A developer’s plans for a 246,000-square-foot shopping center on Dawsonville Highway took a major step forward Tuesday night.
Over the objections of neighboring residents, Gainesville City Council unanimously gave its first OK to America’s Home Place’s request to rezone the site to general business from residential and office/institutional.
A final vote by the council is set for March 19.
The 25-acre site is across from Beechwood Boulevard, where three restaurants are clustered on property also owned by America’s Home Place, and is next to Ahaluna Drive.
The site is also behind Lakeshore Heights subdivision, a decades-old community that stretches between Ahaluna and John Morrow Parkway near Lakeshore Mall.
Residents filled half of the city’s Public Safety Complex on Queen City Parkway, where council meetings are held, with several voicing loud and sometimes passionate objections to the development plans.
“Let’s be realistic. This is too big for the property,” said Lynda Hawkins, pounding a lectern as she spoke to the council.
Other residents asked council to “revise and resize” proposed plans.
Rachel Bembry said the development, which would be about 200 feet from her house, “threatens my quality of life, investment, family and community.”
A vote in favor of the rezoning “is telling residents that their quality of life are not important,” Bembry told the council. “My future is in your hands.”
Jim Walters, attorney for America’s Home Place, the shopping center’s developer, appealed to the council for approval based on several factors, including that it would create 500 jobs.
“This development will be a cash generator for the city of Gainesville, and most of that would go the city school system, which desperately needs it,” he said.
The shopping center already has drawn considerable interest from prospective businesses, Walters said.
“These retailers are going to (go) somewhere ... and we’ve got the development so they can come to Gainesville,” he said.
Councilwoman Ruth Bruner made the motion to approve the rezoning.
“It’s a very hard decision, but I think we have to get the best development that we can,” she said. “I wish it were not so close to the homes — that’s my major problem with it.”
Councilman George Wangemann said he believes “the developer has put a lot of protections (in place) ... that will help the neighborhood.
“I think the key to these protections is going to be accountability, and ... that’s going to take our staff to constantly look at that (site). And if there are some problems, we want the neighbors to mention those.”
Residents spilled out of the meeting room after the vote but milled in a lobby area for several minutes, buzzing about what just happened.
Bill Williams, one of the speakers, said he didn’t see any need to return for the final vote.
“I’m really disappointed the City Council didn’t at least (postpone the vote) for more research,” he said.
Williams also said he believed voters would remember the council’s vote at the ballot box.
“We don’t need people like that representing us in Gainesville,” he said.