Development concerns loom large for small cities across metro Atlanta. But residents in Loganville, a small city on the edge of Gwinnett and Walton counties, have decided to move past complaining and make their stances on growth known at the ballot boxes.

Residents united on Facebook to pointedly question elected officials on their plans for the city of 14,000 people. Now, some of those same residents themselves are running for three at-large City Council seats up for election November 2.

“I think where we stand on growth is probably going to be the deciding factor (in the election),” said Paul Smith, a retired teacher who has lived in the Loganville area for decades.

Lee “Skip” Baliles, a former city councilmember and the only candidate who qualified to run for mayor, is set to become Loganville’s leader.

“While I know this is a pivotal time in Loganville’s growth, please let our residents know how important it is for each and every registered voter to vote,” said Baliles in an email. “Basically, it is time for our citizens to make the choice of how they want our city to look 15-20 years in the future.”

Residents point to the proposal of a $180-million downtown revitalization plan as the genesis of their mistrust of city officials. Loganville announced a partnership with Atlanta-based development firm Connolly Investment and Development in late 2019.

Downtown Loganville features historic brick buildings, some dating back to the 19th century and now empty. A few small businesses operate along traffic-heavy Main Street. The two-lane street also includes a Town Green built a few years ago, several churches and a City Hall housed in a former elementary school.

The Connolly project would have transformed both sides of Main Street, between U.S. 78 and Lawrenceville Road. The plan included more than 90,000 square feet of retail and office space, 600 luxury apartments and 200 senior apartments. It included expanded parks and greenspace and a new city hall and library.

But the plan ultimately failed, drawing public vitriol for its size and the number of apartments. City officials backed away from the proposal and didn’t negotiate with Connolly for a scaled-down version.

“It became a very political, messy issue,” Smith said. “There was miscommunication from all parties. Rumors were going rampant, and it was difficult to understand what to believe.”

Since then, the townspeople have questioned city leadership and made their opinions known at City Hall and in Facebook groups. Online posts about whether to build a new library, the need for a new city hall and what to do with downtown property owned by the city result in lively exchanges between candidates and voters.

The city voted in March to pause redevelopment conversations and later canceled a July redevelopment planning retreat after learning developers were also invited to attend. Robbie Schwartz, the city’s spokesman, said the city won’t return to the revitalization drawing board until after the election.

“... Right now, we’re at a crossroads,” Schwartz said. “But the decisions that are made in the next two to five years are going to have large impacts on the future of the city of Loganville.”

Not everyone in Loganville balked at Connolly. David King, a contractor who has lived in Loganville for six years, said the city missed an opportunity by not negotiating with the developer. At 33 years old, he and his wife want something to do in the evenings without driving to a neighboring city.

The city’s Citizens Advisory Group distributed a survey earlier this year about downtown development to residents, of which 1,000 responded. According to the results, 83% of respondents felt the current downtown is unattractive and want changes.

Loganville is growing and changing like other Gwinnett cities. Overall population grew by 35% and flipped from majority white to majority nonwhite over the last 10 years, according to 2020 U.S. Census data. The share of renters living in the city also increased from 25% in 2010 to 31% in 2019.

The survey results echoed the sentiment expressed during the Connolly misfire — three-fourths of respondents were against adding more apartment complexes to the city. More than 500 apartment units are already going up, some near Loganville High School and others on Ga. 81 across from Meridian Park.

Garth Plummer, who has lived in Loganville for 21 years, said the downtown area does not need large apartment complexes. He said the city needs a local brewery or pizza shop like those found in nearby Monroe or Lawrenceville.

Plummer said he’ll consider moving to south Georgia after his daughter graduates from high school. “I hate to think that there’s nothing that would keep me in Loganville,” he said.

Nearly everyone who responded to the city’s survey — 96% — said traffic is a concern. City officials can only do so much to alleviate traffic issues around downtown Loganville because the Georgia Department of Transportation controls much of what happens to the roads that run through it: U.S. 78, Ga. 20 and Ga. 81.

“(Downtown is) in dire need of a facelift,” King said. “... Traffic is getting worse in Loganville no matter what we do. I would much rather have a nice downtown built out with townhomes or apartments with bad traffic, than have none of that with bad traffic.”

Data Specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this report

Loganville candidates on development

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked all seven City Council candidates to share a statement outlining their stances on development and revitalizing downtown Loganville. Candidates will discuss their platforms at a forum sponsored by the Walton County Chamber of Commerce at 6 p.m. Thursday at Loganville City Hall.

Anne Huntsinger: In favor of creating a “robust, beautiful downtown” with two-story buildings. The bottom floors would have restaurants and retail, while the top floors would have businesses or lofts.

Melanie Long: Supports using an unused portion of City Hall to house a community center. Rather than constructing new apartments, she proposes new amenities and open spaces for residents such as a walking trail, larger playground, hammock park or food truck park.

Terry Parsons: Supports a revitalized city hall and park with rent-controlled walkable shops, selling city-owned properties to break the freeze on development, and making a public decision on whether there should be a new library.

Rosa D. Steele: Revitalizing Main Street would be one of her key priorities. Plans to attract the “right businesses” to Loganville by working with city leaders and the Chamber of Commerce.

Branden Whitfield: Supports honoring and preserving Loganville’s past while preparing and building for future growth. He said the city should use the findings of the citizen survey as a guide to create an attractive downtown with live, work and play options.

Candidates Shenia Rivers-Devine and James Wilson did not respond to the AJC’s requests for emailed statements.

Loganville, by the numbers

  • Population: 14,127
  • Median age: 37
  • Race: 55% nonwhite
  • Median household income: $61,502
  • Percent of renters: 31%

Source: 2020 U.S. Census; Census Bureau’s 2019 American Communities Survey

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