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Concerns mount over proposed Virginia Circle development
Public hearing set for proposed restaurant, retail outlet
Thompson Bridge map

Gainesville planning staff has expressed concerns about a drive-thru restaurant and small retail outlet proposed for the intersection of Thompson Bridge Road and Virginia Circle ahead of a public hearing next month.

David Johnson, a local cardiovascular doctor, is asking the city to rezone three properties, two of which have homes on the lots, at the intersection from residential development to neighborhood business.

But Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said a proposal to have access to these commercial properties from Virginia Circle does not meet the city’s comprehensive plan.

Ligon added that the city planning department has “a lot of concern with any rezoning on Virginia Circle.”

An access point off Thompson Bridge, however, does not run afoul of the plan.

Ligon said the two properties facing this north-south thoroughfare are appropriate for offices, small shops and other light commercial activity.

The city mailed notices last week advising residents in the area of the proposed rezoning.

And some residents are already protesting the proposal, worried that traffic, environmental and quality of life impacts will be too costly.

Similar concerns have recently been expressed about other commercial development proposals along this portion of the Thompson Bridge corridor.

Ligon said the scale of the proposed drive-thru and retail buildings does not require a traffic study to determine how peak travel times at the intersection might increase.

A signal warrant analysis was done at the intersection when the nearby Lanier Plaza shopping center was proposed for redevelopment earlier this year, according to Ligon.

But Ligon said he does not believe a traffic signal is likely to be put in place there any time in the near future, though the final determination would be made by the Department of Transportation.

Ligon also said any development that proceeds at this location will have to meet stormwater runoff detention requirements.

Despite the concerns of some city officials, local residents remain leery of the proposal.

“There’s no way it fits,” said Connie Propes. “It’s just another one of these out-of-character things.”

Propes added that traffic and parking along Virginia Circle already are affected by events, such as Little League games, at the adjacent Roper Park.

Gainesville attorney Steve Gilliam, who represents Johnson, said his client purchased the property as an investment and that his proposal complements other small commercial properties in the area, such as a nearby BB&T Bank and law office.

The retail build-out of Johnson’s proposal exceeds 7,000 square feet.

Gilliam, however, could not confirm what businesses might be moving in if the proposed development takes off.

Any development is likely contingent on first receiving the necessary zoning and other government approvals.

Developers are routinely hesitant to discuss tenant negotiations before a deal is closed. Indeed, this was the case with the redevelopment of Lanier Plaza. Local residents objected to the redevelopment, in part, because of widespread speculation that Wal-Mart was moving in.

Only after the City Council approved the rezoning needed for the redevelopment to proceed was it announced that the residents were right in their assumptions.

But based on the proposed size of the drive-thru restaurant — 1,800 square feet — there appear to be two primary candidates for the Thompson Bridge/Virginia Circle location.

There is already a McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Subway, Dairy Queen, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut and Zaxby’s nearby, so these are unlikely contenders. There’s also a Wendy’s further north along Thompson Bridge. And KFC and Arby’s, for example, tend to have larger footprints.

It could be a Wing Stop, but the demand for such an establishment in this area appears to preclude it from the short list.

So what’s left? At this point, looking away from the major fast-food chains, a simple inquiry points to either Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. A Google search reveals these brands frequently occupy 1,800-square-foot standalone buildings, which corresponds with the development proposal.

These chains might also be the most appropriate fit for what remains, for now, a residential area.

And though this is speculative, residents are sure to press for an answer before any rezoning is approved — at least if Lanier Plaza serves as an example.

The Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board will take up the matter at its Nov. 11 meeting.

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