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Lilburn looking to bring brewery to Old Town area, part of goal of revitalizing Railroad Avenue

Lilburn officials are looking to revitalize the Railroad Avenue area of Old Town Lilburn and the first goal in that effort is starting to brew.

They want to attract a brewery to fill part of the building currently occupied by Builders Steel Supply.

“That is the hope,” Lilburn Community Development Administrator Brian Burchik said.

The city recently issued a request for proposals from partners interested in developing a brewery in part of the building, which is located at 57 Railroad Ave., and conducted a walk through on Friday. Anyone interested in taking on the project must submit a proposal by March 1.

Burchik said the building is a large warehouse with 29,112 square feet of space.

“It’s positioned at the sort of the start of Railroad Avenue, which is a street that is right in the middle of Old Town but has always just been historically an industrial dead end kind of street and hasn’t been integrated into any kind of downtown experience at all,” Burchik said.

“And, so we felt like that property would be the first one to kind of catalyze the transformation of, ultimately, Railroad Avenue.”

With the addition of a brewery, Railroad Avenue would become a destination of sorts for people looking to buy locally produced alcohol. The Hope Springs Distillery is also located on that street.

“We’re really excited that breweries have become such destinations for people to come into a downtown and (it’s) just become such a trend,” Burchik said. “We hope our residents will love this as sort of local brewery and that a very big (part) in our RFP. It’s stated very clearly that the concepts show that they’re significantly interested in having a theme or a concept that feels very local to our community.

“So, we’re excited for that and that it will be sort of a community gathering for Lilburn, but also we know that there’s people who travel around to other cities, kind of hopping around from brewery to brewery. There is that kind of passion to go and check out all of these different breweries.”

Burchik said the goal is to have a brewery that can act as an entertainment and tourism destination in addition to being a place where beer is produced.

That means having a tasting room where visitors can hang out and sample beers before walking up to Main Street to visit businesses, restaurants or City Park.

“It’s maybe one block to get from the brewery site to Main Street and then you just cross over Main Street and you’re in the park basically,” Burchik said. “And, we do have a hospitality zone in this area so that you can take a drink to go, you can take a beer to go and walk to the park or Main Street.”

There is another brewery in development in Lilburn, called Blackbird Farms Brewery. That brewery will be located on Lawrenceville Highway and is expected to open this spring, according to Burchik.

The city is looking at additional plans for Railroad Avenue, so it is no longer a dead end street that ends at Hope Springs and only serves as a manufacturing area off Main Street. Streetscaping and connections to the Camp Creek Greenway would also be in the plans for that road.

“We hope to see it become a connected road to other streets in downtown,” Burchik said. “So (it would be) connecting to First Avenue, having a connection that brings a connection from the residential areas on that west side of Main Street where they can walk and have pathways that come from streets like First Avenue, Elizabeth Way and all of these places into, not just Railroad Avenue, but just go a little bit further and connect straight to the greenway.”

There has been some groups that have already established breweries elsewhere, and are looking to open a second or third location, as well as newcomers who have been looking for the right opportunity to jump into the brewery business who have expressed interest in the site.

“The nature of this space, because it is large, you do kind of have to be somebody who is looking to take on a pretty significant sized concept,” Burchik said. “This isn’t for just kind of a small brewery. It’s definitely a size that you would want to producing a significant amount and you’d need to have a vision for a pretty large tasting room.

“So, the nature of the building in some ways limits who can really think they can take on that large of a space.”

Burchik said the city is looking at the building having multiple uses, noting that it is a large facility even by brewery standards. Building Steel Supply originally owned the building, but sold it to the Lilburn Downtown Development Authority. The firm is currently leasing back the space from the DDA until it can finish construction on a new facility which is expected to open later this year.

As a result, the RFP that the city has put out is inviting interested parties to come up with their ideas for how all of the space could be used, with the brewery serving as an anchor for the site, according to the city’s community development administrator.

“As we’ve looked at it, up to this point, there’s been talks and interest in maybe one half of the building, one side of the building, being a brewery,” Burchik said. “Then perhaps on the other side maybe its kind of an open food hall concept, maybe with a few different restaurant stalls, thinking about kind of like Krog Street Market or something like that.

“There’s also a significant amount of office spacing so perhaps maybe a company with offices there and leases office space or a co-working space or something like that.”

The RFP for the site can be viewed at bit.ly/2NxB31p.

Gwinnett Elections Chairwoman Alice O'Lenick faces backlash over elections comments, resists calls to resign

Gwinnett County Board of Registrations and Elections Chairwoman Alice O’Lenick did not deny comments she made at a Gwinnett Republican Party meeting last week and resisted calls to resign Tuesday night.

O’Lenick, who is one of two Gwinnett GOP appointees on the bipartisan elections board, is facing calls from 15 members of Gwinnett County legislative delegation — all Democrats — as well as 17 voting and civil rights groups to step down.

Those calls were in response to a Daily Post report over the weekend in which she was quoted telling the county’s GOP on Jan. 14 that she felt election law changes should be made so Republicans would “at least have a shot at winning.” The comments also drew condemnation from U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.

But, O’Lenick stood her ground as she addressed the controversy at the elections board meeting on Tuesday.

“I swore an oath to uphold the laws and provide a lawful election in Gwinnett County, and that is what I do,” O’Lenick said.

O’Lenick’s comments and the calls for her resignation come on the heels of a heated elections season that ended with President Donald Trump and his attorneys and supporters floating claims — which were refuted by officials in Georgia’s Secretary of State office — of widespread voter fraud in Georgia.

The changes O’Lenick advocated including scaling back no excuse absentee-by-mail voting, limiting it to the elderly and “infirm,” and eliminating absentee ballot drop boxes.

“We, the undersigned Gwinnett state legislators, demand your immediate resignation for the irreparable harm your public statements have caused, which clearly demonstrate your inability to complete the duties of chair of the Gwinnett County Board of Elections to ensure free and fair elections and an open democratic process for the citizens of Gwinnett County,” the 15 legislators — three-fifths of the county’s legislative delegation — wrote in their letter to O’Lenick.

News of O’Lenick’s comments has gained attention across the country.

As the elections board was meeting Tuesday night, a hashtag targeting O’Lenick, #AliceMustGo, was the second highest trending item in the U.S. on Twitter with 25,300 tweets with that hashtag being posted as of 7 p.m.

“O’Lenick isn’t even trying to hide her bias against Democratic voters and voters of color in Gwinnett County,” Stacey Abrams’ group, Fair Fight, said in one of a series of four tweets. “She has made clear that her only motivation is pure partisanship, engaging openly in rhetoric that is more suited for a political party hack than an elections official.”

During the virtual meeting, critics and supporters of O’Lenick debated whether she should step down or be removed from the elections board.

The criticism at the meeting began with a statement from Stephen Day and Wandy Taylor, the two Gwinnett County Democratic Party appointees on the elections board, before it moved on to the public comment section.

“Simply put, they want to change the rules to bias the laws against Democrats to help Republicans win elections,” Taylor said as she read the statement. “This attitude violates the fundamental principles of our representative democracy and frankly it’s un-American.

“The idea that one political party can only win by suppressing the vote of another political party is an abomination of our system of governance.”

O’Lenick said she believes people should have more access to vote, pointing to her support of expanding early voting hours and being in favor of adding more early voting sites.

“Addressing absentee-by-mail is not voter suppression, it is vote security,” O’Lenick said. “We should encourage voting in person, either during early voting, known as AIP, or on election day. I have voted for and implemented more hours of early voting, more days of early voting and two Saturdays and two Sundays in the last election.

“Do we need more hours? In my opinion, yes. Do we need more locations for early voting? Yes.”

Critics who spoke during public comments claimed her comments amounted to voter suppression, with one person comparing it to Jim Crow laws.

State Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, countered O’Lenick’s assertions that she was not advocating voter suppression by arguing that some of the changes she was advocating, including removing drop boxes and scaling back no excuse absentee-by-mail voting, was in fact suppression.

“Chairman O’Lenick’s remarks, which she has not stated were a misquote when she had an opportunity to do so in her opening remarks, that she will fight to disenfranchise voters to give a political party, the Republican Party, ‘a shot at winning’ are antithetical to a robust and functional democracy,” Clark said.

Other people who spoke during public comment questioned whether O’Lenick should publicly advocate for elections law changes while sitting on the county’s elections board.

“If she sees her role as an advocate, then she needs to be a lobbyist or run for elected office,” Curt Thompson, a former state senator and county commission chairman candidate, said.

Supporters, however, praised O’Lenick and said she has worked for years to protect voting in Gwinnett County.

Warren Auld, who was at the Gwinnett GOP meeting where O’Lenick made the comments at the center of the controversy, said comments made against her were “inflammatory” and were not based in fact.

“She advocated some changes, advocated looking at absentee ballot issues, drop and reviewing the election laws,” Auld said. “The statements in opposition to her almost immediately jump to conclusions about attitude alleging she was suppressing the vote. There was language of her participating in Jim Crow-ism, conspiracies, attempting to suppress the vote, even alleging African-Americans would be harmed by what she was doing.

“All of those are just without any basis in fact.”

Gwinnett GOP Chairman Edward Muldrow said that, as a Black man, he does not feel his vote would be suppressed if the changes O’Lenick has called for were adopted.

“I think it’s actually laughable that we have people using phrases like ‘Jim Crow’ and ‘voter suppression’ and invoking the victimhood, if you will, of Black people in order to support their stance for wanting to remove Alice O’Lenick,” Muldrow said.

Gwinnett Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson says she signed order mandating face masks in county buildings

Gwinnett County residents, employees and visitors are going to have to mask up if they want to step on county property.

County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson announced during a Council for Quality Growth event on Friday that getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control is a top priority, and that her first major action since taking the reigns of government earlier this month was to begin doing just that.

In short, face masks are mandatory in county buildings.

“I just signed my first executive order, which was pretty cool, to mandate masks in all of our facilities and our properties across the county because it really, at the end of the day, is about our employees and our work force,” Hendrickson said. “We have to operate, we cannot shut down, and our employees safety is our No. 1 priority.”

The order goes into effect on Tuesday and will remain in effect until Jan. 31, unless it is extended further. The order, which includes other facial coverings in addition to masks, stipulates that they must cover both the mouth and nose.

Anyone who cannot afford a mask will be provided with one, according to the order.

There are some exceptions including people who trouble putting on, wearing or removing a mask of facial covering without assistance, and people with “bona fide” religious objections or medical reasons for not wearing a mask.

In a statement, county officials said people who do not comply with the order can be denied entry to county buildings or could be asked to leave if they make it inside the building before they are seen without a mask on.

Gwinnett County face mask executive order

Gwinnett has a two-week incidence rate of 1,162 new COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 residents as of Thursday afternoon. That is a total 11,287 new cases reported in the county over the last two weeks.

The county leads Georgia in total cases, with 67,465 cases, 635 confirmed deaths, 45 probable deaths and 4,330 hospitalizations reported since March.

Hendrickson said her priority is not just to make sure people wear face masks on county properties, however. She also said the county’s goal is to help with vaccinations where it can.

“(It’s) also helping to usher us through this pandemic to get to a point of herd immunity and working with our health district and many of our partners to have access to vaccines and make sure that we can get to that point where we can start living our lives,” Hendrickson said.

Another area the chairwoman said the county wants to look at is the economic impact COVID-19 has had on Gwinnett.

“We have seen how the pandemic has exposed the inequities with the impact of the pandemic on our minority and immigrant communities with job loss and business closures,” Hendrickson said. “We need to work with our partners and we have been working with our partners in also leveraging our CARES Act funding to support and mitigate against the impact that COVID has had on these communities.

“So, we’ve been weathering through that and will continue to do so this year until we get to that point.”

Gwinnett County Public Schools to resume in-person learning Monday

Gwinnett County Public Schools students will be back in the classroom on Monday — if their parents opted for in-person learning, that is.

The school system announced on Friday that the district will resume in-person instruction on Monday for students whose families have selected that option.

The district did note that Tuesday, Jan. 26, is a scheduled Digital Learning Day for all students. It is one of four at-home asynchronous learning days this semester that will provide additional planning time for teachers, the district said.

On Tuesday, meals will be available for curbside pick-up at schools, and, the district will deliver meals along all bus routes countywide, said Sloan Roach, Executive Director of Communications and Media Relations. Roach said families should expect buses to run their routes from approximately 10:45 a.m. to noon, beginning at the first stops on the route.

The district began the spring semester with both in-person and digital learning on Jan. 7. But as COVID numbers in the county increased, which also caused a shortage of teachers who either had COVID-19 or had been in contact with someone who had it, the district went to digital only learning for all students this past week (Jan. 19-22).

The issue of whether students should be back in the classroom was a major topic of debate at the Gwinnett County school board meeting on Thursday.

“Our children were, and are, fortunate enough to attend a fantastic elementary school in our little corner of Gwinnett County where the teachers love them, educate them and make them feel welcome every day,” one parent, Craig Martin, told the school board. “it’s because I care about the well-being of my children, as well as others in Gwinnett County, all of us are made in the image of God remember, that I strongly advocate for our schools to remain open for in-person and face-to-face learning.”

But, one educator, Anthony Downer, pointed to the death of Gwinnett County paraprofessional Maude Jones, who died from COVID-19 earlier this month. It is believed that Jones likely was exposed to the disease at the school she worked in.

“It is time we give teachers the choice to work from home,” he said. “I wish that were a choice our colleague, the late Mrs. Jones had.”