Mysterious ‘Project Rocket’ takes another step forward in Gwinnett

The massive (and mysterious) distribution facility proposed for a site on the southwestern end of Gwinnett County took another step toward reality Tuesday night.

The county's planning commission voted to recommend approval of the special-use permit necessary for the code-named "Project Rocket" — a 2.5-million-square-foot facility projected to create 1,000 jobs or more — to be built as planned. The county's Board of Commissioners would have final approval of the request to build an 80-foot-tall building on a wooded lot on West Park Place Boulevard, just south of U.S. 78 near Stone Mountain.

The property’s current zoning already allows for a warehouse and distribution center but limits building heights to 45 feet.

Planning commission chairman Chuck Warbington said Tuesday even he doesn't know who the potential tenant for the project is. But he called it "an absolute game changer for new investment in that area."

Documents previously filed with the state suggest the distribution facility would be worth $200 million, and around $1.5 million in annual tax revenue, if completed.

“The economic impact from this project will be felt regionally,” Warbington said.

The proposed “Project Rocket” site on West Park Place Boulevard in Gwinnett County. (Via Gwinnett County planning commission documents)

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Engineering firm Eberly & Associates filed the variance request for the project that, according to documents, would include 65 loading docks, 200 truck parking spaces and more than 1,800 employee parking spaces.

Officials and those involved with the project have remained mum on the tenant for the proposed project.

Speculation has focused on e-commerce giant Amazon, which has purportedly been searching for a site to build a new Atlanta-area fulfillment center. Such facilities are where workers pack and ship customer orders.

Atlanta is also among 20 cities named earlier this year to the "short list" for Amazon's much-sought-after second headquarters, though a new fulfillment center may not provide indication one way or another regarding that competition.

Because of the project’s size, it had to seek approval from the state through the Development of Regional Impact process. Warbington said the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Road and Tollway Authority approved the project through that process — as long as about $15 million of proposed “transportation improvements” are completed.

Those improvements would be completed at intersections involving West Park Place Boulevard, U.S. 78, Bermuda Road, Rockbridge Road and North Deshong Road, among others.

Laurel David, the attorney representing the developer during Tuesday night’s meeting, claimed the improvements would “significantly improve the traffic” in the area, even when considering the extra traffic generated by the project. She said “five or six” trucks would be leaving the facility every hour.

“This is a very efficiently run building,” David said.

Fifteen or so people who live near the proposed project site also spoke during the meeting. Their chief concerns included traffic and the potential for 24/7 operations at the facility.

“We shouldn’t have to deal with roaring all night,” resident Amelia Jackson said.

There are several neighborhoods and other homes in the vicinity of the site, but it sits in a largely industrial area of the county. Officials hope the area has already begun a resurgence.

World-famous haunted house Netherworld recently moved to the area and expanded its offerings in order to be a more year-round operation. The county has also demolished the Olympics-era Stone Mountain Tennis Center and plans to seek proposals for a development to bring new life to Gwinnett’s “southern gateway.”