GAINESVILLE — An army of Seasons on Lake Lanier residents won their first battle against an Atlanta developer who has proposed building a gas station next to their upscale subdivision.
Gainesville’s Planning and Appeals Board voted not to recommend Easlan Capital of Atlanta Inc.’s request to rezone 10 acres of the planned development to build a retail shopping center and a Race Trac gas station Tuesday.
The vote came after more than 60 residents of the 55 and older community attended the meeting with concerns that they would not be getting the subdivision they were sold.
The future of the Browns Bridge Road development has been uncertain ever since its developer, Levitt and Sons, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November, halting construction and leaving homes unfinished.
Easlan Capital of Atlanta is currently acquiring the property in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and had proposed to amend the planned unit development zoning, which does not allow for gas stations, to allow for a gas station and smaller retail space than had originally been planned.
Wes Robinson presented the proposal to the planning board on behalf of the Atlanta developer, and said the original plans for an 80,000-square-foot retail facility on the planned development are just not feasible. Robinson said the only way to develop the property would be to cut the amount of retail space by half, and promised that the proposed Race Trac gas station would be aesthetically pleasing.
"If you’ve been out to the site, the topography on the site simply will not support an 80,000-square-foot retail," Robinson said. "The topography’s just too rough and there are two large Georgia Transmission power line easements that traverse the property."
Yet, John Snyder, president of the Seasons on Lake Lanier who spoke on behalf of the residents of the subdivision, said the gas station may be nice, but it was not what the residents paid for when they purchased homes in Seasons.
"It was to be upscale retail stores, nice restaurants — that’s what we expected, that’s what we bought into," Snyder said.
When the residents bought homes in Seasons, they expected a pedestrian-friendly planned unit development that did not allow auto-related businesses, Snyder said.
"Easlan calls it ‘Seasons Promenade’ ... can you imagine promenading around a Race Trac at go-home time?" Snyder asked. "It’s not very pedestrian friendly."
Snyder asked the board not to change the planned unit development designation that the City Council had established for the property two years ago.
"What we want out of this is what we originally thought we were getting," Snyder said. "We paid for the vision that you had, and the City Council had; we bought into that same vision, and that’s what we want."
As Snyder addressed the board, more than 60 people stood at their chairs behind him, while Robinson took notes and shook his head in response to some of Snyder’s comments about how Easlan’s request would bring low-end retail such as title companies and nail salons.
In his rebuttal, Robinson said he sympathized with the Seasons residents, but promised the development would have a high-end look.
"This development is going to be a high-end development ... this is not your typical Race Trac, not your typical gas station," said Robinson. "The rest of the development is also going to be a high-end look."
Before making their recommendation, board members quizzed the developers on the flexibility of their plans.
Board member Joe Diaz asked if the developers had considered other development options for the area besides a gas station.
"I’m not so sure what could be put there other than what we’ve laid out ... this is about the 12th site plan that we’ve come up with," said Jesse Shannon, a representative of Easlan. "I do believe that we’ve come up with the best site plan given the challenges of this particular site."
Board Chairman Dean Dadisman asked why Easlan could not cut the gas station from its development plans since it seemed to pose the biggest problem with the Seasons residents.
"If its not Race Trac, then it’s going to be a use that was approved under neighborhood business, and I have a feeling if we took a poll over what use everybody wanted to see on that corner we would get a different answer from everybody," Shannon said. "If that’s not there, we may end up with a fast-food user."
Diaz made a motion to not recommend the request, because he said the board should stand by its original plans for the development. His motion was seconded by board member Floyd Baldwin.
Without waiting for the board to vote on the motion, the Seasons residents began applauding what they predicted was the board’s next move.
They were quickly silenced by Dadisman, and the board voted, not quite unanimously, to not recommend the proposal.
Board member Doyle Johnson raised his hand as the only member who voted to recommend the request.
After the meeting, Johnson explained his vote, agreeing with the developers that there was not much else that could be done with the property and that a gas station would not increase traffic in the area or keep high-end development from coming to Seasons on Lanier.
"I thought it was a reasonable proposal is the bottom line," Johnson said. "I’m very sympathetic to the homeowners. I mean, they’re mad as wet hornets that their place got bankrupted."
The planning board’s vote on the zoning amendment is only a recommendation, and the Gainesville City Council will make the final decision at its first meeting April 1.