By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 1, 2009
Father Francis Tuan Tran, administrator of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, stood in solidarity with nearly 1,000 of his parishioners Dec. 16, hoping numbers would help prevent approval of a new waste transfer station next to the mission.
The priest addressed the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners at a public hearing, pleading with board members to consider the dangers and possible side effects of rezoning land to build such a property so near to the church on Shackleford Road in Norcross.
The meeting was the second public hearing on the rezoning. Father Tran brought more than 600 people with him to the first meeting a few weeks earlier, which ended with a recommendation by county planners to deny the requests for rezoning and a special use permit.
He had hoped that, with more people, the commissioners would see how strongly parishioners oppose the plan.
Commissioners immediately agreed to move the issue to the top of the Dec. 16 agenda, after seeing that the Gwinnett Justice Center auditorium, as well as the hall outside and an entire extra room were full of protesting members of the Norcross mission.
“Let me say that the delay is a result of the overflow crowd,” said Charles Bannister, commission chairman, as the hearing began a few minutes late.
Lee Tucker of the Mahaffey, Pickens, Tucker law firm, which is representing the land owner, Lancaster Enterprises, addressed the board first, outlining the need for a waste transfer station in the area.
“We all generate trash,” Tucker began, adding, “It has to go somewhere.”
Tucker claimed that a new transfer station would keep more trucks off of the road and, in the end, improve the health of the area by safely and quietly moving trash away from Gwinnett County.
“All activities would be indoors,” Tucker said. “There would be no outdoor handling.”
He added that the proposed plan for the nine-acre property includes two buildings designed to look like office space and provided renderings of a possible land plan. Tucker also argued that the location is appropriate for the use proposed because of office properties nearby and a quarry located across the street.
Allan Anderson, vice president of Gwinnett Corporate Center, which is responsible for nearly 3 million square feet of office and warehouse space near the property, took the podium to counter the remarks made by Tucker.
“This is a totally inappropriate use for the property,” said Anderson.
He said that putting in a waste transfer station would drive businesses away from the area due to the increased traffic and possibly unsanitary conditions, and he urged the commissioners to deny the request.
Dennis Kelly of Catholic Construction Services also addressed the board and introduced Thuy Nguyen, a member of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission.
Nguyen and her husband, Felix, have lived in Gwinnett County for more than 15 years. She is a registered nurse who has been employed by Gwinnett Medical Center for the last decade. The couple has an 8-year-old daughter, Jasmine.
“My family and I are members of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission Catholic Church, which currently has 4,000 members,” Nguyen began. “We, too, share in your mission, in that we help each other become better citizens for the church and community.”
She expressed her concerns about the air pollution, dangerous truck traffic and increased noise level that a waste transfer station would bring to the area and cited her first-hand experience with patients who have acquired airborne infections requiring long hospitalizations.
“I am worried that the fumes that rise with heat, foul odor and debris could be harmful to their health,” she said about the children she works with every Saturday at the church.
“But my greatest concern is that of a mother,” she continued. “My daughter—as well as many other children—comes to the church to worship and learn about God, and to participate in other activities. I am deeply disturbed that my only child, who has asthma, could be exposed to such a detrimental environment. I am sure that any loving parent would greatly share in my concerns.”
Nguyen also noted that current law does not allow a liquor store to operate next to a school or daycare center.
“How can we fathom a waste station next to a church school, that has more children present than a daycare,” she asked the board.
“As a member of the church, I urge you. As a teacher, I ask you. But as a mother, I beg you. Please deny the proposed rezoning request to build a solid waste transfer station,” Nguyen concluded.
“Please keep us safe and healthy,” Jasmine chimed in at the end of her mother’s address.
Father Tran addressed the board last. After highlighting the many concerns he and the mission had, he asked those present who opposed the rezoning to stand up.
Nearly the entire room stood. Those who were patiently watching in the halls stood. Those who were watching the hearing on televisions in a separate room stood.
“Please help us to protect our community,” said Father Tran.
Bannister then allowed the board to offer motions. Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, District 4, made a motion to approve the rezoning with stipulations.
He said the truck traffic was a major consideration, suggesting that it be limited to approximately 80 trucks per day and that a new traffic light be considered near the property. The vote on his motion ended in a 2-2 tie.
Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, District 3, then offered a second motion.
He asked the representatives of the Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Mission to what degree there had been collaboration between themselves and the current owners of the land. Both sides agreed that there has been no talk outside of the two public hearings.
Beaudreau motioned to table the decision until the Feb. 3 meeting, suggesting in the meantime that the two parties begin discussing compromises or possible solutions. By February a new commissioner will have joined the board.
The motion received a majority vote, tabling the decision until then.
Hopeful parishioners stood up and began filing out of the building, forced to wait until February to learn the fate of the property next door.