MPCA Urges Caution Regarding Development Plans for Olympic Tennis Site
While we have no proof, rumor has it that Costco is interested in building a 3rd store in Gwinnett County, on Highway 78. Gwinnett County (with Fuqua Development) has submitted an application to rezone the site of the Olympic tennis courts for a huge retail building & parking lot, as well as a 12-dispenser gas station. This, along with the neighboring parking lot, currently owned by the self-storage business in the former Target, would be used for 3 fast-food “restaurants” and an apartment complex. The site of the Olympic venue has 1700 linear feet of highway frontage and an up-close view of Stone Mountain. The Mountain Park Community Association has posted information about the project, as well as alternative concepts for this high-visibility location. Based on community comments to MPCA’s posts, a majority would like a Costco located nearby, but many voiced concerns about how the substantial increase in traffic would affect their quality of life. Many commented that we would be better served if it was located a few blocks away, on the old Cub Foods property, which is undeniably in need of revitalization.
It should be noted that wherever Costco ends up, the tax revenue generated would be substantial, but Gwinnett County has not committed to reinvesting those tax dollars in the local community.
The Planning Commission tabled the case until 6/6/23, to give the applicant and developer time to address concerns raised at the hearing. The case will move to the Board of Commissioners for a final vote two weeks after that. The May 2nd hearing was recorded for public record: http://ec4.cc/em6a82ef7 is a link to Case Number RZC2023-00008.
Background & Notes on the 5/2/2023 Planning Commission hearing of case number RZC2023-00008
In 2016, Gwinnett County acquired the crumbling Olympic tennis venue in a land-swap deal with Dekalb County, effectively moving the County line to the back fence of the Stone Mountain Golf Course. The plan, first proposed by the previous County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, was to use the well-located & highly visible property to create a landmark “Gateway to Southern Gwinnett”, easily seen from Highway 78 upon entering or leaving the County. The vision included walkability, boutique dining & shopping, as well as housing, Greenspace, and a spectacular view of Stone Mountain.
In 2019, after allocating funds (the wheels of government turn slowly), the decaying stadium and tennis courts were demolished and the land cleared in anticipation of future construction. The project went out for bid (in the usual way) in the summer of that same year. Fuqua Development was awarded the assignment of creating an exciting and modern “live-work-eat-shop-play” mixed-use development as a catalyst for revitalizing the aging commercial area located in the Evermore CID on Highway 78. The contract with Fuqua placed the project under a strict non-disclosure agreement, keeping everyone from the County Commissioners themselves to the local citizenry in the dark on Fuqua’s plan for this site. It is unclear why it was done this way. When Case Number RZC2023-00008 was put before the County Planning Department, the proposal looked nothing like Charlotte Nash’s original vision of a Gateway landmark. And, even though Mr. Jeff Fuqua personally argued the project’s merits at both a public information meeting at the Mountain Park Aquatic Center and at the recent 5/2/23 Planning Commission meeting, it was Gwinnett County listed as the official applicant, not Fuqua Development.
Under the non-disclosure agreement the tenants remain unnamed, but connections knowledgeable about such things say the largest tenant will be Costco, with a 12-dispenser gas station (to accommodate 24 vehicles), as well at 3 individual fast-food “restaurants” with drive-thru lanes. These include Whataburger and a “drive-thru only” Chick-fil-A. (Yes there is already a Chick-fil-A nearby, but the Amazon warehouse down the street would likely provide enough hungry customers to make this second location a success. And the 2-lane drive-thru shown in the plan is designed to handle high volume.) Additionally, Fuqua Development’s plan includes 255 apartment units and a one acre Greenspace which would be built in front of the former Target, on land currently paved as a parking lot. The view of Stone Mountain was not considered in the layout. Neither was the view from Highway 78. This differs significantly from the concept originally put out to bid by the County. The site plan and graphic renderings of the buildings can be viewed in the Agenda Packet (see link at end of this article).
Among Mr. Fuqua’s arguments for why a huge retailer and fast-food “restaurants” are the “highest & best use” the community “can ever expect” for this property is his assertion that it is “blighted” because it has been unused for 27 years (since the 1996 Olympics) and it sits next door to a former Target (which is now a self-storage business). He also asserts (incredibly, since it has 1/3 mile of frontage on Highway 78) that it’s a low visibility property and that, in spite of being well connected, he was unable to get any other tenants interested in the project. Even though Mr. Fuqua claimed to have worked on this project for 3 years, and to have generated over 100 site-plans, he told the Planning Commission that tabling (delaying) the proposal would be a deal-breaker. It’s hard to believe that after 3 years he, or his prospective tenants, would abandon a project merely because the decision process took an additional month.
Regarding the value of the site of the former Olympic venue; this property is neither blighted nor low visibility. There are plenty of properties nearby that have been long vacant or underutilized (we can name those another time). Mr Fuqua’s logic seems a stretch (perhaps a high-pressure sales tactic) since none of us consider a vacant property, including a parcel left forested for generations, to be blighted simply because it isn’t being utilized. This property is in great shape: it has no known soil contamination, it has already been cleared & graded, making it construction ready, and it has an up-close view of Stone Mountain. Additionally it has nearly 1700 linear feet of highway frontage (~1/3 mile) visible from Highway 78. (The visibility alone makes this property very valuable!) It is true that trees currently block the highway view of the property and of Stone Mountain; however we all know that trees can be thinned or removed. There is no way to verify the claim of “100 site-plans”. But we can all agree that once Costco voiced an interest in the location, the developer had no reason to continue looking for a tenant.
Besides the convenience of having a Costco right up the street (assuming it is a Costco), our community members might want to weigh the trade-offs before lobbying their commissioner to approve the deal; the most obvious down-side is a significant increase in traffic, 7 days a week. It is estimated that the Costco alone will increase local traffic volume by well over 20,000 vehicles per day. Since the property can only be accessed via a single road (West Park Place Blvd), a large percentage of those 20,000 vehicles will be funneled onto Highway 78 or Rockbridge Road at the Hwy 78-overpass. (This is in addition to traffic the nearby Amazon warehouse has already added. Nor does this estimate include traffic generated by the proposed 3 “restaurants” and 255 apartment units.) According to often-cited statistics on existing traffic near this intersection, Highway 78 currently has a daily vehicle load of over 90,000. Adding most of the additional 20,000 vehicles to this number brings local traffic within 90% of the volume seen on I-85 (according to numbers sited at the Planning Commission meeting). If we were to choose an ideal location for something as big as a Costco, perhaps a location with access from multiple roads would be preferable. The long vacant Cub Foods would be a good location since it has access to more than one street and sits on a very large site, some of it still undeveloped.
Regarding the May 2nd meeting, the Planning Commission tabled the case, giving the applicant (the County) and the developer (Fuqua) time to address concerns listed by the commissioners. The case will come up again at the June 6th meeting, and then proceed to the Board of Commissioners meeting 2 weeks later. Since both the proponents and opponents used their allotted 10 minutes per side, there will be no additional public comment at the June 6th meeting. Both the Planning Commissioners and the County Commissioners are always willing to take your comments via email.
Some concerns named by the Planning Commission included:
The plans show the large retail space (Costco) as situated so that the view from Hwy 78 would be the back of a very large warehouse and a huge expanse of pavement. This is a far cry from the first-impression Charlotte Nash envisioned!
The submitted plan did not provide an adequate number of parking spaces for the 255 residential apartment units. The plan was short 81 spaces.
Neither the apartments nor the 1 acre Greenspace had a view of Stone Mountain, and both were situated between commercial buildings.
One planning commissioner pointed out that over $1million was going to be spent on removing asphalt in front of the old Target in order to build a Greenspace, while the existing Greenspace, which has a view of Stone Mountain, was going to be paved over.
Traffic, including mixing semi trucks with passenger vehicles, would share a very short driveway.
A commissioner pointed out that a turning semi truck takes up the space of 5 cars… and the plans show there is very little room to maneuver from the exits.
There were other points. The hearing was recorded and is available at http://ec4.cc/em6a82ef7
Here are some questions the community might want to ask the Board of Commissioners before they meet in June:
Will the substantial tax revenue generated by a Costco be reinvested in this community?
Will it be used to revitalize the surrounding commercial area?
If not all of the tax revenue will stay in Southwest Gwinnett, what portion will be reinvested here?
What happens to the property if Costco backs out of the deal?”
Will Fuqua Development own it?
Would the community have any right to provide input on future proposals?
Why were the Community and the Board of Commissioners excluded from the planning process used to decide how to best use this property?
Why did this contract with Fuqua Development contain a “non-disclosure” agreement?
Why was the official applicant listed as Gwinnett County and not Fuqua Development?
More information on case number RZC2023-00008 and the 05/02/2023 Planning Commission meeting is available:
To watch the recording of the hearing before the Planning Commission, use this link http://ec4.cc/em6a82ef7 (in the box that says “Jump to Index Point”, choose “OK”. This will take you to the beginning of this particular case.)
Major Renovation Proposal
Major construction is coming to the old self-storage facility at Five Forks Trickum & Killian Hill Rd. This is happening just months before we begin our LCI grant-funded efforts to create a Master Plan for Mountain Park's future look and feel. (The Atlanta Regional Commission awarded an LCI grant to create a Master Plan, including commercial overlay zoning, allowing the people in Mountain Park direct influence over what our community will look like in the future). The proposal is a vast improvement over what is there now, which has been an eyesore for many years. Since the proposal requires modifications to existing zoning, Gwinnett Planning arrange a meeting between MPCA and the developer to discuss community concerns. Since the new owners will operate the self-storage business, they have an interest in being welcomed into the community. Still, it would have been nice to have this happen six months from now, so residents of our community would have input to influence the exterior architecture… and take the first steps toward a cohesive look and feel for our Mountain Park community.
Proposed Change in Conditions: “Modify commercial density and building height conditions to allow redevelopment of existing buildings”. The new building would be 2 stories on road frontage and 3 stories (called a basement) on the back. Click here for more information on these changes.
This will go before the Planning Commission on April 11th to make recommendation to the Board of Commissioners, who will make a decision based on recommendations. The public is welcome to attend both of these meetings.
MPCA is providing design ideas to the owners based on community feedback, especially related to how it looks from the street, based on feedback from community members on various social media platforms. This does not mean these ideas will be acted upon! The Mountain Park Community Association is working towards facilitating direct community involvement on projects like this, but that won't happen until a Master Plan is created under the LCI Grant. Right now we have no real say in what goes here, especially since this site is already zoned for a Self-Storage facility. The applicant is asking for a zoning variance (it is already zoned for the current & proposed use and will not change). If you would like to provide input in the future on similar projects, we recommend you get involved NOW to influence the future of our great Mountain Parks community!
Want to get involved?
First Step: Sign up for the Mountain Park Community Association email list to receive notifications of future events, activities, etc. that will directly impact your everyday life!
Second Step: Fill out the "Revitalization" Survey to help advocate for the future of Mountain Park Community!
Third Step: Follow us on social media!