In the state of Georgia, municipal governments must retain their Qualified Local Government Status in order to be eligible for a variety of state-funded programs. To maintain this status, communities must meet minimum planning standards developed by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which Gwinnett County exceeds through its comprehensive plan or “Unified Plan.” The 2030 Unified Plan was adopted in February 2009 and now a new envisioning through the year 2040 must be adopted by February 2019. This plan update is being used to establish a long-term vision for Gwinnett County and to identify short-term incremental steps that can be used to achieve this vision. As such, this plan envisions Gwinnett County in the year 2040 and asks three fundamental questions:
- Where do we want to go?
- How do we get there?
- How will the County’s infrastructure (such as transportation and sewer) interface with land use, economic development, parks, open spaces and housing policies to ensure that Gwinnett remains a “preferred place” to live and work?
To help answer these questions, Gwinnett County contracted with Pond (www.pondco.com), an engineering; architecture; planning; and construction firm headquartered locally in Peachtree Corners, to assist in developing the plan. Through this process, our team has been guided by a core philosophy focusing on (1) a commitment to engaging the community and understanding a collective vision for the future and (2) a recognition that the plan needs to also be founded on data and technical analysis.
Engaging the Community
Our team has taken a variety of approaches to understand desires for Gwinnett County’s future. We have already conducted a series of community open houses throughout the County which have been supplemented by other engagement opportunities in the community including speaking engagements to business and civic groups and the regular convening of a citizen Planning Advisory Committee.
We also put a lot of focus in going to where people already are. This includes “intercept” interviews where we approach people going about their daily business to discuss the future of the County and “Pop Up Events” where we will often have a booth at community events and festivals. Through these activities, we have already received a lot of great input and dialogue at locations such as Santa Fe Mall and County parks as well as at events as varied as the State of the County, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade and a Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival. We’ve also targeted specific populations using a variety of techniques including participating in radio interviews at Spanish language radio stations La Raza and VidaAtlanta, reaching out to young people (including an appearance at Lilburn Middle School), and even conducting a marketing style focus group (complete with mirrored glass) of young adults.
In addition, we are asking those vested in the future of Gwinnett County to visit our website and take a short survey at www.gwinnett2040unifiedplan.com. Other ways to get involved include hosting or taking part in a more in-depth discussion regarding the future of the County through a Living Room Chat (instructions also on our website at www.gwinnett2040unifiedplan.com) and following our Facebook page.
Data and Technical Analysis
An emerging centerpiece of our work is a series of analyses we have developed and call “Opportunity for Change”, which has three distinct components.
The first component is called “change and preserve preferences” and is an exercise we developed to understand the parts of our community that residents would like to (1) preserve as they are and (2) conversely the parts of our community where they see an opportunity for changing into something different than what we have now.
The second component is called “urban scale preferences” and is a companion exercise for us to understand what types of development and intensity the community feels appropriate. Using a scale from rural to suburban to urban areas, residents are able to voice their vision for the future of different parts of Gwinnett County.
In the third and final component, called “change and preserve likelihood”, Pond performed a series of analyses to understand what parts of the County are likely to change and what parts are likely to preserve using a variety of different criteria ranging from walkability scores to property values to existing and planned infrastructure (such as where there is transportation and sewer capacity) to market demand based on rates of home ownership and developer proposals.
With credible demographers estimating a 2040 population in Gwinnett County of over 1.5 million people, it will be incredibly important to make sure this growth occurs in a responsible and sustainable manner. When complete, this unique analysis process we’ve developed will empower the planning team and County decision makers to make informed and educated decisions as we plan our future.
Our planning team anticipates preparing an initial draft of the plan this summer. However, before that we will be hosting community open houses in April and May and we hope to see you there and learn what you think about the future of our community!
Monday, April 30, 2018
Dacula Park Activity Building
2735 Old Auburn Avenue
Dacula, Georgia 30019
Monday, May 7, 2018
4515 Lenora Church Road
Snellville, Georgia 30039
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Rhodes Jordan Park
100 East Crogan Street
Lawrenceville, Georgia 30046
Monday, May 14, 2018
George Pierce Park
55 Buford Highway
Suwanee, Georgia 30024
Thursday, May 17, 2018
Lucky Shoals Park
4651 Britt Road
Norcross, Georgia 30093
From there, we will work further with the community (anticipating another series of open houses in August), decision makers and regulatory agencies to eventually have the plan adopted by the County Board of Commissioners, anticipated to occur in February 2019.
This blog post was written by Eric Lusher, AICP is an Associate and Senior Project Manager with Pond, leading the consultant team for the Gwinnett 2040 Unified Plan. Eric has more than 15 years of experience in community planning, transportation planning, and traffic engineering projects. Eric believes that the key to a successful planning project is combining strong technical analysis and knowledge of best practices with strong community engagement to establish a unified vision and implementation plan.