Homeowners were stunned, outraged, dismayed by the proposed re-zoning request along the 800 block of Ozora Road; to allow a waste transfer station in a heavy residential area near Tribble Mill Park and two schools. But in coming together to show their opposition, they’ve also seen another side of their community that gives them hope, not only for this area but for all of Gwinnett.
The land in question, about 51 acres, has been zoned R-100 (residential) since the 1970s and updated for the same this past February in Gwin-nett County’s 2040 Plan. Needless to say, residents and business owners in the Grayson area and eastern Gwinnett had serious concerns when a special use permit and M-2 (Heavy Industry) zoning was proposed for that property to be used as a waste transfer station.
While Gwinnett County only need notify nearby residents of the rezoning 15 days prior to the Planning & Zoning meeting that would have been held on July 2 (and a July 26 for the vote by the Commissioners), by a fluke incident, local homeowners caught wind of the proposal in mid-May.
Jeff Allen was among one of the first to start posting and sharing his concern on social media. Larry Rose created a Facebook group. Others saw the buzz, and they shared it. And shared it. And something began to happen.
And something else began to happen.
People were going door-to-door and assembling to spread the word about the rezoning in front of subdivisions and shopping centers.
“With only a few days’ notice [and in some cases, only a few hours’], we got six-hundred people to attend a community meeting at Graystone Church on May 23rd,” said Rose. “Keep in mind that this was both graduation and Memorial Day weekend. We had tee shirts, lawn signs, and flyers at that meeting.” One of the busiest weeks of the year for families.
Citizens set about learning how to fight the proposed rezoning by educating themselves on county rezoning processes, waste, water and health issues. Neighbors started talking to neighbors. Business owners took notice, and many threw their support behind the opposition.
“We’ve taken notice of those that have supported us in this fight,” says Larry.
“It’s all about the movement, about a community coming together,” said Rose. Once word about the rezoning got out, people from all walks of life came together for a cause. They were opposing heavy industrial rezoning near their schools and homes, but the movement was bigger than that. They were linking arms to protect their community.
The 51.62-acre rezoning is large enough to be considered a development of regional impact; therefore, the Atlanta Regional Commission and county planning staff must review and weigh in on the matter. Darron Britt and Buddy Johnson, who are the listed developers, withdrew the application in late June and then met with a couple of the new leaders in opposition. They stated they be would re-grouping and looking at their options to bring another rezoning request and application in the future. When and whether the matter will resurface is unknown, but area residents are ready to continue the fight.
“Historically, developers have been allowed to run amuck in Gwinnett County. People believe that their city and county leaders must know what they’re doing, so they don’t pay attention and get involved in things like this,” said Ashley Smith, a Willow-wind resident and one of the leaders of the rezoning opposition. “I admit that I used to be that person, but not anymore. We’ve learned that we can make a difference, even if things like this are considered to be ‘done deals,” like so many things here in Gwinnett seem to be.”
Amanda Leftwich, another opposition leader, said, “I was clearly told that this (rezoning) was a done deal, and I said, ‘No. I want to hear something different.’” Leftwich has been a hands-on leader of the community opposition movement.
Nicole Cummings lives in Kensington Forest, and the rezoning, if approved, would bring the waste transfer station right up to her back yard. “This has touched everyone who lives here, even the children. A local daycare center, in response to this movement, has begun teaching children about protecting the environment and getting involved in the community. This is not a ‘not in my backyard issue. It’s a not-in-anybody’s backyard issue,” says Nicole.
Opposition leaders are proud of the stance that thousands are taking against a plan that, in their view, would negatively impact the community and county. They are even more proud of all the good that has come from the swell of support.
When a woman from Owen County, Indiana, faced a similar rezoning near her neighborhood, she sought the Facebook Group for help. Larry Rose spoke with her on the phone, and she later posted in the Group, “Thanks to of you who responded to my request and armed me with good information, we were able to persuade our zoning board to decline [the re-zoning].” According to Larry Rose, they mean to maintain the Facebook Group as a resource and for advocacy purposes for Gwinnett and beyond.
“We learned that we can take a stand and make a difference,” said Robin Mauck, another leader of the opposition. “We learned how to communicate important news, using social media and e-mail,” added Rose. These “newborn” community leaders learned quickly how to communicate and get things done at both the county and state level. They learned how to mobilize and equip their community to effect change. And perhaps most important, neighbors of differing political views, diverse races and ethnicities, men, women and even children, rose up in a common cause.
“This has shown that community is stronger than partisan politics,” said Jeff Allen.
What none of them saw coming were the friendships that would emerge out of it. For some, it was an opportunity to cross their mailboxes and talk with their neighbors. In the case of Robin and Jeff Allen, a nearby resident who became an active opposition leader, it rekindled an old friendship from when they worked together on a local school council. Others learned they had attended high school together. And just like that, the town of sidewalk and brick seemed like a community of people.
Energized and enthused, these individuals know they have each other’s backs. Together they mean to keep a watch on what happens in the county and are prepared to fight any rezoning that will place waste stations in residential areas.
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