Hendrickson at Fireside Chat.jpg

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson discusses issues facing the county during a Council for Quality Growth fireside chat, featuring herself and three other new chairwoman from metro Atlanta counties, on Friday.

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson paused for a second and chose optimism as she reflected on the defeat of the county’s transit referendum.

Hendrickson addressed the issue of transit on Friday during a Council for Quality Growth fireside chat featuring herself and three other new chairwomen from counties around metro Atlanta. She had been a proponent of passage of the referendum that was defeated very narrowly in November, the latest in a series of transit referendum losses in Gwinnett spanning decades.

But, the county’s new chairwoman didn’t see the loss as a door closing on transit expansion in Gwinnett.

“I was hoping our referendum would have passed by the time I got into office, but it didn’t, it failed for the fourth time I think,” Hendrickson said. “But, it just forces us to take a step back and look at our approach and what we need to do to put our heads together to come up with solutions.”

There has been talk in the past about how soon another transit referendum could appear on the ballot.

At first, the obviously choice might seem to be November 2022, which is the next major election guaranteed to draw a large voter turnout. But a vote on extending the county’s special purpose location option sales tax is expected to be on that ballot and some county leaders, including new commissioners, have expressed concerns as to whether having both measures on the same ballot could result in both failing.

The other option that is being looked at is November 2024, which is the next presidential election.

Either way, Hendrickson said the county can’t afford to give up and do nothing to address transit since the county is projected to be home to 1.5 million people by 2050.

“We have transit challenges in Gwinnett County,” she said. “We are about to add another 500,000 people to the region over the next couple of decades and Gwinnett County is going to acquire many of those folks that are moving in.

“We are a destination for the region and we have to figure out how to get people around. We have to figure out how we can contribute to people’s quality of life for people who don’t own a car, for people who don’t want to use a car for a means of transportation.”

Hendrickson also pointed to the economic impact expanded transit, or a lack of it, can have on Gwinnett. Officials in the business community have long touted transit as an economic development driver and there have been cases in the past, such as WestRock in 2017, of businesses leaving Gwinnett to relocate to areas in metro Atlanta that have transit access.

“We have to be competitive in the region if we’re ever going to attract high paying jobs and attract the talent that we need to recruit those jobs as well,” Hendrickson said. “So, it’s a challenge that we have to address.

“We are working in partnership with many of our community improvement districts (and the) state. Our new congresswoman, Carolyn Bourdeaux, is on the (U.S. House transportation committee) and so we’re going to put our heads together with her as well to see how we can draw down funding to support transit infrastructure projects and improvements. The CIDs are working with us on studies for local transit expansion, but we’re also looking at how we can address traffic engineering, road improvements, all of the things can help make us that premiere destination for businesses.”

Hendrickson also talked about housing issues at the fireside chat, pointing out that Gwinnett has begun work on a comprehensive housing study. That study will look at the market in the county and the housing options that are available.

The chairwoman, who is now a member of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s board by virtue of her new position in the county, said she would like to join the ARC’s affordable housing committee to help the county leverage the regional commission’s resources to tackle housing issues.

“We have a large workforce, and I like to use workforce housing instead of affordable housing because that is essentially what it is,” Hendrickson said. “But, for our workforce, and I’ll speak for Gwinnett County government alone, 56% of our employee base represents public safety officials but they live outside of the county because they cannot afford to live in Gwinnett because of the housing prices.

“You have to earn a salary of at least $50,000 to be able to own a home in Gwinnett. Well, the base salary for our police officers is below $40,000. So that’s something that we have to examine, have to look at, so that we can retain our employees in our county and so that they can live and work in our county and enjoy the benefits of being both a resident and somebody who works in the county as well.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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(8) comments

Exador3

Disconnect the transit expansion from MARTA and rail and it will pass easily. People are open public transportation within Gwinnett. They just don't want to be North Atlanta, and they don't want to be saddled with the boondoggle of MARTA and rail.

MarvinGardens

All of the failed votes had the same thing in common: Heavy rail run by MARTA. I'm fine with it, but clearly the majority aren't, and I'd also be fine with other options, such as express busses or light-rail.

I also think waiting 4 years is a good idea, for the reason given. Also, traffic will only be worse in 4 years. The worse the traffic is, the more likely people vote to approve.

Lastly, for those who oppose transit expansion even without MARTA, how about this: We actually embrace being a "car town" and ambitiously improve our roads. This is how it was when I lived in Raleigh-Durham years ago. No train and spotty bus service like Gwinnett, but the roads were much closer to being adequate for rush hour, and the traffic jams weren't too bad.

=)

As she said, it's been on the ballot four times and defeated all four times. The voters said NO. Respect the vote. Did you respect the votes for you? Maybe that's where the mistake was made.

MarvinGardens

By that logic, Hendrickson should be chairwoman for life. The people chose her. No need for votes in the future.

MissDaisy

Logically, other than that the law provides a term of four years.

asheldon

Great thoughts from our new Commission Chair. She is absolutely right. Transit expansion is a must for Gwinnett. Besides adressing economic development there is a tie-in to affordable housing as well. Both becuase it willd raw higher paying jobs to the county making housing more affordable but also because transit will support high density housing which can be built at lower cost. She is right in that we need to get out to the community and discuss transit expansion to both better educate the voters and what the voters wanted that the proposed plan failed to accomplish in the voters minds. It was clear that the voters who by their comments on Facebook did not understand what the expansion was going to accomplish and how as well as its' timing. The county has failed to explain transit expansion to the public and in some cases also failed to offer what the voters wanted. It is imperative that we start transit expansion as soon as possible. That may require putting the SPLOST renewal on the ballot this year in November while the county starts setting up and holding meetings with the public on transit expansion to both listen to and educate the people in preperation for creating a new updated plan for presentation on the ballot in November of 2022.

MissDaisy

The voters didn't understand? Maybe the elected officials and proponents of expanded transportation do not understand. How about giving the voters some credit. The vote was during a presidential and two senator election when the majority Democratic Gwinnett voted that way. I assume you will say we were informed since we voted democratic in every race. To put the transit question on every ballot in hopes that it will pass at some point is insincere. It should be a stand alone, single question on a special election; it should pass or fail on its own merits and not be a down ballot question. If it passes it is here forever, whereas elections for political representatives are held every two, four or six years and can change.

asheldon

Great thoughts from our new Commission Chair. She is absolutely right. Transit expansion is a must for Gwinnett. Besides adressing economic development there is a tie-in to affordable housing as well. Both becuase it willd raw higher paying jobs to the county making housing more affordable but also because transit will support high density housing which can be built at lower cost. She is right in that we need to get out to the community and discuss transit expansion to both better educate the voters and what the voters wanted that the proposed plan failed to accomplish in the voters minds. It was clear that the voters who by their comments on Facebook did not understand what the expansion was going to accomplish and how as well as its' timing. The county has failed to explain transit expansion to the public and in some cases also failed to offer what the voters wanted. It is imperative that we start transit expansion as soon as possible. That may require putting the SPLOST reneal on the ballot thsi year in Novemebr while the county starts setting up and holding meetings with the public on transit expansion to both listen to and educate the people in preperation for creating a new updated plan for presentation on the ballot in November of 2022.

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