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Gainesville City Council OKs Lanier Plaza redevelopment

POSTED: May 7, 2014 12:00 a.m.

Despite a planning commission vote a few weeks ago, protests from residents in recent days and speeches Tuesday night from taxpayers in opposition, Gainesville City Council approved a rezoning request that will allow redevelopment of the Lanier Plaza shopping center on Thompson Bridge Road to proceed. 

“Irrespective of this development ... I think this zoning needs to be cleaned up,” Councilman Sam Couvillon said. 

A second reading and final approval will be made when the council meets May 20. 

Polestar LLC, a subsidiary of Tennessee-based developer Hutton, plans to demolish the existing shopping center and build a 42,000-square-foot grocery store and an accompanying 12-pump fueling station. 

Built in 1983, part of the shopping center had been zoned for residential use, perhaps as a buffer between the businesses operating there and the adjacent apartment complex and residential neighborhood. 

City planning staff, however, insisted the original zoning was a mistake, and council members repeatedly said they were voting only on whether to clean up the zoning boundaries so the property “conforms” with existing uses. 

“That’s all we’re here to do,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said. 

But the fact remains that Polestar needed the rezoning to be approved before it could proceed with purchasing and redeveloping the property. Otherwise, the deal would be off. 

And that deal stands to be a lucrative one if the developer’s calculations are true. 

Steve Gilliam, a Gainesville attorney representing Polestar, said the redevelopment would have a $10 million to $12 million economic impact on the city. 

“It’s common sense as to what you should do,” Gilliam told the council. 

For weeks, residents have objected to plans to redevelop Lanier Plaza, citing concerns about the impact it would have on traffic, property values and quality of life. 

Those concerns resonated with the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board, which voted 4-2 on April 22 to recommend denial of the rezoning. 

Moreover, residents united with business owners in the shopping center — which houses the Lanier Laundromat, Sun Spa, United Custom Electronix, El Sombrero Mexican restaurant and Bodyplex Fitness — to rally community opposition. 

“We have no intentions of going anywhere,” said Abb Hayes, an attorney representing the owners of El Sombrero. 

Hayes said the restaurant still has a lease signed through the end of the year and options to renew going forward. He decried assertions from the developer that the tenants’ rights should be decided in court, adding the restaurant owners would not bow to such “threats.” 

But on Tuesday, the basis for opposition seemed to have shifted as residents became aware they were losing the fight despite having numbers on their side. 

Several dozen residents announced their presence when asked by city officials to stand if they were in opposition to the rezoning. No one other than the developers spoke in favor of the matter. 

Residents began questioning the integrity of the process, expressing skepticism about why the rezoning was “fast-tracked” by the city and asking whether the council was more interested in tax dollars or the welfare of the community. 

“Who is this good for?” Everett Roseberry asked rhetorically. 

In addition, residents repeated their desire to know who the owner of the grocery store will be. Speculation has been rampant that Wal-Mart is moving in, but developers once again said they could not disclose their client. 

Councilwoman Ruth Bruner, however, let the proverbial cat out of the bag when she repeatedly referred to the proposed grocery store as the “marketplace,” a reference to a Wal-Mart-owned business. 

The council voted 4-0 to approve the rezoning, with Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras absent from the proceedings.


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