Two mayoral candidates vie to lead Dacula through impending growth

A political newcomer hopes to unseat Dacula’s current mayor, tasking voters with a choice about who should lead the city through tough decisions on growth.

Dacula residents will choose on Nov. 2 whether to reelect Trey King or let Wade Anthony take over the reins. This will be the first time voters cast their ballot for King, following his appointment to office in 2019 after the death of former Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks.

King, 58, is the only incumbent mayor in Gwinnett County facing a challenger in this year’s local elections. All other current mayors in the county are running unopposed or stepping down from office.

Both candidates said they want to maintain the small-town feel of Dacula, an eastern Gwinnett city of 6,900 residents. Anthony, a five-year resident of the city, said he wants to work with the county to lower property taxes and help residents overcome poverty.

Credit: Tyler Wilkins

Credit: Tyler Wilkins

“Dacula is a small, tight-knit community,” said 59-year-old Anthony while at a local coffee shop. “... I know you can’t stop progress, but you have to be smart about it.”

King, whose roots to the city span more than 20 years, hopes his track record and love for the city awards him another term. He said he’d focus on allowing sensible and sustainable growth to come to Dacula while wrapping up ongoing projects.

Both candidates support Rowen, a 2,000-acre “knowledge community” slated along Ga. 316 near Dacula that officials hope will create thousands of jobs centered around agriculture, medicine and the environment. Growth is sweeping across Gwinnett County, a cause for concern in several communities.

Anthony, who works at a financial services company, said he entered the race after City Council decided to rezone about 74 acres near the intersection of Harbins Road and 316 for the Inland Pass project. It will add hundreds of apartments, a grocery store and other retail to the city.

The challenger said he worries that apartments will worsen traffic at the busy intersection, lead to crime issues and attract “transient” residents without ties to the community. “I’m running to protect the people’s interest,” Anthony said.

King stands by the rezoning decision. The city worked with the developer for months to come to a suitable agreement that benefits both longtime residents and new arrivals, he said.

“Obviously, the growth is here,” said King on an 8 p.m. phone call after a day of teaching chemistry at Collins Hill High School and a late city meeting. “We’ve got to make sure that the growth here makes sense five years from now and makes sense 75 years from now.”

Inland Pass will give residents on the side of 316 opposite from most supermarkets somewhere to buy groceries without crossing the highway, King said, while giving new residents somewhere to live.

The Inland Pass property was previously zoned for light manufacturing and intense business uses before King’s time as mayor, he said. Developers previously pitched a Walmart and Lowes for the land, which King believes would have disrupted current residents’ way-of-life far more than Inland Pass.

King served on the city’s Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and as a councilmember in the past. The incumbent highlighted his team effort with other officials to bring a bridge to Winder Highway at Harbins Road and come closer to completing a new 316 interchange.

King hailed the city’s work on bringing City Hall up to ADA compliance, adding miles of sidewalks around the city, improving stormwater infrastructure and saving taxpayer dollars by switching to in-house recycling.

Anthony said he wants to work on creating a city center with mom-and-pop stores and more greenspace. But he wants Dacula to remain a bedroom community with few apartments and questions the decisions made by current officials.

“Too many people are afraid to speak up (and) afraid of reprisals,” said Anthony, a father of three daughters and one son. “And I’m not.”

King said he enjoys helping others, whether it’s helping to repair someone’s car or picking up groceries for someone who can’t leave their house.

“That’s where the interest for being mayor came from,” said King, a father of three sons. “It’s just another opportunity to serve, but in a different way.”

Early voting in Dacula started Oct. 12 and will run through Oct. 29. Voters can cast their ballots during the early voting period from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Dacula City Hall. The polls will be open on Election Day from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.