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We're No Gwinnett County

December 6, 2005

by Jack Lynch

I am writing to engage in a healthy and constructive debate with one of the great public minds of our community, Alan Imhoff, one of our recently elected Aldermen.  His recent article in the conseravtive Tentacle, was on growth in Gwinnett County, Georgia in comparison to Frederick County. 

Mr. Imhoff’s primary purpose was to discuss the need for affordable housing options, particularly for seniors, while suggesting that growth policy had made land more expensive by slowing growth.

While I have great respect for his intelligence and skilled observations on public issues, and in fact supported his Aldermanic election, I take issue with the final thoughts of his article, it is simply not up to par with his past performance, and I hope that a similar sloppiness and knee jerk attribution of cause and effect will not guide his decisions as an elected official.

Alan claims, “As a county we have been complaining of uncontrolled growth since the late 1970's…but is it as bad as we have made it?

Our neighboring county to the south - Loudoun County, Virginia - was comparable to our county in many ways. Rural, agricultural population centered in or near small towns and municipalities; we both followed the same growth patterns up until the 1980's…However, in 2000 Loudoun issued 6,134 permits for new housing; Frederick County on the other hand issued 2,918.”

Loudoun County to our south in Virginia is certainly not a model of great growth itself.  Read about a citizens group there fighting for quality of life. 

Alan continues, “But even more interesting is another county even further south, just outside of Atlanta. Gwinnett County was another peer county used in a Demographic and Economic Base Analysis study in 2001 for our Office of Economic Development.

In 1970 Gwinnett County had a population of 72,349 while we had 84,927; by 1990 while ours was 150,208, Gwinnett had exploded to 352,910. By the 2000 Census they were at 588,448 while we grew to 195,277. Talk about growth pressures.

So, while we pride ourselves in managing growth, are we really growing too slow?”

While the comparison is of interest, there are dissimilarities that outweigh the commonalities between Gwinnett and Frederick counties. 

First and foremost, Gwinnett is about ten miles outside Atlanta, a significant economic engine, making it more comparable to Montgomery County than Frederick County, fifty miles from Washington.  Few Fredericktonians that I meet want to be more like Montgomery County!  Many of them moved here to escape that growth model.

Second, Gwinnett County is now essentially built out, a concept unknown in Frederick County planners thinking, even with water shortages in the region.  A large UPS facility never considered the county rather than its neighboring county because of this and its Commissioners are now considering economic incentives for businesses, as well as impact fees on homes!

 

Additionally, read this article, quote below: 

“The gap has been widening between the county's business tax revenue and residential taxes. While new residents have invaded Gwinnett subdivisions by the legion, companies have not followed at the same pace…An even split between residents and businesses turned into a 15 percent gap, steadily growing a few points each year. About 53 percent of Gwinnett's taxes come from homes now…. That pattern has county leaders worried about taxes in the future… The county spends about 80 cents for every dollar it takes in from a commercial parcel, he said. It spends about $1.12 for every dollar in taxes it receives from a homeowner.”

Further, the County now recognizes the need, not only for additional parkland, but open space and greenways and resource conservation.  Noting: that few significant parcels remain for this type of long term planning, in its Master Plan and Open Space and Greenway Master Plan.  Read it Here

Potential Acquisition Parcels are found few in number: 

Instead, they are suggesting planning changes to trade and sell development rights, what we considered here as TDR’s or Transferable Development Rights, trading density for open space; and allow water and sewer hookups based on public access rights to property, and (hopefully) accept donations of lands from developers! 

Likewise, they now see that water quality planning is paramount to their future.

In my opinion, Frederick is very different, although we share some interesting parallels, and Gwinnett County is not our model, and certainly not a paradigm of good growth, or an example of how to seek an economic base for affordable housing here. 

As Alan himself says, it’s the land cost that is the issue.  Take the land cost out of the equation and publicly support building affordable housing.