The Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a retail and restaurant development at the intersection of Lakeshore Drive and Dawsonville Highway.
The site, which is across the street from Lakeshore Mall, currently houses the Gainesville Masonic Lodge. The Masonic Lodge’s current building would be demolished, and they would relocate. The lot is next to the Lakeshore Heights subdivision.
Ron Farmer, the president of the Masonic Lodge, said the Lodge has been at its current location since 1962, but the group no longer needs that space, and he is in favor of the rezoning from residential to general business.
“Our membership has declined over the years, and we need to restructure to remain viable here in Gainesville,” Farmer said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Rock Baker of REB Land Development LLC, which is the applicant for the proposal, said Tuesday that Dawsonville Highway “truly is a commercial corridor.” Commercial development at the property would be a positive addition, he said.
“With the right type of landscaping, the right type of architecture, it will actually look better than what it does today,” Baker said.
Baker said developers have been in contact with the tire company Firestone, which has expressed interest in building a new store at the site. The city planning staff’s recommendations had included a condition prohibiting tire stores at the property, but the planning board voted Tuesday to amend conditions for the development to allow a tire store.
Pat Horgan, who lives in the nearby Lakeshore Heights subdivision, said he and his neighbors had concerns about traffic that commercial development may bring.
Cars turning onto Lakeshore Drive would have to immediately turn left to get into the development, and traffic may back up and become a hazard, Horgan said. Drivers also often make U-turns in the area to go the other direction on Dawsonville Highway and drive farther into Gainesville, he said.
Horgan said the type of business proposed at the site was also concerning. Fast food restaurants with drive-thrus attract a high volume of traffic, sometimes at night, he said. Offices that are only open during the daytime or other businesses such as banks would be better suited for that lot, he said. Other residents who spoke at the meeting agreed that lower-traffic businesses would have less of an impact.
“If there’s a lot of volume, there’s going to be problems. If there isn’t, there might not be,” Horgan said.
Horgan said many residents believe that if rezoning will occur anyway, REB Land Development is the right choice. However, he said residents hope the city will keep traffic and safety in mind.
“We’re realistic that the Masonic Lodge situation is unique, the residential solution may not be attractive, and commercial development may be inevitable,” he said. “We certainly want to have a voice if the city decides to go commercial.”
Clyde Morris attended the meeting on behalf of the Lake Lanier Association as the chairman of the sedimentation and erosion control committee. He said the association wanted to protect Longwood Cove. Morris said he had spoken with Baker about environmental concerns, and Baker had made a verbal commitment to sign a written pledge promising to take steps to protect the lake.
Michael Proulx, who lives in the neighborhood, said he had environmental concerns about the property in light of silt buildup he had seen after other commercial developments were constructed. Nearby commercial developments also attract noise that is disturbing to residents, he said.
“I just ask that the board seriously consider all the things people have said here because once that ground starts getting dug up, there’s sort of no going back from there,” Proulx said.
DeDe Forrester said she has lived in the neighborhood since she was in sixth grade and has seen the area go through many changes. Forrester said people often use the neighborhood as a shortcut, and adding to development in the area will only make the problem worse.
“I feel like our neighborhood is not as safe as it used to be,” she said.
The planning board’s recommendation will now go to the Gainesville City Council for a public hearing on Aug. 7.