Voters shoot down community revitalization referendum

LAWRENCEVILLE - Voters appear to have rejected Tuesday a revitalization tool that some say could have transformed the dilapidated communities of Gwinnett.

A referendum on the Redevelopment Powers Law failed by a margin of less than one percent. The final unofficial tally was 59,510 voting yes and 60,599 voting no, not including absentee ballots.

"We lost a very important opportunity for Gwinnett," said Mark Williams, the president of the Gwinnett Place Mall Community Improvement District. "It's a shame people didn't understand this ballot question and the importance this had for Gwinnett redevelopment."

The referendum, placed on ballots by legislators at the behest of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, would allow the county to designate tax allocation districts.

In blighted areas, the county would be able to earmark increases in tax revenues when property values go up due to redevelopment. The money would be used for infrastructure improvements in the district.

Georgia has 14 tax allocation districts, including the popular new Atlantic Station in Atlanta.

Campaigners were worried about perceptions that the Redevelopment Powers Law matter involved a tax increase or eminent domain.

Once the myths are dispelled, the ideas are popular, they said, because it improves property values and decreases crime within the district and also places an emphasis on development in the urban areas and not the rural ones.

"If you can create safe, attractive, vibrant places to live closer in town, people will flock to that," attorney Michael Sullivan said. "You decrease the development pressure on the farther out places."

Since the 2004 election, officials have focused on revitalization in the older areas of suburban Gwinnett.

County leaders have approved Community Improvement Districts and ordinances for senior housing and high rises in attempts to breathe new life into old, dilapidated neighborhoods and shopping centers.

TADs, Sullivan said, could be the final piece of the puzzle.

Williams said he expects to see the idea back on ballots in the future.

"This is too important of a tool to not have on the ballot again in some shape or fashion," he said.

The passage of the referendum Tuesday would not have guaranteed a TAD project in Gwinnett. Commissioners would have had to approve specific plans.