Friendship Road in South Hall County.

Williams, who holds the lease on Lake Lanier Islands, is planning a 684-unit development that tentatively is Big Creek Resort, although a spokesman said that name is a placeholder.

Heritage South Partners, a Williams-owned company that is not affiliated with LLI Management, which operates the islands, is developing the 90-acre site.

An application for a development of regional impact has been filed with both the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center in Gainesville and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Part of the 90 acres is in the city of Buford, the rest in unincorporated Hall County. Williams wants Buford to annex all the property in order to gain sewer service for the development.

Shawn Davis, a Williams spokesman, said reports that property owners at the resort would have special privileges at Lake Lanier Islands are not true. He emphasized that the two entities are not related, other than being owned by Williams.

Davis said the development also is not connected to the proposed transfer of Big Creek Park on Lake Lanier from the Corps of Engineers to Georgia to be placed under LLI Management.

The mixed-use development also will include 30,000 square feet of retail space, according to the application. The estimated completion date is 2014.

The news was warmly received by Hall County business leaders.

"Everything Virgil Williams has been involved in has always been first class," said Frank Norton Jr., a Gainesville real estate executive who monitors economic development trends in the region. "I think he is looking at long-range goals of a small city or community, and housing fits really well in that concept."

Noting that Williams’ application indicates the development will be completed in 2014, Norton said Williams is investing in the lake’s future.

"Everyone knows what goes down must come up," Norton said. "Long-term lake values are sustainable. He needs to be applauded."

Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said Williams is looking forward.

"We know it will have great amenities. Just look at what he has done at Lake Lanier Islands," Dunlap said. "It will no doubt have great appeal to a cross section of people."

Williams assumed the lease of Lake Lanier Islands in August 2005 and has invested millions of dollars from his personal fortune in the resort, including a major face-lift of the signature hotel property, Legacy Lodge.



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