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Forsyth County withdraws support to asphalt plant in Johns Creek after citizen-led protest

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, February 6, 2020: The power of the people is stronger than the people in power, they say. And it was proven right by a No Asphalt group, formed and led by Yun Chen, Vikas Sood, Neetu Chauhan, Krish Palath, Chandra, Pratima, Summer Li, and many other Asian Americans who succeeded in getting Forsyth County to withdraw application to support relocation of an asphalt plant near Johns Creek. All five county commissioners voted to terminate the county-initiated Conditional Use Permit (CUP) request for an asphalt plant relocation by CW Matthews (CWM) Contracting Co Inc.

It all began back in October 2019 when 20 neighborhood families in the vicinity of the proposed plant received letters to be part of a public participation meeting initiated by CWM. Very few of the 20 families were able to attend and naturally opposed the proposal owing to its close proximity to their homes. The plant was supposed to operate 24×7 and a few 100 feet away from residences, day cares, schools and heavy traffic businesses on Johns Creek Parkway. Their opposition was ignored.

The expedited application was scheduled to be approved at a voting meeting in just over three weeks. The residents only had until November 21, 2019 to gather strong opposition. Word of mouth came in handy.

Only two days after the CWM meeting, a No Asphalt Team was formed. A Whatsapp group with members from neighboring subdivisions followed. Other groups with specific purposes such as reaching out to media, planning, drafting legal documents quickly came into existence culminating into a physical meeting and selection of Yun Chen as President for the movement.  At the meeting, an initial action plan was created including contacting more HOAs and other subdivisions, contacting commissioners, creating flyers and website, and organizing more volunteers. That was week one.

With rudimentary knowledge of county process related to CUP and zoning, and not aware of the HOA’s position, the group had a lot to learn, and quickly.

“In the second week, Yun Chen adjusted the plan based on the HOA’s position, and turned the plan into a people movement, “said Neetu Chauhan, adding that the goal of having 500 people attend the 11/21 BOC voting meeting to oppose the application, and buy more time. Fact based flyers were created and circulated along with completing the noasphaltplant.ga website launch. The joint force meeting attracted media attention with reports in ABC and Forsyth newspaper and increased awareness. It helped the cause to have Commissioner Dennis Brown hear directly from the community.

The hearing, scheduled hours before the voting on 11/21/19 was the only opportunity for the community to speak on record, since the application was expedited with no extensive public hearing before. People delivered and how.

A sea of petitioners, over 650, in red t-shirts reading “No Asphalt” flooded the Forsyth County Admin building, filling the hall, spilling out into stairwell and lobby. “Nine people were scheduled to speak for 20 minutes and we were prepared,” said Chauhan. The movement’s turning point proved to be the concluding part of the meeting with Commissioner Brown bearing responsibility for introducing the idea of the application. “I asked for this, not this board. I live less than a mile from the plant, and I would never put my family or home in jeopardy. I thought this was a good idea and would be in the greater good for our community,” said Brown.

Dan Garcia, President, CWM, said the plant was updated, efficient and environmentally friendly, in his defense.

Meanwhile a petition on change.org created by an anonymous person had garnered well over 7000 signatures before the 11/21 meeting. But a new petition was required for the next meeting scheduled for 1/9/2020 since change.org does not support a petition after it is released. Donation goal of $30K was achieved by mid-December.

Commissioners were set to discuss the agenda item at their Jan. 9 meeting, after tabling it on Nov. 22. Christmas came earlier for all opposing petitioners when, on Dec 19, 2019, Commissioners voted to terminate the county-initiated CUP for the plant.

“Democracy requires community participation,” said Chauhan. Indeed. People had spoken. And eventually the government listened.

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