Norcross Mayor Craig Newton. SPECIAL PHOTO

Norcross wants to annex a large chunk of ‘underserved’ Gwinnett

The city of Norcross wants to annex a sizable swath of unincorporated Gwinnett County, a community that includes around 300 businesses and 6,000 mostly low-income residents.

But the county doesn’t appear ready to lose the property — which surrounds the site where it hopes to build a transit hub if next week’s historic MARTA referendum is successful — without a fight.

In an exclusive interview this week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Norcross Mayor Craig Newton outlined his city’s hopes for the annexation. The goal is for Gwinnett’s delegation to the General Assembly to adopt local legislation allowing the residents of the affected area — about three square miles between Jimmy Carter Boulevard and the DeKalb County line — to vote in a referendum this fall to become part of the city.

Minorities make up about 80 percent of the population in the proposed annexation area and many are struggling, Newton said. He described the area as suffering from “benign neglect” and said city officials could do a better job helping turn the area around.

“For me, it’s about raising the quality of life for the people that live in that area,” he said.

A map showing the city of Norcross and the area that it hopes to incorporate via a referendum of those who live in the proposed annexation area. VIA CITY OF NORCROSS
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Newton served on the Norcross City Council for two decades before becoming the first black mayor of any Gwinnett County city in 2017. He said the city has spoken with businesses and residents in the proposed annexation area and that they’ve been “very receptive.”

“Annexation is an opportunity for a city to expand both in population and economically,” the mayor added. “This is not something that’s unusual for a municipality.”

The legislation necessary for the process to move forward is in the hands of State Rep. Pedro Marin, the Democrat who leads the county’s delegation, but it has not yet been dropped. Marin said the delegation would have until later this month to consider the annexation referendum bill.

Its success or failure may ultimately be swayed by the county, which is opposed to the annexation.

“Our position is that this proposed annexation, which is the largest one by any city in Gwinnett in my memory, deserves more study and consideration than has occurred to this point,” County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said. “In a county like Gwinnett, where so many services are provided by the county, it is particularly important to carefully weigh the benefits and costs to all those affected before proceeding.”

Nash said the county has expressed it concerns to the legislative delegation and proposed that Gwinnett and Norcross form a “joint study commission” on the matter. She said the county has also offered to pay for independent experts to thoroughly analyze the potential impacts.

Norcross officials, meanwhile, say they’ve been looking into the area for more than two years. Newton said the city’s vision initially included annexing the property comprised of the OFS fiber optic manufacturing facility and the 100-plus acres that Gwinnett County purchased from OFS last year in hopes of building a transit hub (and marketing the remainder to a mixed-use developer).

The city later cut the property out of their would-be annexation area “out of good faith,” the mayor said.

At the end of his interview with the AJC, Newton read a prepared statement challenging the county’s legislative delegation to allow the referendum to move forward. He called the issue a “litmus test” for legislators who have often spoken about the importance of fairness and citizen participation.

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