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Norcross-area residents lose fight against QuikTrip

By Arielle Kass, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

A Gwinnett County neighborhood lost its fight to keep a QuikTrip gas station from taking over two residential lots.

Residents on Hayes Drive near Norcross were victorious two years ago when they fought QuikTrip’s plan to turn two homes on their street into a commercial driveway. 

This time, the developer convinced county commissioners the public would benefit if gas station traffic could access a light at Hayes Drive and Jimmy Carter Boulevard — rather than trying to drive through the neighborhood, or turn onto Jimmy Carter from Joseph Way where there isn’t a signal.

Melody Glouton, an attorney representing QuikTrip, called the traffic light a “public asset.”

Residents are livid.

“They threw us under the bus,” said Cheryl Finke, vice president of the neighborhood homeowners association. “This is going to kill us.”

Neighbors were just as frustrated by the way the vote happened as by the result. 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, two county commissioners participated in the meeting remotely. One, Commissioner Ben Ku, represents the area. He made a motion to deny QuikTrip’s rezoning request, but it wasn’t seconded.

A motion to approve the request passed in a 4-1 vote, but only two votes could be heard in the meeting. Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said county rules mean silence in a vote is affirmation. Commissioners must have a conflict of interest to abstain, and must explain it.

One commissioner whose vote could not be heard, Tommy Hunter, confirmed that he intended to cast a vote in favor of the project. Hunter participated remotely. Another, Marlene Fosque, was at the meeting in person and did not respond to requests for comment.

“We didn’t know what happened,” Finke said. “Somebody needs to look me in the eye and tell me you just ruined my neighborhood.”

Commissioner Jace Brooks voted against the QuikTrip in 2018 but changed his vote Tuesday. Brooks said he decided traffic flow would improve with the project.

“I think it made it safer,” he said, noting QuikTrip had a right to build on some of the land regardless of the board’s decision. “This wasn’t a case of QuikTrip vs. no QuikTrip. They were going to be disappointed either way.”

Aisha Jefferson-Smith, a QuikTrip spokesperson, said she thought the approval was in the best interest of everyone — customers and neighbors alike. She said she expected a late 2021 opening.

“We’ve addressed everyone’s concerns,” she said.

Andrea Nelson, who lives in the neighborhood, said the board’s approval was “reprehensible” and called several of the commissioners “feckless cowards” for changing their votes from 2018.

“I find it despicable,” she said. “It’s so unfair to the citizens these people are supposed to represent.”

Ku, the lone vote against QuikTrip, said he understood residents’ frustration.

“I’m not too thrilled myself,” he said.