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Gainesville City Council gives final OK to Lanier Plaza redevelopment
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Mercy Housing Southeast has withdrawn its application to rezone several properties at Queen City Parkway and Banks Street, across from the city’s Public Safety Complex.

Mercy had planned to develop a 94,000-square-foot, 90-unit apartment complex on the 2.2-acre site, which consists of 11 parcels, including housing rental units, accessory buildings and a metal warehouse used as a church.

But Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said Mercy could not reach an agreement on the sale of the property and promptly backed out of the project.

The Gainesville City Council had given initial approval to the rezoning earlier this month.

Joshua Silavent

The Gainesville City Council gave the last word Tuesday on controversial plans to redevelop the Lanier Plaza shopping center on Thompson Bridge Road.

By a 4-1 vote, the council approved a rezoning of the shopping center and sent a few dozen residents exiting the municipal courtroom in disappointment after their protracted efforts to stop the redevelopment from proceeding failed.

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.

Part of the shopping center, built in 1983, had been zoned for residential use, something city planning officials called a mistake. They added that a rezoning, necessary for the redevelopment to proceed as proposed, would make the property conform to its intended commercial use.

Residents turned out at a spirited council meeting earlier this month and a planning board meeting in April to voice their concerns with the proposed redevelopment. They even held protests at the shopping center and worked with business owners there to fight the project.

Quality of life issues, such as traffic and environmental impacts, the eviction of small businesses in the shopping center, and the prospect of declining property values, were among the many issues cited.

Several residents speaking before the council Tuesday also questioned whether the redevelopment coincides with the city’s comprehensive plan.

They asked the council repeatedly to table the matter, give it some time or scrap it altogether.

But much of the opposition from residents centered on speculation Wal-Mart is behind the redevelopment. Many of those in attendance Tuesday said they could not support the big-box retailer.

“Over and over again neighborhoods along Thompson Bridge Road have joined together in a resounding ‘no thanks’ to Wal-Mart barging in,” said Linda Roseberry, a Gainesville resident who lives in a neighborhood adjacent to Lanier Plaza.

Polestar has not confirmed or denied Wal-Mart will be the tenant, with representatives saying negotiations are ongoing.

Residents also questioned the integrity of the process, accusing the council of shoving the redevelopment down their throats while blithely dismissing their concerns.

“To say this is only about rezoning is disingenuous and it insults the intelligence of this community,” Roseberry said. “You cannot divorce this development from rezoning.”

Councilman Sam Couvillon said whether the matter boiled down to a simple rezoning was irrelevant.

“In all honesty, I don’t like Wal-Mart,” he added. “But we as a council do not regulate commerce.”

Resident Bill Brooksher said the council’s support of the redevelopment had hurt its image and standing among the community.

Councilman George Wangemann, acknowledging the ill feelings the project had stirred up, asked the developer to be sensitive and do more to alleviate residents’ concerns.

Councilman Bob Hamrick cast the lone dissent, reversing his earlier support after saying he had received several calls from residents opposing the project, but not a single call expressing support.