Mike Miller used the word “blight” in recalling the state of homes in downtown Flowery Branch when he was running for City Council in 2009.
“You’d be lucky to get $40,000 for most of the houses down here at that point, and now on Mitchell Street, you have houses selling for close to a half-million,” said Miller, who is stepping down as mayor after 10 years at the end of 2021.
After years of housing growth take place around the edges of downtown and extending outward to such subdivisions as Sterling on the Lake, rooftops are emerging in the downtown area, or the historic district surrounding Main Street that locals refer to as “Old Town.”
“It’s what we wanted,” Miller said of the recent trend.
He believes the city’s decision to keep City Hall downtown, moving to a new building on West Pine Street in 2018, was instrumental, and that it helped turn developers' attention to downtown.
Miller said developers told the city “that before they’re going to put their money and skin into this area, (the city) has got to do it.”
Flowery Branch is a city people are suddenly discovering, said Chris Hill, who is developing 19 townhomes off Main Street and four of the dozen or so stately homes being built off Mitchell Street.
“It’s got the marina, cool little shops, and there’s more to come,” he said. “People really enjoy the walkability. (The city) has a lot of charm to it.”
Hill’s townhomes could be priced from the high $300,000 to low $400,000, and his Mitchell Street properties — 3,200-square-foot homes with 10-foot ceilings, shiplap and upgraded beams in the family room — will run in the low $600,000s.
“The people we talk to are all moving out of Gwinnett (County). They’re getting on McEver (Road) and heading north,” Hill said. “The cool thing about Mitchell Street is you get into your golf cart, ride to the marina and be on the water in five minutes.”
Also downtown is a new building with retail space on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. The apartments are tied to The Crest at Flowery Branch complex on Phil Niekro Boulevard.
And just approved Thursday, Nov. 18, are 14 townhomes off Church Street between Main and Martin streets.
Morgan Brick of South Hall LLC doesn’t have a price range yet for the townhomes, saying “they will be in line with market conditions and other like properties in the area.”
“I have owned this property for years and am excited to be able to contribute to the overall growth plan in conjunction with the incredible new farmers market,” he said.
Brick is involved with Flowery Branch in a land swap to help enable a new farmer’s market off Railroad Avenue.
He said he believes his “homes will provide a gateway to Main Street and connectivity to downtown business. We hope to start building right after approvals are given.”
The growth has drawn pushback from some residents, who have spoken at City Council meetings with concerns about density and other matters.
Miller said he believes the housing trend needs to continue if the city expects to draw more businesses downtown. “Those businesses aren’t going to locate here until they have the rooftops to support them,” he said.
Rich Atkinson, the city’s director of planning and community development, agrees with that sentiment.
“New single-family homes, townhomes, remodels and infills are all needed. As restaurant/retail and parks begin to come online, the folks living downtown will have plenty to enjoy,” he said.