NOTES ON 7/27/2021 BOC MEETING RE: Proposed Luxury Rental Community on Hwy 78
I attended Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners (BOC) public hearing (July 27, 2021) regarding the large Luxury Rental development proposed at 5141 Stone Mountain Highway near Chik-Fil-A. This has been the well-hidden location of a very large mobile home park for many years. (Almost all of the mobile homes are now gone and the residents relocated.) The property backs up to an existing residential subdivision in Mountain Park, and is flanked by commercial properties that face Hwy78. This summary is intended to be facts, with as little personal opinion as I can manage. I’m reporting things as I understand them, so please bear with me and forgive any mistakes I might make.
This proposal was the first item brought to the floor for discussion (after a proclamation was made to designate Gwinnett as a Purple Heart County and Recognizing National Purple Heart Day, and after giving the Commissioners the opportunity to name the agenda items they wanted to table for another meeting). Brand Properties, LLC presented the project as 2 separate proposals (which doubled the time they were allotted to speak). Eight 3-story apartment buildings are proposed for the front 15.6 acres closest to the highway (with 264 units). The back 33.99 acres site would contain 66 single-family detached homes and 147 townhomes. Each building type has dedicated parking, Greenspace, swimming pool, and club house. There are large park-like areas where the builder intends to leave the existing mature trees undisturbed. The buffer between the complex and the subdivision behind it has been increased to 75’, to preserve trees for the neighboring residents’ privacy. The speaker gave a good presentation of what was proposed, and I encourage you to watch this portion of the recorded meeting https://tinyurl.com/yr3a8n2c (see timestamp 0:40:30 to 1:41:54).
This would be a gated community of “Luxury Residence” apartments and homes, for rent only. The project is designed to provide "affordable housing" to a demographic consisting of "professionals" with income in the range of $80K-$100,000/year. Apartments would go for $1400 -$1900 monthly rent, while the Townhomes and Detached Homes (referred to as “T&D” by the presenter) would go for a monthly rent of $1900 to $2400. Building materials are currently set at “Category 4”, which is 75% stacked rock or brick. Design life is 50+-years. The property, including landscaping, will be managed by Brand Properties, for “institutional investors” for a long-term stable investment. (I’m just reporting what I heard.) Additionally, the developer has pledged $200K to the Gwinnett DOT to use for road improvements.
After the proposal was presented the commissioners had a lot of direct questions about the stability of the company: if they had plans to flip the property, could they guarantees they would not, how this business model would hold up under another Covid Pandemic-style economic collapse that could cause renters to default on their payment, etc. (The developer said their clientele has been financially stable and they did not see notable renter turn over at their other properties due to the pandemic.) My take away is that the commissioners are just as wary of the unforeseen ways this project could turn sour as the Mountain Park residents are. This model of luxury rental has not been the standard, but we were assured that it is the newest thing that provides a “quality product” to an existing market.
Three local residents presented their objections with well researched information. Traffic increase and safety issues, U-turns on Hwy 78, and the anticipated negative impact on overcrowded County schools (specifically Mountain Park Elementary) were the prime objection (which matches the comments I have seen online), as well as visual and property value issues for those living directly behind the project. The BOC said they cannot consider school and traffic concerns when making their decisions (good to know for future opposition) because those items fall under the jurisdiction of the School Board and Gwinnett DOT; it is these other Departments' job to provide education and transportation regardless of the number of incoming residents & students.
I had not intended to speak, as I am not necessarily “opposed” to the project (I attended the meeting to be informed), but I had been given a list of questions from the community that had not yet been answered. One thing I said was that the concerns of traffic and school issues are valid issues and it might be a good idea to invite both the School District and the DOT to address them. And while I was there, I confess, I addressed my own concerns: about how the failure of the project would leave the community with an eyesore, and my desire that the aesthetics of the buildings complement the community we are working toward revitalizing in the Mountain Park area (on Five Forks-Trickum at the intersections of Rockbridge and Killian Hill). The speaker had stated they’d met with “the community” to get input and concerns. Since I’d not seen any call for community participation on the Facebook groups or community websites I subscribe to, I said I could appreciate how difficult it would be to actually contact the entire community for input. I assured them this was understandable because not everyone is aware of the newly formed Mountain Park Community Association (MPCA), or of the great public outreach of Lilburn Life (LL). In time, I hope this failure to get input from the greater community will be rare, as the County wants to work with the MPCA exactly for these scenarios, and MPCA is networking with Lilburn Life. Between these 2 nonprofit organizations we can establish a go-to hub for community engagement and advocacy.
Both the community and the commissioners have concerns, yet there are regional economic reasons to seriously consider the proposal. The discussion ended when Commissioner Ben Ku asked that the decision be delayed until August 17th so more research could be done and questions answered. He suggested that a traffic impact study be conducted and pointed out that Hwy 78 has “intense commercial development” with businesses leaving the area because there aren’t enough residential units to support them. The proposed project could be a remedy for this declining commercial area, but they want to do everything possible to avoid failure. He invited the public to send questions and concerns directly to him at Ben.Ku@gwinnettcounty.com. (I suggest you put something in the subject line that will help his secretary recognize your email for what it is, such as “?Luxury Rental Development in MtnPark”… or whatever you like.) Please note there will be no more public input sessions, so I urge you to take his invitation as a sincere request for your participation. If you want to weigh in with questions, concerns, or input please contact our commissioner ASAP, as the issue is current and the final decision will be made within 2 weeks.
My own thoughts- I am always nervous to include my own thoughts, as I understand people have strong feelings, especially when change might affect their property values or quality of life. Please know I respect these different points of view. So again, please forgive me if my thoughts don’t take into account your concerns. It is unintentional.
Of special note, I’d thought the requirement of Category 4 (75% stacked stone or brick) would guarantee a better looking building… until I saw the conceptual drawings. The rendering with 75% brick was a monolithic-looking structure with little appeal (just a solid wall of brick), while the Category 3 (I think 65% stacked stone or brick) was visually more appealing to me. Also, the rendering with lighter colored brick was much more interesting & attractive to my eye than was the proposed dark red brick built exactly like it. Following my comments on this, the Commissioners were told that if the requirement of Category 4 was reduced to Category 3, there would be additional money to spend on making the grounds & ground-level more appealing, with rock features and higher grade trees and plantings. When I spoke to Commissioner Ku later he said they were going to stick with the Category 4 for now, since the design illustrations were most likely chosen to illicit the reaction I had. The developer has every incentive to make the end-product be as attractive as possible because they want to rent these units out at the stated high price-point. (And, I suppose, it is easier to compromise than ask for upgrades later.)
A few last thoughts for consideration: This property will be sold and something will be built there. This is an opportunity to think about what we want that “something” to be. (Personally, I would rather see people living there than a huge warehouse or storage facility that does nothing for community character.) While we do see individual homes rented out (and property fall into disrepair), well managed high-end rental complexes are not something this community is accustom to seeing. So, we may have outdated opinions of what this style of rental represents, especially high-priced rentals. Currently the Mountain Park area has a housing shortage, few single family detached homes are on the market, and those that do go up for sale are selling within days at several thousands of dollars (even 10’s of thousands of dollars) above the asking price. This is a great situation if you want to sell your house, or are counting on your home-value to finance long-term care (if you need it), but it doesn’t open up the area to the young families needed to keep our school system top-notch. And while home ownership has always been touted as the “American Dream”, it isn’t for everybody. (I’ve been told by a few of the millennials I’m fortunate enough to chat with that their demographic would prefer not to have a yard to maintain, as they value their free and family time too much to want to spend it mowing the lawn.) We also want to see new and upscale businesses such as specialty shops, non-chain restaurants and cafés locate here in Lilburn-Mountain Park. And what we have been told repeatedly, by people who understand commercial real estate, is that our community doesn’t have enough “rooftops” (meaning spending money) for most upscale & independent businesses to consider taking the risk of locating here.
A notion worth considering is that a concentration of people with enough money to rent luxury housing could very well translate into reviving the economy along our portion of Stone Mountain Highway and in the Lilburn-Mountain Park area. The attraction for the County & the local business community (Evermore CID) is that this area is declining and in need of a shot of adrenaline… an infusion of spending money. If people with an annual income of $80K-$100K (or more) actually do want to live at this location (and why wouldn’t they? 78 provides a direct route into Atlanta. I-285 provides access to the airport and everywhere else. There is shopping, medical facilities, and so much more. Stone Mountain is one of the premier parks of Georgia. And Mountain Park is a charming little community with parks, great schools and other amenities.)… if they do chose to live here in the shadow of Stone Mountain, then they will expect to have restaurants, pubs, theaters, and places to shop nearby. Things will change, surely, but there is a reasonable possibility that these new neighbors could bring renewal in their wake.
It is worth considering. Talk to your friends & neighbors. Contact your commissioner, Ben Ku. Have your say. Keep an open mind. (And as they say at Lilburn Life: “Keep it Kind”.) Without some concerted efforts by a large number of us living in the Lilburn-Mountain Park area, the charm of our community will continue to be erased as mature trees are felled for roads & subdivisions and old buildings are replaced piecemeal by individual new ones. We all moved here for a reason. I’d wager that some of your reasons no longer exist, or have changed appreciably. Maintaining (or restoring) a community’s character takes work. Let’s work together to find the
For Lilburn-Mountain Park and the MPCA, Thank you Kate Pittman 7/31/2021