Aging Lilburn Aims for Overhaul

Metro Atlanta’s suburbs will not compete for the young professionals drawn to neighborhoods inside the Perimeter unless they can offer urban amenities.

That challenge, incorporated into Gwinnett County’s new development plan, is driving efforts in Lilburn to create a community development district to finance an overhaul of the city’s aging commercial district.

“We don’t have enough restaurants and shops,” said Gerald McDowell, executive director of the Lilburn Community Partnership, the newly formed nonprofit spearheading the project. “What a CID would do is take us to the next level.”

The proposed Lilburn CID didn’t spring to life in a vacuum.

It would become the fourth CID in Gwinnett, all located in the southern end of the county.

The first formed in 2003, when commercial property owners along U.S. 78 in the Snellville area agreed to tax themselves to pay for needed improvements.

The Evermore CID was followed in 2004 by the Gwinnett Place CID and the Gwinnett Village CID in 2006.

The progress those CIDs are making in their neighborhoods influenced Lilburn’s community and business leaders to want to follow suit, said state Rep. Clay Cox, R-Lilburn.

“People who live in Lilburn travel through those areas,” he said. “They see the landscaping, medians, road improvements and additional security.”

“Lilburn historically has been a quiet little city,” added Mayor Diana Preston. “We know we’ve got to keep up.”

Under the Georgia Constitution, a CID cannot be formed until 50 percent plus one of the proposed district’s commercial property owners support the idea.

Also, owners of 75 percent of the district’s commercial property value must be on board.

Once that happens, CIDs are submitted to the appropriate city council and/or county commission for approval.

McDowell said backers of the Lilburn CID thus far have signed up about 80 of the proposed district’s 437 property owners along the U.S. 29 corridor.

Together, they own about 13 percent of the district’s $581 million in commercial property value.

The Lilburn group is facing a March deadline to submit the plan to Gwinnett County.

McDowell said he’s optimistic that the required signatures will have been gathered by the end of the year.

By law, CIDs are limited to financing public projects, such as transportation, streetscaping and parks.

But Cox said those are the kinds of improvements that create an environment that attracts the private sector to invest in a commercial area. He said he’s looking to the new CID to help draw restaurants, shops and other forms of entertainment that Lilburn lacks.

“Lilburn residents drive to other areas of the county to spend money,” Cox said. “We want them to stay.”

McDowell said he also wants to use the CID to beef up security inside the proposed district, using a Gwinnett Village CID program as a model.

Gwinnett Village pays off-duty Gwinnett County and city of Norcross police officers and a private security force to conduct night patrols.

Chuck Warbington, the Gwinnett Village CID’s executive director, said commercial burglaries in the district have been cut in half since the program began.

Warbington said the CIDs that have sprung up in southern Gwinnett in recent years reflect a growing commitment by county officials to revitalize older communities that for years were ignored and left to deteriorate.

“What you have in general is development that took place 30 years ago that has aged,” said McDowell. “It’s time to do some redevelopment or new development.”

Gwinnett County’s latest long- range development plan, adopted by the county commission last February, argues that such revitalization is critical to keeping up with employment shifts in the greater metro region that have brought in new residents with different interests.

“The county will have to go beyond the ‘bread and butter’ of suburban living if it is to remain the preferred place for the emergent, footloose information workers who crave more than the suburban lifestyle,” according to the plan’s summary. “Government can help seed this evolution towards a more urban environment.”

Atlanta Business Chronicle
Dave Williams
Staff Writer