The Gainesville City Council decided Tuesday that it's time for the Mundy Mill development to move forward.
Council members approved plans to allow developers to build apartments in 65 acres of the 605-development originally drawn as a "live, work, play" community along Mountain View and Old Oakwood roads.
Representatives for Butler Property LLC, which owns a portion of the Mundy Mill development, proposed the idea in December, which would also lower the minimum apartment square footage to 650 feet for some one-bedroom units.
Council members have been eager to give a spark to the development, but several residents have come to public hearings to talk against the zoning change.
"When the development was first proposed in 2004, I was opposed to it because of the scope and impact on the community and Lake Lanier," said Adam Shedd, an Oakwood resident and southern regional manager for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
"The site was cleared and left to erode. Though the recent barricades to control dumping has helped some, we're bearing the burden when we live around it."
Much has changed since the original plans in 2004 to build a "village in miniature" - 1,148 single-family homes, 578 townhomes, 460 apartments, an elementary school, recreational sites and hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial and office space, Shedd said.
"A lot of conditions have been relaxed, such as plans for greenspace and the order of construction to make it more palatable for development and in step with the times," Shedd said. "In the rush to make it better for the developers, we also need to maintain environmental quality. Are we doing the short-term expedient rather than what's really best for the community in the long haul? Are we headed to look like another Gwinnett County or Jimmy Carter Boulevard?"
In 2004, Robby Lanier annexed the 605 acres and borrowed millions from four banks. But after the housing bubble burst, bank after bank foreclosed on the properties between July to September 2009.
In December 2009, Butler Property acquired several developed but vacant lots and landed the largest chunk of property last September. Since then, the company started renovating the area and removing trash.
At the Jan. 4 public hearing, Dean Warnock and Kelvin Simmons, homeowners and neighbors in the nearby Maple Forge Subdivision, objected to the
proposal and feared the zoning amendment would hurt property values.
On Tuesday, council members unanimously approved the resolution, and Mayor Ruth Bruner noted that council members would keep an eye on quality once developers begin construction.
"We're very concerned about the environment and greenspace," she said. "We hope to have the project be as great as it may be and get it back on track. We appreciate everyone's comments."
Butler Property doesn't have current plans for construction, and council member Bob Hamrick suggested the council put a two-year limit on the ordinance.
"I'm wondering if we could make a condition that if nothing occurs within two years, the project comes back to us for review at that time," he said. "The whole premise of it being presented was because of economic conditions, and obviously we don't know what the economy will be like, but we can come back and modify it again to encourage development."
With developer Wendall Starke not at the meeting and not available Tuesday night, Butler Property's attorney Wes Robinson of Hulsey, Oliver & Mahar declined to agree to the condition, saying Starke wouldn't likely begin much development in two years.
"This ordinance gives a leeway to develop property, and it's still going to be what we approved in the past," said Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan. "I would like to stick to my original motion and pass this ordinance. As the developer, he's probably going to move on this as quick as he can."