Briscoe Field, the Lawrenceville airport whose uncertain future has pitted neighbor against neighbor and bitterly divided this community, was the topic of debate at a local church Thursday night.
Gwinnett County Commissioners held a special called meeting at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville to allow citizens to weigh in on the issue of commercialization/privatization of the airport. Considering the setting, brotherly love was not overly abundant.
With hundreds of attendees inside the beautiful and massive church, those wearing "No Airport Expansion" t-shirts and carrying "No Airport Expansion" signs outnumbered their opposition in large number. Each time a person supporting their cause spoke, the anti-expansion crowd burst into long and loud applause. When Chairwoman Charlotte Nash asked the audience to hold their applause, they angrily refused.
At one point, David Cross, who spoke in favor of allowing county commissioners to issue a request for proposal, broke off his comments, turned and took a "No Airport Expansion" sign away from one attendee and threw it go the floor.
Commissioners voted in 2010 to move forward with privatizing the airport and three companies have expressed an interest, although no request for proposal (RFP) has been issued.
One of those firms, , indicated it would like to set up a terminal with at least 10 gates for possible connections to Miami, Dallas, Las Vegas and New York City.
In an interview outside the church before the meeting began, Jim Reagan, a member of Citizens for a Better Gwinnett, a group that helped organize the opposition, said, "We understand they intend to fly Boeing 737s into the airport. We think this site is inappropriate for an operation on that scale. We wouldn't oppose it if it was located in a low-density area. But it comes down to expanding in a densely located area with thousands of homes in the flight path having to deal with the noise, the traffic and property value issues."
Reagan also said, "Commissioners have not done an economic impact study or an environmental impact study to know what impact this could have on the community. I've seen studies that show property values of homes near the airport would loose between eight and 40 percent of their value."
But those who favored pursuing RFPs disputed that and they presented their own studies that seemed to indicate commercialization could lead to more jobs and economic prosperity in the area without lowering property values.
Paula Hastings, a member of and a Lawrenceville resident who said she was a proponent of accurate information, said, "Right now, we merely have a concept. Let's not dismiss this without doing our homework. Let's begin the process. It doesn't commit you to anything. It's just a starting point."
Cynthia Kaye said she owns a business near Briscoe Field that has 250 employees.
"The airport would give us and other businesses a competitive advantage," she said.
Mike Royal, another member of Fly Gwinnett Forward and a proponent of issuing RFPs, called for a "factual and honest debate," adding that, "a lot of what I was hearing I know to be inconsistent with the truth."
Commissioners did not speak during the called meeting. Nash explained before the meeting that they were there to listen to the citizens.
had a city council meeting scheduled and could not attend last night's event.
In an interview earlier in the day, he said, '"We have seen no written proposals about what's going on. We are in their landing pattern right now at the end of a runway. I can hear the private jets now early in the morning and late at night, but having no idea what they're planning to do."
"We're just tilting at windmills right now," he said. "Based on some of the previous actions the county has taken without informing people, I can understand why people want to get out in front of this thing."
The to remove commercial service as an option if Briscoe Field is privatized at its April 19 meeting. The commission is scheduled to vote on the resolution at its May 3 meeting.