Actual Factual Gwinnett: Why are there no skyscrapers in this county?

This is the Atlanta skyline. Gwinnett County does not look like this.

Combined ShapeCaption
This is the Atlanta skyline. Gwinnett County does not look like this.

This is "Actual Factual Gwinnett," a regular column in which I, Tyler Estep, answer reader questions about Gwinnett happenings and history. Read previous editions by clicking the hyperlinks at the bottom of this column, where you'll also find information for submitting your own questions. Enjoy!

Reader Henry Meadows writes:

"I have only been in Gwinnett County for three years and I haven't seen a high rise. Is there a code against it?"

Fabulous question Hank (can I call you Hank?), and one that fellow reader Jordan R. also asked. I'll try to make the answer as exciting as possible, but it ain't gonna be easy.

The short but not especially insightful answer: Yes, there's a code. Sort of. More like guidelines. That can be changed. Sometimes.

Background: As our AJC pal David Wickert recently reported, the Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta hotel (the longtime Marriott location on Pleasant Hill Road near I-85) is currently Gwinnett's tallest building -- at an absolutely breathtaking 17 stories. But a new proposal aimed at revitalizing the nearby Gwinnett Place area would allow for buildings up to an unthinkable 25 stories tall.

OK. So? The county's unified development ordinance (I know, booooring) provides specific maximum heights for each zoning classification -- most fall somewhere between 25 and 65 feet. Things get complicated, however, with mixed-use projects like the one referenced above.

Those type of developments (class MU-R, if anyone cares) can go up to 25 stories and 300 feet, but only if they meet certain requirements. The site plans are essentially graded by zoning officials and given bonus points for extra amenities like transit-related facilities, walking paths, greenspace and, to oversimplify, creativity.  The higher the FAR ranking (I won't bore you with an explanation of that), the higher the building.

Theoretically, of course, even taller buildings could be approved via special use permit and a lot of rigmarole.

That's all super exciting, but this seems like a new-ish thing. WHY HAS NO ONE EVER BUILT A BIG OL' HONKIN' SKYSCRAPER IN GWINNETT COUNTY? Honestly? The general consensus seems to be that developers have historically just, like, not wanted to. It seems like ages, but as recently as 10, 15, 20 years ago, Gwinnett was straight up suburbs.

And in many ways, it still is.


I, Tyler Estep, am a staff writer with the AJC and a Gwinnett County native. To submit “Actual Factual Gwinnett” questions, contact me at, @ByTylerEstep on Twitter or via the form below.

In the meantime, read the column’s previous installments:

Explore»Where did the "Success Lives Here" towers go?
Explore»Which Hollywood actress used to own a Gwinnett city?
Explore»What’s that statue atop the Mall of Georgia?
Explore»A serial killer shot Hustler publisher Larry Flynt…in Gwinnett?

»What the heck’s going on in downtown Duluth?