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Peachtree Corners Distinctiveness Predates Cityhood

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Peachtree Corners 10th Anniversary
Above from left, City Councilman Alex Wright, Pat Bruschini, Wayne Knox, Debbie Mason, Mayor Mike Mason, Matt Houser, Gay Shook, Mike Murphy, Tom Rice, Lynette Howard Photography by George Hunter

The wild, wooly wilderness of western Gwinnett holds a richness that has drawn many to settle on these banks of the Chattahoochee River to this day.

In its 10 years as a city, Peachtree Corners has built a reputation as an innovative center for technology and a community that strives to maintain family values and a quality way of life. To get a perspective on why this city is a jewel in the crown of Gwinnett County, it’s important to go back to the origins of how this area became settled.

Atlanta native Carole Townsend wrote a book, released last year, about the history of the area. Titled “Peachtree Corners, the History of an Innovative and Remarkable City 1777-2020,” she chronicles the city from the early days of the Creek Indians, who claimed the area as their home, through the creation of the technology hub that exists today.

In a podcast interview with Peachtree Corners Magazine shortly after the book was published, Townsend gave insight into why Peachtree Corners is such an innovative and remarkable place.

The boundary that defines the westernmost part of Gwinnett County, the Chattahoochee River, was perhaps the main reason the area was so coveted by many. For the indigenous peoples, it was a lifeblood, explained Townsend. And as Europeans moved into the area, they naturally built their settlements along it.

“The Europeans brought with them diseases that the Native Americans had no immunities to,” said Townsend. “A lot of them were wiped out.”

Eventually about 16 different native tribes formed a nation of Native Americans that was mainly made up of Creek with a little Cherokee mixed in.

“The Cherokee tribes were mainly north of the Chattahoochee,” said Townsend.

By the time the colonies had formed to become American, there were few Indigenous people left. That’s when many of the founding families moved to this area.

“When we look at Holcomb Bridge Road and we look at Nesbitt Ferry… these are not names just pulled out of a hat. We even have recent history that they go back a long way,” she continued.

In 1777, western Gwinnett County, in what is now Peachtree Corners, had its first White landowners. “I can tell you the absolute earliest family was the Medlocks. And I can say that with certainty because Isham Medlock was the first recorded Medlock in the area,” Townsend added.

Another prominent family that Townsend chose to highlight, the Nesbitts, wasn’t of European descent.

“Of course, there are many important families that settled the area, but the Nesbitt family — the Perry Nesbitt family — struck me as another group that really needed to be part of the story,” said Townsend. “The patriarch and the matriarch of that family were born into slavery. They were born before the Civil War ended, and in fact, the grand patriarch — they actually called the gentleman Perry P. Nesbitt — was also born into slavery and was emancipated at age nine; he became a prominent landowner in Pinckneyville and that was highly unusual.”

In that period of the nation’s history, it was very unusual for someone of color – especially someone who had been born into slavery — to become a well-known and prominent landowner. “That was done strictly through work ethic and a love of education and that it was a story that had to be told,” added Townsend.

Fast forward to the mid-1900s, and Gwinnett County hadn’t changed much from its early days. To the people in Fulton and DeKalb counties, Gwinnett was pretty much the wild and wooly wilderness. There wasn’t much development, but there was a lot of trade with the railroad coming through Norcross.

Attracting best, brightest minds

You really can’t document Peachtree Corners history without mentioning Paul Duke. After graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology, he worked for
L.B. Foster, a railroad equipment manufacturer.

In the late 1960s, he pitched an idea for a planned community in the area known as Pinckneyville, now Peachtree Corners. He had the vision for a place where people could live and work in the same area to eliminate long commutes. In essence, he designed one of the first live-work developments.

Duke was concerned that Georgia Tech grads basically had their bags packed before graduation and headed to places outside the state. This “brain drain” was taking away the best Georgia-grown intelligence to help other areas prosper.

“Part of his job with [Foster] was to acquire properties on which to build their facilities. And as a result of those responsibilities, he ended up in western Gwinnett County and he immediately dubbed it ‘God’s country.’ He thought it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen,” Townsend said. “That’s when he got the idea to build this cutting-edge technology campus or business campus with a focus on technology to attract those engineers.”

Duke developed the business area called Technology Park which brought high-tech industries into the area. In the mid-1970s, another developer, Jim Cowart, built upon Duke’s idea with the neighborhoods of Peachtree Station, River Station and others. In the 30-plus years since the vision of Peachtree Corners, the population has skyrocketed with an estimated current total of nearly 50,000.

Protecting the quality of life

Although Technology Park has a lot to do with Peachtree Corners success and growth, the uniqueness of the city is so much more than that.

With the seven-mile northwestern boundary of the Chattahoochee River, Peachtree Corners residents have an abundance of natural beauty within their sight. The 277-acre Simpsonwood Park is a heavily wooded area along the Chattahoochee. In 2016, Gwinnett County developed a $7 million plan to upgrade the area. It added a learning playground, nature overlooks, trail improvements and camping amenities.

Jones Bridge and Holcomb Bridge parks are also located along the banks of the Chattahoochee. They are parcels of natural beauty that offer playgrounds, river overlooks, fishing pavilions and open meadow space.

With so much emphasis on growth and development, the city founders believed it was important to keep in mind quality of life issues. Some of the same breathtaking scenery that first drew the Creek and Cherokee tribes, as well as the first European settlements, has survived to this day.

Maintaining that balance of progress and preservation has been a goal for the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association (UPCCA). The nonprofit, non-partisan organization serves the residents of Peachtree Corners in their desire to maintain high quality of life standards. The association monitors and communicates land use and rezonings, transportation, education, public safety and other issues of significance to the community.

It recently held a townhall meeting allowing all interested parties to learn about planned changes to The Forum at Peachtree Parkway and surrounding areas. It also held its annual COPS forum where residents learned about public safety issues in their neighborhoods, schools and all throughout the city.

“We actually predate the city,” explained UPCCA President Matt Lombardi. “It was from this organization that the question of cityhood first arose — and it wasn’t an impulsive decision. We all weighed the pros and cons of adding another layer of bureaucracy to the area.”

Peachtree Corners was a city-like area, but not quite what the Census Bureau calls a designated place —a statistical geographic entity representing a closely settled, unincorporated community that is locally recognized and identified by name.

Lombardi admitted that he wasn’t completely sold on the idea of cityhood at first. “I thought we had a good thing at the time and wasn’t sure we needed to change it,” he said. “I’d been pulled over three times in Dunwoody, which had just become a city, and was concerned that we’d become a speed trap needing the revenue to pay for police and other services.”

Lombardi said one of the selling points for forming a city was that there wouldn’t be a city police force. To this day, Peachtree Corners uses Gwinnett County law enforcement.

A city is born

As early as 1999, the notion of forming a city had been bandied about. On July 1, 2012, Peachtree Corners officially became a city, the county’s 16th — and largest — city, and the first to incorporate since 1956.

“The people have spoken,” said Mike Mason, who had led the campaign as the president of the UPCCA, in a statement to the Gwinnett Daily News. “Now, we have a voice. We can have a plan for the future.”

Gwinnett County Commissioner Lynette Howard, who represented the area at the time, said cityhood allows local residents to have more control of their own destiny. “I just love the branding and the identity, and it’s just going to strengthen,” she told Gwinnett Daily Post. “It’s so exciting. It’s not (just) a volunteer community anymore.”

Now mayor of Peachtree Corners, Mike Mason said the city is what he and other envisioned — and more. “The original purpose of the city was self-determination. We all felt that the citizens of Peachtree Corners should make decisions about our future, not the county, or anyone else. So, from a self-determination point of view, it’s been exactly what we hoped,” he said.

“What’s been better than we hoped has been the extent that self-determination has fueled innovation, creativity and flexibility. Curiosity Lab is a world class entity. No one was talking about incubators or sophisticated high tech, global economic development programs in 2011. No one knew we’d have to pivot and save the trees in Simpsonwood Park from development in our first year of existence. No one was thinking about a Town Center or multiuse trails either.

“I’ve been told many times by former county officials and citizens alike that without the city, Peachtree Corners would have a very, very different look. A look our citizens would not approve,” Mason concluded.

Lisa Proctor, president of Peachtree Corners Business Association (PCBA), a civic organization that is also celebrating a 10-year anniversary, agreed. “Celebrating milestones such as the 10-year anniversary of the City of Peachtree Corners provides the unique opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what is working and what can continue to be improved and enhanced,” she said.

“Like any new city, we are experiencing change and growing pains. Being informed and staying up to date on what is happening is a challenge when growth is happening so quickly,” Proctor added. “As a long-term resident and business owner in the city, I have the opportunity to evaluate these questions from both perspectives.

“I continue to feel strongly that in order to have effective planned growth, we need our planning and zoning to maintain the quality of our community by limiting exceptions, changes in zoning and overgrowth with too many apartments, too much traffic and overcrowding our natural resources, schools, sewers and amenities,” she said.

But Proctor stressed that she believes that Peachtree Corners is living up to its mission. “I would love to see Peachtree Corners continue to grow and evolve while maintaining a sense of community and service that reflects our values and community spirit. I think with a balance of continued input from both the residential and business community, these objectives can be met. I do believe it is important to have a community that respects its citizens throughout their life — from child to senior citizen — and a city that does not only focus on limited demographics.”

Ready to take on the future

Through her research, Townsend gained a new respect for Peachtree Corners. “My takeaway from this book is the fact that Peachtree Corners is undisputedly the crown jewel of Gwinnett County,” she said. “The American dream today is not what it was in the late 60s and 70s. Millennials — the workforce now — they don’t want the big house and the two cars in the driveway and the 2.2 kids … They want smaller, more efficient housing. They want walkability. I’m not sure a visionary as Paul Duke could have understood where technology was going by this time. So, Technology Park has been reimagined and it’s an example for the world not just for the nation.”

Mayor Mason admitted he doesn’t have a crystal ball, but he has high hopes for the city’s future. “Who knows where Curiosity Lab will go, how Intuitive Surgical will change the city or the impact of the redevelopment of The Forum? After 10 years, I am still trying to find that magic bullet to initiate redevelopment on the southside,” he said.

“What I’d like to see is a rapid bus corridor leaving Doraville Station, going down Buford Highway, then on to Jimmy Carter and Holcomb Bridge Road, turning around at the little Publix with several transit hubs along the way. I’ve been told our citizens living along that corridor would benefit from transit and this would be a real spur to redevelopment.”

Mason added, “My other dream is to have a college in Peachtree Corners. We have two high schools in our community and lots of other residents — of all ages — would benefit from educational opportunities in the city. I’m not just talking about general education, but technical programs that complement Curiosity Lab, Intuitive Surgical and our other technology-based businesses.

“The possibilities for Peachtree Corners are limitless given the innovation and creativity of our citizens.”

Arlinda Smith Broady is part of the Boomerang Generation of Blacks that moved back to the South after their ancestors moved North. With approximately three decades of journalism experience (she doesn't look it), she's worked in tiny, minority-based newsrooms to major metropolitans. At every endeavor she brings professionalism, passion, pluck, and the desire to spread the news to the people.

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City Government

Peachtree Corners named Finalist for Gwinnett Chamber Small Business Awards

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The City of Peachtree Corners has been named a finalist for the 2022 Gwinnett Chamber Small Business Awards. The annual awards program is designed to recognize entrepreneurs and small businesses in the greater Gwinnett region. This year’s program will be held at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville on Friday, December 9, 9 a.m.

“We are honored to be a finalist for the Support System Award by the Gwinnett Chamber,” said City Manager Brian Johnson. “As a city government, we are dedicated to supporting our small business community.

“We put a large focus on their success by offering many free tools including grant programs, incentive programs, streamlined planning and development, and local organization support,” he added.

Honoring individuals and organizations alike, there will be awards in 10 categories:

  • Community Contributor Award,
  • Culture Creator Award,
  • Emerging Entrepreneur Award,
  • Founder Award,
  • Launch Award,
  • Minority-Owned/Woman-Owned Small Business Award,
  • Small Business Award (0-5 employees),
  • Small Business Award (6-24 employees),
  • Small Business Award (25+ employees, and
  • Support System Award.

“Small businesses account for 90% of all businesses in Gwinnett and are a critical component to our thriving economy,” shared Nick Masino, President and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber. “We congratulate Peachtree Corners on their designation and look forward to celebrating with them at this upcoming awards program.”

For more information on this event or to register to attend, visit GwinnettChamber.org/Small-Business-Awards.

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City Government

Town Hall Hosted by Peachtree Corners Councilman Phil Sadd

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Peachtree Corners Councilman Phil Sadd held a town hall meeting at the Winters Chapel United Methodist Church on Nov 2. It was attended by a group of approximately 75 residents.

As part of the presentation, Sadd invited Gwinnett County Police Department’s Major Edward Restrepo and Dunwoody Councilman Tom Lambert to be part of his panel.

The presentation included information regarding a variety of topics. They included:

  • The Forum current state / future vision,
  • Key Construction Project Updates (including Spalding Drive widening; Winters Chapel / Spalding Drive; River Exchange / Holcomb Bridge; New Town Farms neighborhood; and Winters Chapel intersection at Dunwoody Club Drive),
  • Multi-use trail update,
  • Peachtree Corners Town Center update,
  • Curiosity Lab Innovation Center update,
  • What is on the November 8 ballot, and
  • Peachtree Corners Crime Prevention Initiatives.

The audience had the opportunity to ask questions of each panelist. Major Restrepo gave them greater insight on how the use of technology has enabled the police to quickly apprehend criminals and prevent future crimes.

According to feedback from one of the attendees, Major Restrepo’s explanation of how law enforcement works to contain and control crime in our area was not only helpful but very encouraging. They said they went home feeling more secure and less concerned about crime control in the area and in the entire county.

Councilman Sadd began holding these town hall meetings in 2013. He believes that they are an important part of representing the city’s residents.

“I believe that it is very important to meet with constituents and residents to provide them with information regarding the city,” said Sadd. “These types of events not only allow me to provide our residents with information and answer questions, but also allow me to hear directly from them about their concerns, appreciation and what they expect from the city in the future.”

From left, Councilman Phil Sadd, Gwinnett County Police Department’s Major Edward Restrepo and Dunwoody Councilman Tom Lambert

In addition to the audience, there were several local leaders and elected officials that attended the town hall. Attendees included:

  • Georgia House Representative Beth Moore,
  • Peachtree Corners Councilman Eric Christ,
  • Peachtree Corners Councilman Joe Sawyer,
  • Board of Education District 3 Representative Mary Kay Murphy,
  • Georgia State House Candidate Scott Hilton,
  • Georgia State House Candidate Ruwa Romman,
  • Georgia State Senate Candidate Austin McDonald,
  • Peachtree Corners DDA Representative Tim Le,
  • Peachtree Corners Planning Commission Member Alan Kaplan,
  • Peachtree Corners Zoning Board of Appeals Member Marcia Brandes, and
  • Winters Chapel United Methodist Pastor Steve Ring.

As it is an election year, Sadd spoke about the importance of voting. Sample ballots were made available to those in the audience at the completion of the program.

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City Government

Peachtree Corners Enlists IMS to Conduct Pavement Survey

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Laser Crack Measurement System (LCMS-2)

Residents of Peachtree Corners will soon have an objective assessment of the town’s pavement. Using funds dedicated to infrastructure management, the City has contracted with Infrastructure Management Services (IMS) to conduct the pavement survey.

The company has over 30 years of experience in the field of pavement management and has helped municipalities throughout the United States and Canada. IMS will be responsible for completing an objective pavement condition survey as well as a budget and rehabilitation analysis.

IMS survey vehicles hit the streets in early October using their Laser Crack Measurement System (LCMS-2). The LCMS-2 is a 3D imaging sensor that collects continuous 3D pavement imagery along with rutting and roughness measurements.

How it works

The LCMS-2 will determine surface distresses including load cracking, block cracking, rutting, raveling, reflective cracking, loss of section, bleeding, edge distress and patched areas. Information will be collected on a segment-by-segment basis. The collected data and imagery will be linked to the City’s existing GIS data system.

Once the data has been collected, the City will create a work program using a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) that will rate road segments between poor and excellent. The City will then use the PCI rankings to create an infrastructure work plan based on actual road conditions.

This data-based planning will allow Peachtree Corners to provide more efficient and equitable repairs and maximize the City’s repair budget.

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