Auburn tables plans for nearly 1,000 new homes

Officials in Auburn, a city split between Barrow and Gwinnett counties, held off on making a decision on two annexation and rezoning decisions that combined would allow the construction of nearly 1,000 new homes. (Courtesy City of Auburn)

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Officials in Auburn, a city split between Barrow and Gwinnett counties, held off on making a decision on two annexation and rezoning decisions that combined would allow the construction of nearly 1,000 new homes. (Courtesy City of Auburn)

Auburn, located on the edge of Barrow and Gwinnett counties, seems primed for rapid growth. As city officials try to house their future residents, some current residents are worried Auburn will lose its small-town charm.

Auburn City Council held off Thursday on making decisions to allow developers to construct two large subdivisions. These projects combined would add almost 1,000 new homes to the city, which has a population of less than 8,000 people.

About 15 Auburn residents packed into the small Council Chambers to express their varying opinions on the proposed developments. Some people believe the subdivisions will help the city prepare for anticipated growth, while others worry it will overburden the school system and exacerbate traffic.

Chafin Land Development wants to build 529 lots, composed of single-family homes and townhomes, on about 170 acres off Apalachee Church Road. The community would be known as Fowler Farms, after the name of the family selling the property who has lived on the land since the 1940s.

Inline Communities proposes a 386-lot subdivision with a similar mix of homes on about 74 acres, which would be called Auburn Station at Hills Shop Road. Chafin Land Development recently built a subdivision also called Auburn Station, located off U.S. Highway 29.

The developers separately filed requests for the city to annex land from Barrow County into its city limits and rezone it to allow the homes and a few commercial lots to be built. City Council will revisit the requests later this month. If approved, the developers would gradually build the homes over the course of several years.

David Gunter, who lives on Brown Bridge Road, said the Fowler Farms site plan should be scaled down and match the “country” feel of the area. Rhonda Greene, a Willow Gate Trace resident, said the 529 “cookie-cutter” homes would increase traffic and hurt the small-town vibe of Auburn.

Several residents said they worry that Auburn will become like the rest of Gwinnett County, heavy with traffic and new development.

“My dad said it best ... he told me Gwinnett County has no soul. It’s nothing but strip malls and housing,” said Donnie Robinson, a realtor and Willow Gate Trace resident.

Other residents believe the city should embrace the forthcoming growth. Tim Watson, a pastor at a local church, said that the proposals are “forward-thinking and ambitious.”

“I’m here to tell you that growth is uncomfortable,” Watson said, alluding to the founding days of the city. “Auburn had no choice but to grow then. It has no choice now, because growth is not only uncomfortable, but it is inevitable.”

Population is expected to more than double in both Barrow and Gwinnett counties by 2050, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission. After the meeting, Mayor Linda Blechinger told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the city has prepared by upgrading infrastructure and services.

Homes still under construction already have a waiting list of eager homebuyers, Blechinger said.

By having control over the land, the city could choose how it develops, Blechinger said. This would allow Auburn residents to have a say in what happens, she said, as she expects Barrow County to develop the land if Auburn doesn’t.

Unlike Gwinnett County, Barrow County only has a sheriff’s office and no police department. By annexing the land, Auburn could dedicate police officers to patrol the area, Blechinger said.

If city officials greenlight them, the communities will have resort-style amenities, greenspace and a few acres for restaurant or office space. Fowler Farms would likely have a “lazy river” that runs through it, said Clint Dixon, a state senator and representative for Chafin Land Development.

Bel Outwater, a longtime resident and member of the city’s Downtown Development Authority, said people are attracted to Auburn by its small-town character and convenient location between Athens and Atlanta. Development is coming, she said, but the city can balance it while maintaining its charm.

“We shape our future not by swimming upstream but by following the currents,” Outwater said. “I love that the citizens of Auburn are so passionate about preserving our small-town feel and charm. I don’t want that to change either ... but I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop developments coming in.”