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Baxter coming could help big development
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Plans are moving forward on a massive mixed-use residential and commercial development in Conyers, and, although the project isn't aimed at Baxter International employees, project officials believe the modern development could benefit from the medical company's arrival.

A 300-plus acre tract of land located in southwest Conyers is scheduled to be built out with 1,400 residential units (single and multi-family) and 580,000 square feet of commercial space during the next 10 years.

The land, bounded between Flat Shoals Road and Iris Drive and bounded by Johnson Drive, is owned by Four A International, whose development director David Roeper said construction could start by late 2013 and the first phase could be completed by 2015.

The project is back in the news because the company recently filed a Development of Regional Impact study with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs; the study is required for development projects over a certain size to see how they will affect an area's traffic and water supply and quality, among other things.

Meanwhile, Baxter has already broken ground on its $1 million medical manufacturing campus near Social Circle, and is expected to open by 2018, with its first building also scheduled to be built by 2015. Baxter expects to hire around 1,500 employees by the time it opens.

Baxter's plant would be located about 20 miles from the Conyers development, according to Google Maps; both locations are located close to Interstate 20 exits.

"It's not related per se," Roeper said Wednesday. "If it doesn't do anything else, it brings more attention to the I-20 east corridor. That news clearly impacts us."

Communities all around Baxter's plant have already been trying to recruit the medical manufacturer's executives and employees, many of whom are expected to be highly educated, well paid and civically engaged - the type of core citizens communities crave.

Covington has a few apartment complexes but doesn't have many high-end units or any of the large live-work-play communities that are part of the modern planning design movement. Clark's Grove is a live-work-play community, but it isn't fully built out and has predominantly single family homes.

In a previous interview, Genevieve Compton, executive officer of the Newton County Home Builders Association, said there's evidence from other plants that Baxter employees are willing to live within a 30-mile radius.
Newton and other surrounding counties don't have large inventories of medium to higher-priced homes that Baxter employees making $60,000 or more a year will likely want.

Even if the Conyers development didn't directly attract Baxter employees as residents, the retail component will benefit from the influx of high-paid workers. Of course, if other companies follow Baxter to the area that will only increase opportunities for residential and retail developments as well.

The 300-plus acre tract is part of 600 acres owned by Four A International, which is part of The Al Batha Group, a private, multinational business in the United Arab Emirates.
Four A has owned the land since the early 1980s and recently developed 100 acres of the property in a similar mixed-use style, when it opened Village at Almand Creek Apartments in 2003 and the Corner Market retail, restaurant and office development in 2008. Those developments are located at Flat Shoals and Parker roads.

According to the website for this newly development, Roeper said these mixed-use, compact developments are clearly in demand.

"What those experiences, plus market studies and demographic trends, all point towards is an increasing demand for compact, walkable, mixed-use environments that encourage healthy living," he said on the website.

Roeper said the Development of Regional Impact study would take about four to six months to complete and would result in a set of recommendations from the department of community affairs. Four A is also still working on rezoning the property, which has several natural features, including streams, wetlands, old hardwood trees and granite rock outcroppings. Roeper said the intent is to build those features into any development.

The Y of Metro Atlanta earlier this year said it is considering building one of the area's largest facilities on that property.

Rockdale News editor Michelle Kim contributed to this story.