A 465-home development is one step closer to reality in Duluth after a Monday vote.
The city's four-member planning commission unanimously recommended plans for the project, Encore, to be approved by the Duluth City Council. The council's deciding vote will be held on Nov. 11.
If approved, Encore will take the place of Peachtree Golf Center and the Hooch Golf Club. The two courses are situated between the Chattahoochee River and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, spanning nearly 150 acres. Homes in the development would range from 1,800-square-foot townhomes and freestanding houses to riverfront "estates" with three-car garages and a minimum of 3,000 square feet.
The project was originally pitched as a development with nearly 1,000 residences, a mix of apartments, townhomes, and single-family homes ranging in size from "bungalows" to "estates." After a "resounding" response from nearby residents indicated apartments were a "toxic" part of the project, they were removed, said Ashton Woods representative Mike Busher at an Oct. 1 meeting. The initial 971-home plan was more than twice as dense as the city wants in future developments, with 6.47 units per acre. The new plan is still slightly over the recommended average density of one to three units per acre at 3.2.
Residents at the Monday planning commission meeting expressed concern about the plan's density and the resultant impact on traffic. A study showed that there would be an average of 4,068 daily car trips to and from Encore once complete, compared to the current average of 728 trips to and from the two golf courses daily — a more than fivefold increase. The traffic study also included an estimate for a hypothetical "big box" store, like a Walmart, being built on the site, as it is currently zoned for commerical use. That would bring the amount of daily trips to more than 10,000.
Four residents spoke against the plan, and none spoke in favor of it. Tom Gokey, who lives a mile south of the proposed development, said increased traffic was a major concern of his because the existing congestion was already "considerable."
Planning Commissioner Gary Canter acknowledged resident concerns, but said there was little the body could do to alleviate traffic besides denying new projects.
"It's hard to swallow, but, yes, traffic is always an issue," Canter said. "But we're not the [Department of Transportation]. The only way around it is to say that we're not going to do anything, but that's not what always works."
At both Monday's meeting and last week's, residents also expressed worry about more children attending Chattahoochee Elementary School, which the land is zoned for. The city does not have the power to determine which school cluster a new development is in, and Gwinnett County Public Schools would have to determine on its own how to handle an influx of students.
"We have no idea how many kids there will be, or if they're going to be expanding Chattahoochee Elementary," said Duluth resident Tom Zingo.
The revised plan, evaluated by the planning commission Monday, includes 161 townhomes and 304 single family homes. The new residences are expected to range in price from the mid-$300,000s to more than $1 million, Busher said last week.
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