In the immortal words of David Bowie, the time has come to “turn and face the strange,” because like it or not, change is coming. And it’s either going to be a thoughtful, community-forward approach like I’m proposing, or someone else’s plan, likely to be less concerned for the outcome and solely focused on profit margin. There’s a plan for this property, and that plan is residential subdivision, as determined by the county’s development master plan. I, more than just about anyone, would’ve liked to see this property stay like it is forever. And, while Mr. and Mrs. Drew thwarted this inevitability longer than most of us could have, the time has come. There are a lot of things that made it possible for me to intervene, but it is by a whole lot of luck that we have a chance to be thoughtful about what happens here.
We really do owe a debt of thanks for the years of labor and money Mr. and Mrs. Drew spent protecting this property from being swallowed by suburban sprawl. And after more than three decades of stewardship, Mrs. Drew finally decided it was time to sell her lovely 50-acre estate. I had been helping her with upkeep of the property. It was a volunteer effort, the results from which I couldn’t have possibly imagined. The hours I spent on Mrs. Drew’s mower were sealing my fate. As I became more infatuated with this magnificent property, the thought of a developer bulldozing the woods and hills into a clean canvas to make way a typical residential subdivision was more than I could stomach. So, at the end of 2016, I bought the property and began exploring ways to preserve the forest and build community.
Sounds simple, right? In the months since becoming the next steward of the space, my team and I have spent an unbelievable amount of energy working toward those parallel goals, and here’s where we’ve arrived: we’ve determined that the best way to protect the property from development is, oddly enough, to develop it. But we’re trying to be intentional about that and considerate of the community. We’ve worked hard, and continue to work to find ways to give the space life for the next century so that we can protect the natural areas for the foreseeable future.
The plan we’ve come up with requires rezoning. Scary, right? Keep in mind, rezoning isn’t always a bad thing. Rezoning can be requested for a variety of reasons, but it is normally done in an attempt to squeeze in more homes and make a project more profitable. That is not the case, here. The current R-100 zoning actually allows for more homes than we’re proposing, but would require homes be scattered throughout the entire property, effectively ruining the solitude of the natural, wooded areas and result in more water quality and stormwater issues. Our plan calls for approximately 45 home sites and here’s where it gets sticky.
In order to make the business case for the project, there’s a certain number of homes needed. We reckon that too many homes would oversaturate the property and work against our goals, but too few homes and we’re over-burdening the residents with the cost of infrastructure and common area maintenance, so there’s a sort of sweet spot somewhere and we think we’re close. Again, the model has to work for the next century in order to truly preserve the woods.
Rezoning would allow for situating homes closely together to maintain more natural areas and shared community spaces. There are other benefits to placing homes closely together, such as bringing back the relevance of the front porch and encouraging neighbors to know each other. There’s also an environmental impact argument to be made. Additionally, we plan for several recreational amenities for shared use, and space for a working farm at the center of the homes in order to grow local food for the community. The lake, creek, woods, trails, lawns, farm, gardens, fire circles, farm store, boathouse, beach, and others are all aimed at building community through places for people to engage with one another.
The zoning we seek, at the recommendation of Planning and Development staff, is TND zoning. While TND zoning allows for some pretty robust mixed use development, what we’re planning only needs TND so that we can have a farm store to make farm-produced items available to the surrounding community. We also anticipate this space serving as another place for friends to gather around a table to share a story and a snack. This is not the nexus of another Itchy and Scratchy show like we see on UN-Scenic Highway through Snellville.
I understand and share the concern for officially allowing “commercial” space in this area. However, while this space by definition will be commercial, in reality will be a quaint structure next to the lake where local folks can find locally grown food and fellowship. The use of this space will be controlled by the property owners’ association. Therefore, any use of this space, or any of the common spaces, will be at the pleasure of the Property Owners Association (POA), and therefore, the community. I’m sure, like many of you, I don’t care if I never see another McStarbucks Donutsmart in Gwinnett County.
You’re likely only reading this because you’re concerned for your community. I don’t know about you, but nobody has ever asked my opinion regarding a development before now. I know there have been some high-profile rezoning cases lately that clearly don’t have the interest of the surrounding community in mind. This is our chance to be proactive about doing something good for our area. Let’s be proud someday that we contributed to something better. All we need is a little imagination and a lot of careful thought. I’ll get us close, but I need your support to make this happen.