Gwinnett commissioners reject changes to Coolray Field plan

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners has rejected changes to a commercial development at Coolray Field that was used to justify spending $64 million in public money to build the stadium.

Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to reject plans that would have replaced 165,000 square feet of commercial space and 150 hotel rooms at the Lawrenceville stadium with 276 residential units. The owner of one affected property said the original stadium development plans are unrealistic and prevent him from selling his property. But commissioners sided with those who say the original plans are worth waiting for, even if they are not economically viable at the moment.

In 2008 commissioners voted to build the stadium to lure the Atlanta Braves’ AAA baseball team from Richmond. Gwinnett officials said the stadium on Buford Drive in Lawrenceville would pay for itself and spark nearby development.

But an AJC analysis last year found the stadium hasn’t generated as much from rent, parking and other revenue as originally projected. Much of the nearby development also has failed to materialize.

Developer Brand Morgan planned to build 300 hotel rooms, 610 residences, 351,000 square feet of retail space and 617,000 square feet of office space on 73 acres surrounding the stadium. So far, Morgan has broken ground on only 248 upscale apartments. He blames the poor economy for hindering the rest of the project.

Morgan owns 54 acres of the property needed for his original plans. He planned to buy the other 19 acres from Garland Roberts, but they have not come to terms.

Now Roberts wants to sell his land to another developer — Marty Orr — who asked for the county’s permission to replace most of the commercial development planned for the 19 acres with 212 apartments. Roberts told commissioners he’s stuck with land he can’t sell as currently zoned and asked them to allow the additional apartments.

Morgan also asked for permission to add more residential units to his property. But critics said substituting apartments for upscale shops and offices would lower surrounding property values and generate less tax revenue for the county.

On Tuesday commissioners rejected the changes proposed by Morgan and Orr. Commissioner John Heard said he feels sorry for Roberts. But he said his dispute is with Morgan, who has not acquired Roberts’ property as planned.

Morgan still hopes to develop the property as he originally proposed.

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