GAINESVILLE - After a lengthy public hearing with plenty of opposition from homeowners who live near Lanier Plaza Shopping Center on Thompson Bridge Road, Gainesville City Council gave first reading approval to a controversial rezoning plan for the property.
The vote to rezone a 1.741-acre parcel of the 5.23-acre property to Regional Business (RB) from Residential II (R-II) was unanimous.
The vote moves the development of a grocery store for the property one step closer to reality.
Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said there are still more steps in the process before the developer can proceed.
"They still have some issues with clear title to the property, so they haven't yet closed on buying the property," said Ligon.
Polestar Development LLC plans to raze the current shopping center and build a 40,000+ square-foot grocery store on the site. The planned project also includes a fuel service station.
Gainesville attorney Steve Gilliam, speaking on behalf of Polestar, said the development represents a $10 to $12 million investment in the community and will generate an estimated 95 jobs.
Opponents of the project lined up to voice concerns about the grocery store, most worried about additional traffic on Thompson Bridge Road and the surrounding neighborhoods.
At times the conversation over the rezoning grew heated.
Resident Frank Patten asked council members what their motivation would be as they voted.
"Does this have to do with taxes or does it have to do with the integrity of our community?" asked Patten.
Mayor Danny Dunagan told Patten that council members were concerned with bringing the zoning of the property into alignment with the rest of the parcel where the current shopping center sits.
"They [Polestar]could go in right now, tear that shopping center down, cut down on the green space and build anything in that zone right now and not touch that 1.7 acres," said Dunagan.
Councilwoman Ruth Bruner made the motion to approve the move, saying the goal was to clean up the zoning on the tract of land.
Before the rezoning is final, a second hearing before City Council must take place in two weeks - on Tuesday, May 20.