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Zoning changes may revive Mundy Mill project
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Gainesville City Council meeting

What: Public hearing and first council vote on proposing zoning changes to the Mundy Mill development

When: 5:30 p.m. April 6

Where: Georgia Mountains Center, Gainesville

A number of changes that city officials say accommodate the Mundy Mill development’s rebirth are making their way to the Gainesville City Council.

The changes, proposed by the city of Gainesville, relax more than 10 of the zoning conditions on the 604-acre “live, work, play, shop and learn,” development to make the development more accessible to future buyers with the hopes that the majority of the development’s original intent can be preserved.

The City Council will have a chance to vote on the zoning changes at its April 6 meeting. A public hearing also will be held.

Since the master-planned development was approved in 2004, its original developer, REL Properties, has lost control of various sections of the development through foreclosure. The zoning conditions were written with one developer in mind and are difficult to apply now that the development has multiple owners, according to one real estate agent who has worked closely with the property.

“Mundy Mill was promised to be a crown jewel development in Hall County. The promise was made during the pinnacle of the (housing) market,” said Stephen Lovett of the Norton Agency, which has served as an unofficial consultant to the city on the proposed zoning changes. “... Today, the picture of Mundy Mill is far from that of a crown jewel development. Currently, the project is in a steady state of decline with extensive vandalism, dumping and overall neglect.”

The Norton Agency has worked with potential buyers of the various foreclosed sections of the development. Lovett told board members Tuesday that one potential buyer “ran for the hills” after speaking with city zoning officials about the zoning conditions on the development.

While some residents expressed worries that the changes would make their subdivisions more dense and less desirable, Lovett told board members Tuesday that the proposed zoning changes preserve the original vision for Mundy Mill, but also make buyers comfortable.

The proposed changes would allow for smaller homes and removes the requirement to build tennis courts, gazebos, grills and picnic tables. It would no longer require future developers to convert an old residence on the property into a clubhouse for residents. The proposal also removes requirements for developers to build a minimum of 350,000 square feet of commercial, retail or office space before the first apartment complex can be built.

The commercial requirements originally were adopted to alleviate concerns of the development’s impact on the school system.

A conflicted city Planning and Appeals Board voted Tuesday to recommend that the City Council approve the changes, including a request that gives the Gainesville school board more time to build an elementary school in the development.

At issue was whether to approve a request from the Gainesville Board of Education Chairman David Syfan to include in the changes an amendment that gives the school system until 2017 to build the elementary school there.

Originally, plans called for the developer to dedicate a 17-acre site to the city school system to build an elementary school. Current zoning conditions call for the school board to have the school under construction by 2012. But as enrollment growth has slowed, city schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the system probably won’t need it until 2015 or 2016.

But now it is possible that another developer could be in control of the property that was originally dedicated to the school.

While the board’s vice chairman, Joe Diaz, urged board members to include the school board’s request, Chairman Dean Dadisman said the issue should be voted on at a later time.

Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said granting the school board’s request may have legal implications. Still, three board members — Diaz, Dexter Stanley and Connie Rucker — voted in favor of the zoning changes, including the school board’s request. Dadisman and board member Doyle Johnson voted against the motion. Board member George Hokayem was not present at the meeting and Jane Fleming recused herself from the discussion.

“I think (the school is) a great amenity, central to the development ... but what are the legal ramifications? I can’t answer that right now,” Ligon said.

The issue of the school likely will have to be worked out between the city school board and the owner-developer — whoever that might be, Dyer said.

“In the agreement, as far as the school is concerned, the land that the school has in the plan was linked to the owner-developer, which is Robby Lanier,” Dyer said. “What our purpose was (Tuesday) was to be sure that any zoning changes still keeps us as part of the consideration, because the land still is zoned for a school. But we are aware that the city does not own that land, that Robby Lanier owns that land right now, and then, should he default, it would go to Regions Bank.”

Coming to terms with the owner-developer on the school site would be vital to keeping Gainesville taxpayers from the burden of buying the land. The school system already has plans drawn for the site and mitigated environmental conditions, Dyer said.

But school officials don’t expect city officials to take on that responsibility, Dyer said.

“The city really can’t play a role in determining that, and we understood that before we went (Tuesday) night,” Dyer said. “We just want to be a presence in every decision that’s made there. We think it’s in the interest of all of the city for us to be a presence there.”