A high-end apartment complex planned for Villa Rica received a lifeline on last week after the pandemic economy had disrupted the plan.

The Villa Rica City Council voted to extend the rezoning request the council members had approved in 2019 for the project called Parkside at Villa Rica, a proposed 195-unit luxury apartment building planned for Commerce Drive, north of Interstate 20.

In November 2019, the council voted to annex and rezone a 16.45-acre tract of land from agricultural use to multi-family housing, so that the developers could proceed with the project. But the developers experienced delays in getting the project off the ground, delays that city staff said were apparently exacerbated by the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ronald Johnson, the city’s planning and zoning specialist, told the council that the rezoning the council had approved two years ago had expired on Nov. 26, and the developers wanted more time to secure commitments from others involved in the project.

The Parkside at Villa Rica project would be built by Parkside Equities of Atlanta, which has built several luxury apartment home buildings in the metro area, including mixed-use residential buildings in Sandy Springs and Chamblee. Many of the company’s properties have been developed in central and southern Florida.

The presence of a multi-family apartment building at the site had raised concern among some residents who were concerned about the increase in traffic to the already busy I-20 intersection, and the possibility of increasing criminal activity. The project abuts the Villa Rica High School property.

But Jeff Matthews, a longtime Villa Rica area resident and owner of the property since the 1980s, told the council in that Nov. 2019 meeting that he had turned down many potential buyers for the property, waiting on a “developer with a quality ethic that wants to do a good job.”

During last week’s meeting, the council unanimously approved a one-year extension of their original rezoning request.

The city is intent on adding to its tax digest as a way of growing itself out of the expensive problems it faces in upgrading its water and sewerage infrastructure. By adding such high-end housing units, the city hopes to attract high-tech and specialized companies to fill a new industrial park that is still on the drawing board.

During the work session that preceded the meeting, Ward 3 Council Member Leslie McPherson asked council members to consider ways to expand the use of personal transport vehicles — golf carts — in the city, while making sure their operators are safe.

The vehicles she has in mind are more robust than the kind of golf carts seen on the course at Mirror Lake. The city passed an ordinance some years ago that would permit the operation of similar vehicles downtown.

State law permits the operation of such vehicles on some streets, but restricts those roadways to those rated for up to 35-mile-per-hour traffic. Villa Rica’s ordinance, however, only allows their use in 25 mph zones.

McPherson asked the council to consider allowing the vehicles to be used on roads rated for 35 mph traffic. She also wants the council to enforce any rules that might also needed for occupants to wear seat belts, and for operators to carry liability insurance.

The current ordinance, she said, is vague on both matters. For example, the ordinance specifies that the carts be equipped with seat belts but does not appear to require occupants to wear them.

The council made no decision about the matter, but asked staff to research the issue and it is expected to come before council at a future meeting.