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Lakeshore Heights fights developer
Residents worry about effects of planned shopping center
A 25-acre area just off Lakeshore Drive in Lakeshore Heights subdivision is where a proposed development will be built. - photo by Tom Reed

Gainesville City Council meeting

What: Meeting on proposed retail development

When: 5:30 p.m. today

Where: Municipal courtroom at the public safety complex, 701 Queen City Parkway, Gainesville

More info: 770-535-6862

Wendy Martin is worried that a proposed 246,000-square-foot shopping center on Dawsonville Highway will destroy the neighborhood she’s lived in almost her whole life.

The Gainesville City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and take the first of two votes that will determine whether a developer can build a commercial retail center that abuts the Lakeshore Heights subdivision off Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway.

The developer and other supporters said the project will add hundreds of jobs to the city and increase the local tax base.

Those who oppose the development, including many Lakeshore Heights residents, said it will ruin property values, increase crime and force homeowners to leave.

“This is my neighborhood,” Martin said. “I’ve grown up here; I’ve lived here all my life; I love this neighborhood.”

Martin’s backyard is a forest of majestic trees, giving the impression of a nature refuge far from civilization. It’s also one of 13 properties that would adjoin a 25-acre retail center that’s under consideration by the City Council.

A detention pond is planned on the other side of her fence if the rezoning is approved. City officials have imposed several conditions on developer Barry Conner of America’s Home Place Inc., including landscaping the detention ponds, three staggered rows of evergreen trees between the rear of the buildings and the adjacent subdivision and an 8-foot high black vinyl-coated security fence in the back. The neighborhood also borders Lake Lanier.

The planned shopping center would be larger than the Village Shoppes of Gainesville, which is 21 acres and has several national retailers, including Marshalls, Old Navy and Publix. The location is across from recently built restaurants Olive Garden, Cheddar’s Casual Cafe and Buffalo Wild Wings. The development was approved 6-1 by the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board meeting Feb. 12. The project is expected to create 500 direct jobs.

The developers have said that companies are interested in Phase I and Phase II of the project.

Ondrea Taffar moved into the house she lives in now in Lakeshore Heights on July Fourth weekend in 1976. She raised her family in that house on Westlake Drive. Her daughter, Connie Reeves, went to Gainesville High School and worked at the mall. It was a great place to grow up — quiet and secure, Reeves said.

“The neighborhood’s the best you could have,” Taffar said.

The subdivision saw early development in the 1950s and 1960s and has “remained undisturbed,” said city planning documents, but the Gateway corridor is expected to become an area of regional commercial development. Martin lived in her parent’s house on Lakeshore Circle before she and her husband, Robin, sold the house in the neighborhood and bought their current house, which was built by her husband’s great-uncle, on Lakeshore Drive three years ago. They have discussed selling.

“We really thought that this would be our home for the rest of our lives,” Wendy Martin said.

Robin Martin spoke at the planning board meeting and said the detention pond will be right above his backyard and will run into his backyard when it’s filled. Wendy Martin said she will speak against the project at the City Council meeting.

Gainesville City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. in the municipal courtroom at the public safety complex off Queen City Parkway in Gainesville.