By Diane Wagner
Residents in Clayton and Henry counties living east of Interstate 675 are upbeat about a proposal to turn the rural area into an activity center rivaling Mt. Zion Road.
Fern Pearson lives on Steele Road and has operated Fern's Country Store on Fairview Road for the past 24 years.
"It's amazing," she said Friday, about the growth that seems to be finally coming to the area. "They just opened up Publix here yesterday, and now this. It'd be great to be that close-in. We won't have so far to go shopping."
The proposed Ellenwood Town Center?a massive shopping complex and over 1,000 homes?would cover 322 acres along Anvil Block Road at Bouldercrest and Grant roads.
"I don't want to see cracker boxes going up, but if they're nice I welcome them," said Gary Johnson, owner of Ellenwood Printing. "As a business person I view growth as a positive feature. Even if competition comes in, it seems to help."
Atlanta-based Liberty Development Corp. is expected to present its plans for approval at the Clayton County Board of Commissioners' Sept. 18 meeting.
Theresa Crow, residential planner for the Clayton County planning and zoning division, said the project is undergoing review by the Atlanta Regional Commission and Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.
In the unlikely event a recommendation is not ready by the board meeting, the public hearing would be reset to October.
"We've had pre-application meetings and (Liberty has) addressed a lot of the recommendations and concerns," she said. "They've done an extensive traffic study. That's basically what they've been working on since they proposed this development to us (in February)."
Traffic would be the main concern for Henry County, according to Frederick Gardiner, assistant director of that county's planning and zoning department.
"We haven't seen it yet, but we'll be getting a copy of it from ARC for comment," he said. "Right now, though, it looks like the majority of the traffic would be flowing toward the Interstate."
Crow said the plans call for a retail development, "on the scale of the Mt. Zion area," stretching along Anvil Block Road from Bouldercrest almost to I-675. A 4,224-seat, multi-screen theater would be part of the complex.
The residential portion of the project would be behind the stores. A single-family subdivision with 433 lots, a townhouse development with 331 homes and a 326-unit apartment complex are planned.
"This will certainly change the character of the area if it is approved," Crow said.
Most of the few existing residents have already agreed to sell their property to Liberty.
The GRTA review is expected to contain a number of transportation improvements the company will have to provide as a condition of the rezoning. Crow said the study she's seen is comprehensive.
"It's got traffic signals, widenings, the whole nine yards," she said.
Neither Liberty representative David Price nor GRTA Land Use Planner Alan Steinbeck could be reached for comment Friday.
The Clayton County Water Authority would supply an estimated 400,000 gallons of water a day for the development, but does not have the necessary sewer capacity. A report to the ARC indicates DeKalb County has agreed "in principle" to provide the treatment capacity.