The message local property owners are spreading reads loud and clear. They mean to "STOP the Waste Transfer Station on Ozora Road!"
In little more than a week's time, HOA members from Kensington Forest surrounding neighborhoods were able to mobilize close to six hundred residents who gathered at Greystone Church on May 23 to learn about a proposal to rezone a 51-acre property near Tribble Mill Park as an industrialized waste transfer station.
Many of those property owners are ready to fight the proposal. Some tie green ribbon to their trees and mailboxes. Others pass out green flyers and paste green posters on the windows of their businesses and homes to show their opposition.
What is a Waste Transfer Station?
According to the EPA, a waste transfer station is "a facility where solid waste is unloaded from smaller trucks and reloaded into larger vehicles for transport to a final disposal site [called a landfill]."
For the proposed site to be permitted, the county would need to rezone the land from an R-100 residential area to an M-2 light industrial zone.
While a 100 ft natural buffer would be required to separate the facility from neighboring residences, Kensington Forest HOA member Nicole Cummings considers that a little too close to home.
"It's literally my backyard," said Cummings, who is a mother of three. "There is a small ditch that goes across the backyard that goes back and after 100 ft, you're right on the area."
How could this impact the community?
The EPA's Waste Transfer Stations information packet lists noise, litter, air emissions and pests as common problems associated with waste transfer stations. That's why it's rare to find one in a residential area. In Gwinnett, there are currently four waste transfer sites, with two located in Lawrenceville, one near Norcross and one in Doraville, all in industrial areas.
"All the other waste transfer sites do not have residential around them, so we can't compare what this is going to do to our property to another place. One that does have a few homes, they are out of place there [having been built after the site and are ] surrounded by all industrial," said Nicole Cummings from the Kensington Forest HOA, who is concerned that even if the trash is kept in a closed building, odors could still escape, especially if doors are left open.
"Think about July when it's 100 degrees, and that stuff is just sitting there and baking. It's going to be nasty," said Larry Rose, a Kensington Forest HOA member.
Concerns of property devaluation and traffic
For the project to go forward, the land would also need to receive a special use permit. In their application, developers Buddy Johnson and Darron Britt claimed the proposed use is "suitable in view of the use and development of adjacent and nearby property", and it would be adjacent to Vulcan Materials quarry, which is considered a high-intensity industrial facility.
But Rose finds fault with the application and suggests this kind of a permit would be incongruent with the county's previous development plans.
"So, a home is probably the single biggest investment you make in your life," said Rose. "You make it by doing research, just like if you were investing in a business, you make it by doing research in the area. We all looked at the zoning and saw it was residential, so we said, 'I feel good being there.' So naturally, If I had known that they could go and put a big industrial business in there, I wouldn't have bought this house."
Scott Miller lives on Ozora Road within half a mile of the proposed site. In his experience, Ozora is already a busy road, and with semi-trucks hauling trash every day, there would be littering, increased traffic and possibly more car wrecks.
"I have wrecks all the time in my front yard, and they're pretty bad wrecks when they happen. And they are going to put semis [on Ozora Rd.] on top of that," Miller said.
For both Rose and Cummings, the fact the property owners receive short notice of upcoming plans to rezone is equally offensive.
"They don't even have to post signage at the sight until 15 days before the hearing," Rose said.
"So, if we found out about this 15 days before, we would have to do all this research, everything would have already gone through this process, and we would have had to find an attorney which is already hard enough."
While some had only a few hours' notice, an audience of close to 600 hundred showed up at Graystone Church to learn how they could help take a stand against the rezoning. Rose and other HOA members told those in attendance they now have a lawyer who will work on their case in the weeks leading up to the Gwinnett County Planning Commission's meeting on July 2 and before the County Commissioners vote on the proposal on July 23.
"It's not our decision to make," Rose told Gwinnett Citizen. "All we can do is make sure the people understand how upset we are about it and that if they vote for it, then we won't be voting for them. And that's all we can do."
In little over two weeks, the Facebook group passed its 2,300-member mark, and more citizens sign a petition to stop the rezoning every week. But with the window of opportunity rapidly closing, he and other community leaders urge locals to educate themselves on the regional impact the project could have.
Green flyers with QR codes for the Facebook group are available for pickup at several local businesses. Among those is Body Plex in Grayson where Manager Sara Gasaway shared her stance on the issue saying, "It's important to us that we help the community in any way we can and also protect us as a business and make sure our property values stay intact. And the health of the people is of the utmost importance to us. We're a health club so when you do research about bringing in trash, essentially, you talk about all kinds of health issues that come along with that."
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs' Developments of Regional Impact program determined the proposed rezoning may be a project of regional impact and has allowed the Atlanta Regional Commission to evaluate the regional impact of the plan.
"People will tell you this is just another 'not in my backyard' situation, right? But it's not. It's bigger than that. It's not just a 'kick it down the curve, and it's somebody else's problem.' We don't want it in any residential areas," Rose said.
UPDATE: The application for the waste station is withdrawn for the moment (new dates TBD), and property owners are hesitant to celebrate the news.
“We just recently received confirmation from the Planning Commission that the application has been officially withdrawn,” said Larry Rose, a President of Kensington Forest’s HOA, wrote on the Facebook group’s wall. “We are cautiously optimistic about this change of events, but we should all be aware that the applicant has the right to re-submit the application as currently written or slightly modified after 30 days.”