A large tract of land near Winder Highway and Highway 316 could eventually become a massive mixed-used development if an investment group’s plan comes to fruition.
Representatives from Walton Investing, Mill Creek Consulting and Rochester Engineering Associates spoke with Dacula City Council members during the Nov. 30 work session regarding the feasibility of annexing just over 157 acres into the city limits and eventually developing the property as a “live, work, play” community.
The project, which is tentatively titled “Peak at University Parkway,” is in the very early stages of planning.
Mitch Peevy of Mill Creek Consulting said the investment group is “bullish” on Highway 316 and believes annexing the property into Dacula would be advantageous due to the city’s ability to quickly deal with zoning issues. Peevy said in three to five years, when construction is most likely to commence, the market may be highly competitive due to the fact that developers are currently holding a good deal of money in reserves and will be ready to move quickly once economic conditions improve. Peevy believes developers will be looking for properties that are adequately zoned and ready for whatever project that particular company is interested in pursuing. Peevy said the council will be able to deal with any requested changes more quickly than the county.
“The county can move, but they’re more like a battleship making a turn and you’re more like a speedboat,” Peevy said.
The city also offers other advantages including no stormwater utility fees, no streetlight fees, lower trash service fees and, in general, less bureaucracy.
“From a competitive advantage, Dacula makes sense to us in the future if we have an ordinance that kind of works with us,” Peevy said.
One problem, Peevy said, is that the city’s current planned mixed used development ordinance is more restrictive than what investors would like. Peevy asked council to consider working with the investment group to modify the ordinance and establish parameters that would make the site attractive to developers.
Specifically, one of the investment group’s objections to annexation is the city’s requirement that 35 percent of any development be set aside for open space. The investment group would prefer a 20 percent open space requirement. The current ordinance also does not allow rental property. Peevy said rental properties may be part of the plan depending upon future market conditions.
“A lot of [the ordinance] works, some of it doesn’t,” Peevy said.
The Sugarloaf Parkway extension is another factor that may influence how the property is developed. Peevy said the investment group has met with Department of Transportation officials regarding the possibility of an interchange with the parkway that will run through the middle of the development. Additionally, as a development of regional impact, the project must also be cleared with the Atlanta Regional Commission.
said it is important for the city to consider how changing economic conditions have affected residential housing when deciding whether or not to consider a mixed used development. Wilbanks explained the city’s existing ordinance was written when the real estate boom was in full swing.
“Things have changed. We’ve had a paradigm shift,” Wilbanks said.
Demand has shifted away from single-family residential properties and may not return any time soon, Wilbanks added.
“The point of the matter is that we have to consider where people are going to live,” he said.
Ultimately, a decision may be several years away. In the meantime, Peevy and the investment group plan to work with the city to further examine issues that may impact whether the investors request the property be annexed.