Peachtree Corners, Norcross vying for businesses

NORCROSS -- The battle for business tax dollars is on in Peachtree Corners, four months before homeowners will consider forming a city in the northwestern corner of Gwinnett.

Officials with the city of Norcross, a 140-year-old town just south of the area, sent annexation packets to nearby businesses inviting them to join the older city instead of the new one.

Mayor Bucky Johnson said that since business owners don't have a vote in the November referendum on cityhood in Peachtree Corners, the only way they will have a choice in their fate is if they willingly join Norcross.

"We're not actively soliciting ... but we are putting the word out," he said, "We're saying here is the process if you want to do it."

Mike Mason, the president of the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association, who has helped lead the battle for cityhood since Norcross pursued a legislative annexation of businesses several years ago, said the annexation packets are an affront to Peachtree Corners residents. Pursuing a "city light" form of government with only three services, the effort is mostly focused on giving local control to zoning issues, and if the businesses are within Norcross, the residents will have even less power.

"Whether we become a city or not, the people here lose any interest in zoning," he said, pointing out that councilmembers would not be beholden to residents of another city and developers would have no reason to compromise. "Because they are in a separate city, they could do anything they want to."

Mason said he doesn't understand the advantage of joining Norcross over Peachtree Corners, since the new city's millage rate would be capped at 1 mil, compared to Norcross' 6.4 mils.

"From an economic advantage point of view, staying in Peachtree Corners would be the best thing, but the people in Norcross are trying to convince them there are values in their service," Mason said.

Mason was asked to explain the situation to area hotels pursued by Norcross, and is especially concerned about the transfer of the hotel-motel tax to the city, since Gwinnett's stadium bonds are tied to the tax revenue.

But in Norcross economic development manager Rusty Warner's letter to the businesses, he talked up the benefits of being patrolled by a city police force, having access to city owner electrical service and discounted rates for stormwater and natural gas, as well as city development groups.

Warner did not return a phone call Wednesday, but Johnson said the city is in talks with a few businesses. If the owners want to pursue annexation, an application is forwarded to the Gwinnett commission and must be signed off on by the City Council. The annexation fee is being waived through mid-September.

"If Peachtree Corners were to incorporate, they don't have a choice about that," he said. "They do have a choice about Norcross."