9/29: A county comparison; Sugar Hill center; Powerful poem

GwinnettForum  |  Number 17.49  |  Sept. 29, 2017  

TOPPING OUT: The top beam is in place at Sugar Hill’s massive E Center. The city had a Topping Out ceremony at the Center, adjacent to City Hall, on Monday. For more details on this event, read Elliott Brack’s perspective, below. Photo by Dakota Mathis.
TODAY’S FOCUS: Georgia Native Compares Gwinnett to Orange County, Calif.
EEB PERSPECTIVE: Sugar Hill Marks Topping Out Ceremony for Massive E Center
ANOTHER VIEW: Powerful poem cuts to core of NFL controversy
SPOTLIGHT: Precision Planning Inc.
FEEDBACK: Feels Fortunate Every Time She Smells the Pluff Mud Aroma
UPCOMING: Lawrenceville Offers Free Mulch to City and County Residents
NOTABLE: Elections Division Working with Key Hispanic Leaders in County
RECOMMENDED: The Virginian by Owen Wister
GEORGIA TIDBIT: Robins Air Force Base Grows Quickly, Impacting 25 Counties
TODAY’S QUOTE: What Caused Angie Dickinson’s Mother Second Thoughts
MYSTERY PHOTO: Old Ben Taking It Easy on a Bench is New Mystery
LAGNIAPPE: New Photograph Hanging at Lawrenceville Senior Center by Frank Sharp
CALENDAR: Public Lands Day is Saturday at Tribble Mill Park. 

Georgia native compares Gwinnett to Orange County, Calif.

(Editor’s Note: A Georgia man whose family is from Gwinnett but was raised in Atlanta now lives in Irvine, Calif.  Today, he compares that area with parts of Gwinnett and Peachtree Corners. When planning Technology Park, Paul Duke and his associates visited Irvine  and other areas and modeled the development Technology Park based on those visits. The author is related to the Herndon, Cofer and Hannah families in Gwinnett. This is the first of what is anticipated will be two articles –eeb)

 By Ashley Herndon, Irvine, Calif. How in tarnation did Gwinnett County and Orange County wind up in the same sentence?  By chance.  I was asked to do a short comparison, since I have roots in Gwinnett, and live in Irvine, so here goes.

There are marked differences in demographic majorities and minorities between the two counties.  Like Gwinnett, Orange County and Irvine have grown considerably since I arrived in Irvine in 1984. Here are comparative numbers that I believe are no older than 2015.

                                     Gwinnett County            Orange County            Irvine

Square Miles                          437                                            948                       65.92

Population:                       895,823                                  3,051,771                   258,386

Population/Square Mile      1,802                                         3,219                        3,920


It is easy to discern the cultural differences. The demographic spreads in Orange County are wide, including some extreme income spreads. Orange County is far different from Gwinnett in ethnic makeup, which is diverse. But in Orange County, 73 percent of the people are white, while 20 percent are Asian, two percent are black, and 34 percent are Hispanic or Latino.  (Note the overlap).

Irvine was carved out of the 93,000 acre Irvine Ranch. Peachtree Corners (16.92 persons per square mile) and Irvine, (65.92 persons a square mile), were planned in the 60s and 70s, but Irvine filled out quicker. Peachtree Corners, Gwinnett’s largest city, has been ranked one of the best cities to live in Georgia.  Compare that to Irvine, where we get our feelings hurt if we are not named the safest city in the country.

The Gwinnett I knew in the first few of my 75 years was the dictionary definition of rural, and I mean ‘scratch ankle’ rural, worked by individual family units.  Granddaddy had a horse and a mule.

At that same time, Orange County was mostly large tracts, with over one fifth of it owned by one man, James Irvine.  Later Donald Bren made a hostile takeover of the Irvine family property, and has directed the development of Irvine. The city’s Master Plan is what controls how and where anything is done. Much of the remainder of Orange County was owned by other large landowners, all of which dated back to Spanish Land Grants, unlike the bidding for small parcels when Gwinnett was first settled.

Our Master Plan structure lends itself to conformity, which has its benefits, but irritates some residents, especially those from areas with more open space.  When you consider the land value, hardly anyone has a home lot over 6,500 square feet. If you have a 10,000 square foot lot in Irvine, that is large. Of course, there are multi-million dollar houses. But most people in Southern California have small lots, and live up next to their neighbor.

If you come to Orange County, especially Irvine, looking for larger parcels, be prepared for sticker shock. But recently The Irvine Company deeded 40,000 acres in perpetuity as open spaces. Hence housing may be crowded, but no one is far from a wilderness, or the nearby Santa Ana mountains, which are in Orange County.

(To be continued)


Sugar Hill marks topping out ceremony for massive E Center

Photo by Marc Cohen.

By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher  |  Walking out of the Sugar Hill City Hall about 5:30 p.m. on Monday, there was a distinctive sound. From the cemetery across the street, a recorded bell was peeling a song. It was beautiful, signaling the end of the day in some respects, and also was a nice touch to hear after the City of Sugar Hill had just celebrated a “topping out” of its new E Center.

The sprawling E Center, immediately south of the city hall’s parking lot, is a 150,000 square foot, four-story structure that is expected to be finished by the summer of 2018. It will include a 400 seat theatre, one of the largest in Gwinnett; a multi-sport gymnasium; 43,000 square feet of retail space; plus up to nine restaurants. There will even be a roof-top bar that will overlook the City Hall and the Bowl, the city’s outdoor amphitheatre.

It’s massive, and aims to put Sugar Hill higher in everyone’s sights.

Sugar Hill invited people up to the Topping Out, with a short indoor ceremony before walking out back to see the Topping Out. Such custom dates back ages, some pointing to Scandinavia in the year 700  A.D., for this tradition. The Topping Out is held when the last beam is placed atop a structure. It consisted of an evergreen tree plus American flag riding atop the giant I-Beam, as the red crane, capable of lifting 250 tons, hoisted the beam above the steel superstructure into its high placement. (The crane is massive, some 220 feet tall.)

So, just as seen in New York and other big cities with major steel construction projects, here was Sugar Hill holding its own ceremony. Such Toppings Out mark the completion of the skeleton of the building.

We talked to Rob Dunn, executive vice president of New South Construction Company of Atlanta, the contractor in the project. “That Topping Out means that we are about halfway through the erection of the building. It’s a milestone of the completion of the basic bones of the building.

“Next we get to the guts and heart of the building, with crews making the area into open space, put up the walls, perform the electrical, the heating and air conditioning, and make the space workable. Shortly the roof will go on, and then we’ll pick up speed in making the area livable. For once the roof is on, we can dry the area in, and control our destiny without worrying about the weather. We’ll really turn up the pace and manpower, adding the dry wall, the paint, the floor….items people can feel and touch.”

Dunn, a Macon native who grew up in Columbus, is a 1990 Georgia Tech graduate who joined New South directly after college. His firm does work all over the Southeast, but mainly in Georgia. Much of the work is at the airport.  The company has 212 full time employees, but on big jobs, such as the E Center, will bring on many sub-contractors. Soon there will be up to 175 people working on the Sugar Hill project.

The city’s E Center was designed after the community, in many public sessions over 10 years, determined the type of facility that Sugar Hill citizens wanted. It is the backbone of the downtown Master Plan. Scheduled to come later to the immediate area near City Hall will be condos, more restaurants, a high end hotel, niche grocer and senior living facilities.

In effect, Sugar Hill is reaching for new heights, which the Topping Out ceremony and tolling of the bells signaled!

APOLOGIES to the City of Lawrenceville. That city was somehow left out in a list of local cities providing debris pick-up.  Lawrenceville has one of the more liberal policies for trash (limbs, leaves, etc.), with a weekly pick-up service. It runs its leaf pick-up services weekly from October through April.


Powerful poem cuts to core of NFL’s knee controversy

By Andy Brack, Charleston, S.C.  |  Understanding poetry is something that never has come easy.

In high school, each student had a forced march through a semester-long “Introduction to Poetry” class taught by a gangly teacher who also was tennis coach and an assistant football coach.  He kept trying to pound into our heads that everything didn’t have to rhyme and that poets sought to create images in our heads from words.

Through the years, I’ve tried understanding sonnets, Shakespeare, classics and more, only to give up in frustration.  In recent years, working with S.C. Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth to offer a monthly Palmetto Poem in Charleston Currents has been another attempt to understand poetry.  It has helped.

But until Saturday, I never really “got” the power of poetry.  Thanks to nationally-known writer Kwame Alexander, a poem has finally gotten to me.

Alexander was the keynote speaker of a recent Black Ink, a gathering of four dozen writers celebrating African American writing in a six-hour Charleston book festival that filled the main library.  The festival, now in its second year, reportedly did very well, with writers selling two or three times as many books to hundreds of attendees.

In a poignant talk about memories ranging from a boyhood spent selling books for his father to his mother’s recent death, Alexander kept his audience spellbound with his passionate, strong voice.

But an extended version of a relatively new poem, “Take a Knee,” cut to the core.  It showed how a rat-a-tat-tat of common-day phrases starting with the word “take” can generate real emotion and lead, perhaps, to new ways of considering issues. (And with what’s happening at NFL games, it’s particularly relevant.)

Alexander, a Newbery-Award-winning children’s author, originally offered the piece to ESPN’s The Undefeated earlier this year during Black History Month.  Take a listen.

It won’t be long before again you see Alexander, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, in Charleston.  He’s slated to be in town for a free literary discussion during the MOJA Arts Festival.  He’ll talk 7:30 p.m., Oct. 3 at the City Gallery, 34 Prioleau St., Charleston.

Take the meeting.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Charleston Currents.


Precision Planning, Inc.

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Feels fortunate every time she smells the pluff mud

Editor, the Forum:

Pluff mud is a smell I look forward to experiencing every time I’m fortunate enough to get to the Georgia and South Carolina coast. It means that I’m going to be able to see wonderful creatures, paint and photograph to my heart’s delight!

I will say that the odor is completely different when nearing the Maine coast and was a delight I anticipated every year when I was young and going to our grandparents’ home on the southern Maine coast. How I loved the first smell when our car topped Surprise Hill and we were almost to the road to the house!

The thought of those wonderful odors bring back many wonderful memories of growing up…and now, I can look forward to the annual trip to Folly Beach, S.C.  It means time with friends, painting wonderful landscape and photographing every sunrise for a week.

It’s been a joy every year since the first trip there in 1989. We left a day and a half before Hugo hit and have seen many changes since then, but it’s always wonderful!

— Mikki Root Dillon, Lilburn

Send us your thoughts:  We encourage you to send us your letters and thoughts on issues raised in GwinnettForum.  Please limit comments to 300 words.  We reserve the right to edit for clarity and length.  Send feedback and letters to:    elliott@brack.net


Lawrenceville offers free mulch to city, county residents

The City of Lawrenceville will be offering free mulch to both city and county residents as the fall season approaches and landscaping projects are underway. After the recent tropical storm that swept through the county, Lawrenceville crews have been engaged in daily cleanup efforts to remove tree limbs and storm debris as a part of the services offered from the city.

City Manager, Chuck Warbington says: “As a city, we strongly support sustainable efforts, and we are thrilled to provide the community with free mulch as a result of the overall cleanup efforts. Mulching is a low-maintenance practice and serves as an important aspect of sustainable gardening.”

The pick-up location for the free mulch is 430 Paper Mill Rd. Lawrenceville. Pick-up times are every Wednesday between 1:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. and on Saturdays during the month of October only, between 8 a.m. and noon. Although guests are welcome to self-load, a city representative will be on-site to operate the loader equipment for those who require assistance. City officials advise that arriving with a truck or trailer will ensure that the loading process is fast and efficient.

AARP, library team up to present smart driver workshop

In partnership with AARP, Gwinnett County Public Library will present a free Smart DriverTEK Workshop to help senior drivers understand new vehicle safety technologies and how to use them.  Drivers will learn how the benefits of these technologies may enhance their driving safety and extend their safe driving years. There will be two workshops.

The first takes place on October 10 at 10 a.m. at the Centerville Branch, 3025 Bethany Church Road, Snellville.  The second class will be held on October 12 at 10 a.m. at the Norcross Branch, 6025 Buford Highway, Norcross.  Both classes are free, but reservations are requested as space is limited.  RSVP at events@gwinnettpl.org.  Please note, this workshop is distinct from the AARP Driver Safety’s Smart Driver course.


Elections Division working with key Hispanic leaders in county

The Gwinnett County Voter Registrations and Elections Division hosted a Community Meet and Greet in their office last week. The division’s staff invited key leaders in the Hispanic community to get their input on community outreach efforts. Attendees learned about the division’s current outreach efforts and met the division’s new Outreach Specialist, Silvia King, who has been tasked with helping to grow the division’s outreach program.

In addition to informal discussions, information about the division’s Spanish language assistance program was provided and attendees were encouraged to share the information with others in the community.

The division is also recruiting bilingual poll officials for the 2018 election year. Citizens who can read and write English and Spanish are encouraged to visit www.gwinnettjobs.com to complete an application.


The Virginian by Owen Wister

The person who is considered the father of western novels is Owen Wister. His masterpiece, The Virginian, reads like a modern novel. One of his most famous lines is when a cowboy hears his mother’s name called in vain, with him replying, “When you call me that, smile.”  The setting is the Wyoming territory in the 1880s, where the country was wild, the law was often bought, and large landowners prevailed. Wister romanticized the everyday cowboy, with his harsh life. The book was an immediate success in 1902, and was reprinted 14 times in the first eight months. It is among the top 50 best selling works of fiction, and gives the reader a distinctive view of the early West. Wister was from a wealthy family, Harvard trained, but fell in love with the West, and created a distinctive view of that part of the country, and the cowboy life. –eeb

An invitation: what books, restaurants, movies or web sites have you enjoyed recently? Send us your recent selection, along with a short paragraph (100 words) as to why you liked this, plus what you plan to visit or read next. –eeb


Robins Air Force Base grows quickly, impacting 25 counties

Photo via Georgia Encyclopedia.

Robins Air Force Base is Georgia’s largest industrial installation and is located in Warner Robins, 16 miles south of Macon. Both the base and the town were named for Brigadier General Augustine Warner Robins (1882-1940), one of the first logistics specialists and generals of the Army Air Corps.

The 1935 Wilcox-Wilson bill provided for construction of new army air logistics depots, and in the early 1940s Macon civic leaders, led by Mayor Charles L. Bowden and supported by Congressman Carl Vinson, convinced the War Department to locate an airfield near Macon. In June 1941, after much competition, the War Department approved the construction of a depot in middle Georgia dairy-farm country near the Southern Railroad whistle-stop of Wellston. The site was chosen because of its flat lands, artesian water, proximity to a main rail line, and abundant and cheap land and labor.

Construction officially started with groundbreaking ceremonies on September 1 on a 3,108-acre tract. Macon city fathers, supported by Wellston leaders, obtained property rights from the original owners. The Army Air Forces (AAF) later bought an additional 2,700 acres for the cantonment area, civilian barracks, and the pistol/rifle range.

Even though Wellston was in Houston County, Bibb County leaders spent more than $100,000 to obtain Robins Field by increasing city business license taxes and county ad valorem taxes. Spurred on by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, construction on the industrial and cantonment areas was completed by August 31, 1942. The second and third phases were completed the following April.

Known as the Georgia Air Depot in the beginning, the depot has undergone many name changes. During World War II (1941-45) it was redesignated seven times, acquiring “Warner Robins” in the fifth version of its name, when the town of Wellston was renamed to honor General Robins.

Throughout World War II 23,670 employees repaired almost every kind of AAF aircraft, including B-17s, C-47s, B-29s, B-24s, P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s. Its training facilities turned out nearly 60,000 field repair mechanics for every theater of war. The workforce supplied every kind of part necessary to keep AAF planes flying, especially spark plugs. It also maintained thousands of parachutes, aircraft electronic and radio systems, and AAF small arms.

Robins AFB has the largest runway in Georgia and is capable of accommodating the world’s largest aircraft, including the C-5B and NASA’s space shuttle piggybacked on a Boeing 747. The replacement value of the base is $5.7 billion.

The Museum of Aviation, begun in 1981, has four major structures on forty-three acres and ninety historic aircraft. It has become a major regional educational and historical resource that hosts 700,000 visitors annually.

In the 1990s Robins AFB awarded between $2 billion and $4 billion in annual contracts; between $200 million and $400 million of that went to Georgia businesses. Robins’s total economic impact on middle Georgia was $4.2 billion in 2005.

When the army air forces came to Wellston at the beginning of World War II, 47 families lived in the area. (The population of Warner Robins in 2015 was 73,477). The 25 middle Georgia counties near Robins AFB have grown and experienced economic stability as a result of the presence of the base.


Old Ben taking it easy on a bench is new Mystery

Here’s the guy one of Georgia’s counties was named for, a statue of a relaxing Ben Franklin himself. But where is Ben taking it easy?  Figure it out and send to elliott@brack.net, and be sure to tell us the town where you get your mail.

George Graf of Palmyra, Va. came through again, recognizing the most recent Mystery Photo. He guesses: “It is the Cliffs above the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, Newport Beach, Orange County, Calif.  I’m not feeling sure about this one, but the Newport Bay cliff formations were very, very similar, so I’m going with that as my guess. One of only a few remaining estuaries in southern California, Upper Newport Bay is a tranquil setting where fresh and saltwater meet and mix. Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve represent approximately 1,000 acres of open space. It is the home of nearly 200 species of birds, including several endangered species, as well as numerous varieties of mammals, fish, and native plants. The bay is an important stopover for migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway and up to 30,000 birds can be seen on any day during the winter months.”

Meanwhile, Neal Davies of Decatur was close: “It looks very much like a scene that I saw a year or so ago near Costa Mesa, Calif., where my son and his wife live. It was of a park that has been created with recovered and preserved wetlands. That’s what would be in the foreground and you would see some older development on the buttes across the park where some residential development had occurred many years before. I believe that the buttes were left over from some mining that had occurred there, thus the reason for reclaiming the wetlands for wildlife.”

The photo came from today’s main item author, by Ashley Herndon of Irvine, California.


Lawrenceville Senior Center has new collage from Frank Sharp

Roving Photographer Frank Sharp has a photo collage now hanging in the entrance of the Lawrenceville Senior Center. The photos were made when he was on a trip to Bali, Indonesia. These photos were previously displayed at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta. The two gorgeous love birds are Scarlet Macaws.


(NEW) Public Lands Day will be Saturday, September 30 at Tribble Mill Park, near Lawrenceville. A ceremony dedicating the Lloyd N. Harris Loop Trail will be at 10 a.m. Exhibitors and guided hikes will be available. Public Lands Day includes helping with tree plantings, trash cleanup, invasive plant removal, and pollinator habitat development. Call 678-277-0900 to volunteer or 770-822-8840 for more information.

Peach State Chili Cookoff will be in Saturday, Sept. 30 in Town Center Park in Suwanee. Some 50 teams will compete for a $1,000 grand prize. Detail: www.peachstatechili.com

Ribbon cutting for Phase II of Rock Springs Park will be at 4:30 p.m. on October 3at the park. It is located at 310 Old Peachtree Road in Lawrenceville.

(NEW) The Elisha Winn Fair is scheduled for October 7 and 8 at the birthplace of Gwinnett at the Elisha Winn house, 908 Dacula Road, near Dacula. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Sponsored by the Gwinnett Historical Society, admission is $3 for those 12 or older. The fair will feature tours of the house, with period furnishings, a one-room school, a working blacksmith shop, an old log jail and barn, live demonstrations, and a real cotton patch. Other entertainment includes arts and crafts, antique vendors, re-enactors, live bluegrass music, a handmade quilt raffle and food vendors.

Kudzu Art Zone’s annual 12×12 show runs through October 8. The original art is all 12×12 inches original works. The paintings are an eclectic group of work on canvas.  Proceeds will support Kudzu’s efforts to bring art to the community through exhibits, classes, workshops and art camps for deserving children. A silent auction, with bidding closing at 2 p.m. on October 8, is part of this show. It is open during his year’s Norcross Art Splash. Kudzu Art Zone is located at 116 Carlyle Street in Norcross and is open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., also open for the reception on October 8. For details see website: www.kudzuartzone.org or phone 770-840-9844.

(NEW) RE-SCHEDULED: The Fall Community Forum on Domestic Minor Human Trafficking has been rescheduled for Tuesday, November 14 at 7 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 2140 Beaver Ruin Road, in Norcross. For more details, contact Muriam.Nafees@gwinnettcounty.com.


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