Apartments axed from 150-acre residential development in Gwinnett

Duluth will hold a public information meeting to learn more about the Ashton Woods’ Encore project 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1 at City Hall. (Courtesy City of Duluth)
Duluth will hold a public information meeting to learn more about the Ashton Woods’ Encore project 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1 at City Hall. (Courtesy City of Duluth)

A developer has eliminated plans for more than 400 apartments in a sprawling gated development, but Duluth residents are still concerned about the effects of the 465 houses and townhomes remaining in the plan.

The residential project proposed by developer Ashton Woods will go before the Duluth Planning Commission on Monday. The planning and development department and an Ashton Woods representative held the third public meeting about the project, called Encore, Tuesday night.

Encore would be built on 150 acres of land sandwiched between the shores of the Chattahoochee River and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. The land is currently occupied by two golf courses, the Hooch Golf Club and the Peachtree Golf Center.

The initial plans called for 450 apartments, 395 single-family homes and 126 townhomes, a total of 971 dwellings. But the apartment proposal was strongly opposed by nearby residents, said Mike Busher, the Ashton Woods representative.

"Overwhelmingly what we heard was rental was pretty toxic, resoundingly, right from the start," Busher said at the Tuesday meeting.

There were also initial concerns about the development's density. Duluth's comprehensive plan for future development recommends there be between one and three housing units per acre in new developments. The initial plan from Ashton Woods had 6.47. The revised plan, discussed Tuesday, is still slightly over at 3.2 units, with 161 townhomes and 304 single family homes. The new residences are expected to range in size from 1,700 to 5,000 square feet and in price from the mid-$300,000s to more than $1 million, Busher said.

Residents at the meeting came with a list of concerns, chief among them increased traffic. A previous traffic study indicated the development may require additional traffic lights, but a new study has not been conducted since the number of potential homes was nearly cut in half, Busher said. Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, where both of the development's entrances are planned, is a key artery of traffic in Duluth and frequently gets congested.

Residents were also concerned about potential access to the Chattahoochee River. The initial plans for Encore boasted waterfront "estates," but the developer is now working with the city to ensure the immediate riverfront land will be reserved for a public trail, according to Planning and Development Director Bill Aiken.

While Busher assured the crowd apartments were off the table, worries still lingered for some about potential future rentals, especially in the townhomes. DeSota Wilson, who lives near the proposed development, hoped future covenants or a homeowner's association could prevent that.

"Even if you don't have apartments, you could essentially have apartments if they allow people to rent out their townhomes," Wilsoon said. "It's a concern of protecting the integrity of the community and property values."

The planning commission will make a recommendation for or against approving the necessary rezoning at its Monday meeting. The Duluth City Council will have the final say in November.

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