BUFORD -- When Kathleen and Eugene Walls remember their former home on four acres in Suwanee, they talk about tall oak trees, enough tomatoes to give away and blooming jonquils.
The Walls first called Suwanee home in the days when Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road was a dirt road that turned to mud in the winter. In the 1950s, the traffic was congested enough that the two-lane road, Georgia Highway 317, was widened as motorists drove from Atlanta to the mountains.It wasn't until 1960 that Interstate 85 was extended to Suwanee.
"It was truly country. We just loved it," said Kathleen Walls, a Suwanee native. "We fenced in the acreage and had cattle; we raised beef. So we didn't have so much grass to cut."
As Suwanee and Gwinnett County grew, the Walls' property, located at what now is the intersection of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and Satellite Boulevard, became increasingly attractive to businesses looking to capitalize on the location. The growing offers to purchase their land didn't sway them because they liked where they lived, and were in no hurry to move, even for a big payday.
"They called us the holdouts," Kathleen said. "We really weren't holding out for anything, we had offers all along for money to buy it, but we just liked where we lived."
Eugene liked to climb on his tractor, and tend to several cows (seven was the most they ever had). They always had a garden with tomatoes, which Kathleen misses. And hundreds of jonquills, some that remain on the property and have begun to bloom.
"That was what I loved," Kathleen said.
But in May 2009, Eugene suffered a stroke, which left a tingly feeling on the left side of his body. He's not sure why doctors and nurses called him lucky, because he said his left arm "feels like 100 pounds." But Eugene is looking forward to his 83rd birthday in November. Kathleen is 78. They married in 1955.
Shortly after the stroke, they realized Eugene couldn't climb on his tractor, or work in the yard.
The couple toughed it out another summer, but realized they couldn't maintain the acreage.
"You didn't want it to grow up and look like the wilderness," said Kathleen, who had a beauty shop in the home for 40 years. "We decided it was what we needed to do."
The Walls decided to accept one of the offers from the growing list of would-be buyers. QuikTrip Corporation bought 3.96 acres of the property in August 2010, and will open a gas station and convenience store at the 3359 Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road address in April.
As the process began, the Walls moved to a townhome in Buford, so they had less upkeep.
"I still miss the place because I enjoyed getting out when the weather was pretty," said Eugene, who retired in 1991 after 32 years working for the alarm company, ADT. "Something always needed to get done."
Once the transaction started, the zoning process and city council approval was postponed several times, and the deal was somewhat contentious between residents and council members.
At the November 2010 city council meeting, resident Tom McConnell voiced his opposition to the rezoning of the property from residential to commercial. McConnell said there needed to be a balance between the community and developers' interest.
Eventually, the city's Planning Commission recommended approval with conditions that included preserving and planting of trees.
The other stumbling block was a request by Eugene Walls to allow a car wash on the property. McConnell also opposed the car wash because of what he expected to be additional traffic concerns.
The QuikTrip application was approved by the city council, while the car wash was denied, both by a 6-0 vote.
Kathleen Walls said the couple is under contract with a business to use the remaining land on the Suwanee side of the property, but declined to name the business.
Kathleen said that they were not in a time crunch to sell in 2010, and she's at peace with the decision.
"I will support QuikTrip. I have no hard feelings for QuikTrip," she said. "(I) feel very grateful that in this time with the economy like it was, that QuikTrip wanted it. Just feel real fortunate that they did. We're just very happy that QuikTrip was looking for a place in Suwanee."
In June 2010, the Walls moved to Buford where a Homeowners Association takes care of most of the outside maintenance, but Kathleen brought a few of her beloved jonquils to keep up a small garden.
"I made up my mind, I was not going to have any regrets, and I have not had one regret," Kathleen said. "Eugene might have a little regret because he misses getting out and working in his yard, but he couldn't do it."