It wasn't surprising when those who attended a recent Gwinnett County Commission meeting. The commissioners filed into their high-backed chairs overlooking the crowd - most of whom wore red. An attendee told me that a public prayer was held and the meeting quickly got down to business. On this late September night, a hearing was held to decide if a tract of land ought to be developed. This scenario has probably played out many times in this suburban county's long history. A developer eyes land and wishes to develop the it as quickly as possible. The protests come in, but most of the time they are barely heard. Perhaps those protests lack political clout or they are too late and in the end, the developer's wish is granted by the county government.
On September 24th, that scenario played out again when those who opposed a development dressed in red and showed up to oppose yet another project. Even the pre-meeting prayers did not help those who have been against the development of The Range, a sprawling 130-acre tract off of Cruse Road near Pleasant Hill Road in the central area of Gwinnett County. Preserved by owner Scientific Atlanta a number of years back for satellite equipment testing, The Range was sold to the Cisco corporation. Now Cisco is selling The Range to developer David Jenkins, who was granted immunity three years ago in the bribery case against former commissioner Kevin Kenerly. Kenerly was accused of accepting a $1 million bribe from Jenkins in an exchange for his vote on a zoning issue. Kenerly has always denied the accusations.
The current plan for The Range is for Jenkins' Rocklyn Homes to build up to 334 homes on the site complete with tennis courts and a swimming pool. Those who oppose Jenkins' development feel that the decision to go forth with these plans was made long before they put their red gear on and entered that Tuesday evening's crowded meeting. Those attendees felt that the commissioners were pre-occupied with how the future subdivision's swimming pools will be shared with nearby schools. That pre-occupation was one in a series of justifications for developing The Range.
Those who oppose The Range say that the subdivision will add to traffic on nearby and already-congested roads including Cruse Road, Sweetwater Road, Club Drive and Pleasant Hill Road. They go on to say that the project will put a strain on the school system and overall infrastructure.
Others feel that our commissioners have its constituents best interests in mind with a pro-growth, pro-business atmosphere that has made this county to proclaim its greatness on a water tower. Like so many other landmarks and buildings, that water tower no longer exists. Scores of transplants moved to this county for its free market philosophy which has no doubt led to lower taxes - attracting residents and businesses alike. In the case of The Range, that property was previously zoned for light industrial use. The pro-Jenkins development folks say that developing The Range for residential use is a better option than allowing light industry to build on the property. Some have pondered the idea of allowing The Range to remain as a nature preserve, most likely, the cheapest option.
It must be noted in this space that the county's commission members are intelligent, talented individuals. These fine women and men - women are noted here first because the chairman is Charlotte Nash and my commissioner is the gifted Lynette Howard - are most likely the best board that this county has seen in years. Indeed Gwinnett's commissioners probably feel that The Range will create jobs and add good residents who will only expand the county's tax base. There's nothing wrong with this thinking, but in this case, The Range development - like so many others throughout Metro Atlanta - could become a victim of its own success with added traffic woes, more students in the schools and further strain on water and sewage use.
In the future, leaders throughout all governments ought to consider a balance between growth and quality-of-life issues. What we have today in Metro Atlanta are a collection of disconnected communities that have only resulted in traffic congestion, bad air quality and a lack of outdoor activity options with limited sidewalk, trail and cycling lane options.