Despite the forecast of an apocalyptic beginning, the new millennium -- or simply the year 2000 to the literal-minded -- brought more of the same for Gwinnett County. More go-go gonzo growth and its fallout -- more high-profile crime, crowded schools, traffic gridlock, threats of higher taxes, and water restrictions throughout an arid summer -- mixed with more political battles. And the county will be seeing more of a familiar face as result of the 2000 elections: County Commission Chairman Wayne Hill was voted back for an unprecedented third term November.
That's not to say Y2K was a snoozefest. It was a year of changes, growing pains, sad and shocking events -- and the plain old wacky.
Perhaps no local issue sparked more debate among Gwinnettians than the school system's controversial Gateway test, a standardized exam students must pass in order to be promoted to the next grade. After several trial runs, 2000 was the first year results counted. But some wondered what all the fuss and the expense ($6 million) was about when only 3.1 percent of fourth-graders and 1.8 percent of seventh-graders failed the test in April. The scores aroused suspicion that the test had been watered down from the pilot version that saw 32 percent of elementary school students fail the math portion and 27 percent flunk the math and social studies sections.
Critics called the test a major waste of money, while school officials argued it sets a standard that the rest of the state will eventually follow. Both sides condemned security breaches when a fourth-grade version of the test was leaked to local media just three days before it was to be administered.
However, once-alarmed parents appeared to chill out after the results of the exam were released, and anti-Gateway school board candidate Kevin Jennings was defeated handily by incumbent Mary Kay Murphy in the July primaries.
If you don't have school-age children and weren't concerned about the Gateway test, surely you got stuck in traffic somewhere, sometime this past year on Gwinnett's crowded labyrinth of roads, highways and interstates. To add to the usual rush-hour confusion, last summer the state DOT completed the project of renumbering all of the exits and exit signs on I-85 and I-985 through Gwinnett and across the state to coincide with highway mile markers.
As impossible as it may seem, some traffic relief may be in sight in the form of an $80 million county bus system expected to start up by the middle of 2001. New county transit manager Larry McGonagle, who started in February, will help Gwinnett shed its status as the most populous county in the nation not to have any form of public transportation.
Yet mass transit remains a divisive issue with racial and socioeconomic undertones. Snellville stirred up more dust when new Mayor Brett Harrell continued to support the city's 1999 resolution opposing bus routes running through the municipality's limits.
More traffic relief is supposed to come in the form of a $20 million, four-lane extension of Satellite Boulevard from Smithtown Road to Ga. 20, close to the gargantuan Mall of Georgia, which continued to unveil more stores in 2000, including another major anchor, Rich's. County officials, who signed off on the project in December, hope it will alleviate traffic buildup on I-85, I-985 and Ga. 316.
While commuters battled the throes of Gwinnett traffic, residents once again sparred with developers, city councils, planning and zoning boards and the county commission as bedroom communities in Snellville, Buford, Duluth and beyond continued to grapple with over-development.
In response to the constant development wars, the county commission placed a six-month moratorium on rezonings that became effective in May. The ban, set to expire Jan. 2, recently was replaced by a lottery system limiting rezoning requests to 14 per month and special-use permit applications to eight per month. Suwanee also toughened its development stance, rejecting two large mixed-use projects. However, the city gave the go-ahead for a 1.35 million-square-foot Motorola consolidated campus off Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road next to the old Atlanta Falcons training complex.
And nothing could stop a flurry of activity in the Sugarloaf area, as it continued to boom with commercial, residential and office development. The Sugarloaf exit off I-85 is turning into a high-density "edge city" on par with the Central Perimeter district on I-285 and the Galleria/Cumberland area in Cobb. The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce moved into fancy new $6 million digs abutting Sugaloaf Parkway (courtesy of a sharply criticized, $1-a-year sweetheart deal from the county), an $88 million expansion of the nearby Civic and Cultural Center is on tap and some say a multi-purpose arena in the area isn't far off. Gwinnett's third regional mall, Discover Mills, and a major office park are expected to join the local landscape in 2001.
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