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Planning board votes against Lanier Plaza redevelopment

POSTED: April 23, 2014 12:26 a.m.

Plans to redevelop the Lanier Plaza shopping center on Thompson Bridge Road were dealt a setback Tuesday night.

After hearing concerns from several residents about the impact of increased traffic and the pending eviction of small businesses in the shopping center, the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board voted 4-2 to recommend denial of a rezoning needed so the redevelopment can proceed.  

“I don’t support the development in any way,” said planning board member Dexter Stanley.

City Council will vote on the matter when it meets May 6.

Built in 1983 and once home to a BI-LO grocery store, Lanier Plaza today is home to the Lanier Laundromat, Sun Spa, United Custom Electronix, El Sombrero Mexican restaurant and Bodyplex Fitness.

Polestar LLC, a subsidiary of Tennessee-based developer Hutton, plans to demolish the existing shopping center and replace it with a 42,000-square-foot grocery store and an accompanying 12-pump fueling station. The developer is not acquiring the freestanding building on the property that Blockbuster once occupied.

Part of the shopping center had been zoned for residential use, and city planning staff recommended rezoning it to regional business, thereby cleaning up the boundaries of the property and having it conform to current commercial uses.  Polestar needs the rezoning to be approved before it can proceed with purchasing and redeveloping the property.

But dozens of Gainesville residents, including the owners of several businesses currently operating in the shopping center, turned out at the planning board meeting to express their opposition to the proposed redevelopment.

“We don’t have any intention to go anywhere,” said Abb Hayes, an attorney representing the owners of El Sombrero Mexican restaurant.  

Hayes said the restaurant has paid its lease through the end of the year, and that an additional six years remain on the lease contract.

“We don’t think there’s any basis for kicking us out,” he added.   

Jeff Rosetti of United Custom Electronix said opposition to the redevelopment from existing business owners might have been mitigated had the property owner, Lee Najjar, better communicated his intentions to sell the shopping center.

Instead, Rosetti said, “strong-arm” tactics were used to try to evict current commercial tenants prior to their leases expiring.

Meanwhile, Jim Froehlich said he is concerned that redeveloping the shopping center will have a negative impact on the city, particularly with regard to traffic.  He lives 1 mile from Lanier Plaza and attends the nearby Westminster Presbyterian Church.

“(Gainesville is) still one of those places with a small-town feel, and we like that,” Froehlich said.

According to a traffic study performed in late March, the redevelopment would generate 6,627 daily two-way trips along Thompson Bridge Road.

Froehlich also addressed what the developers acknowledged as the elephant in the room — speculation about what company would operate the grocery store.  

“What is the name of this store?” he asked, receiving an outburst of applause from attendees. “I’ve heard the name Wal-Mart attached to this store. If that’s true, would you want a Wal-Mart next to your church ... a mile from your house?”

Matt Phillips, Hutton’s vice president of real estate, said he could not divulge his client until a lease is signed, and that negotiations are ongoing. He added there is no guarantee the redevelopment will happen even if the rezoning is approved.

Several residents also expressed concerns the redevelopment did not coincide with the city’s 2030 comprehensive plan, which identifies the need for small businesses to anchor the community, as well as the fact several grocery stores are already operating along Thompson Bridge Road.  

Vanessa Hyatt said the plan was being ignored.

“It seems small businesses are going to be kicked to the curb in favor of a large business,” she added.  “We love Gainesville. We want small businesses (at Lanier Plaza).”

Planning board members Stanley, Dean Dadisman, Jane Fleming, and Connie Rucker voted against the rezoning, while John Snyder and Doyle Johnson voted in favor. George Hokayem recused himself.

“Progress requires change, and change can be hard,” Snyder said, adding he believed Lanier Plaza needs a makeover after 30 years.

But several planning board members said they didn’t feel comfortable approving the rezoning because there were still too many unknowns about the project, including what company would operate the grocery store.

Gainesville planning staff had recommended approval of the project with several conditions, including setbacks and buffers to limit impact on nearby residential and multifamily properties; limiting the building footprint to 50,000 square feet; prohibiting an automotive paint and body repair shop on the property; and requiring any traffic improvements to be paid for by the developer.

Phillips said the planning board’s recommendation to deny the rezoning would not impact negotiations with a grocery store tenant, adding he will make his case for the redevelopment before the City Council when it meets May 6 to vote on the matter.


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