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Environmental group wants to preserve Gainesville's air quality, keep Hall from looking 'like Gwinnett'
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Construction on the Gainesville 85 Business Park on Fullenwider Road continues Tuesday, March 1, 2022. The road will eventually connect Highway 60 with Highway 129. - photo by Scott Rogers

A local environmental group wants Gainesville to do more to protect its greenspace and reduce carbon emissions, a first step toward changes activists say are necessary for maintaining the city’s air quality and its character. 

Margaret Rasmussen of The Redbud Project, a local environmental protection group, presented several goals to Gainesville City Council on Feb. 24, recommending the city adopt ordinances to protect greenspace within the 1,300-acre Gainesville 85 Business Park being developed off of Allen Creek Road, use specific landscaping to improve air quality at drive-thrus and require more native plants to be used in city projects. 

“We surveyed citizens for their concern to conserve our water, air, land and green space … their resounding response: ‘We don’t want to look like Gwinnett (County),’” Rasmussen said. 

A week after the presentation, Rasmussen said she hadn’t heard from city officials in response to her presentation, but she was hopeful the city would heed her and Redbud’s words. 

“I know every single one of our city council people is very, very green,” Rasmussen said. “(These proposals) give them something that they can actually make a decision about.” 

One of Rasmussen’s more ambitious proposals targets Gainesville’s 85 Business Park, currently under construction with plans to complete new roadways and other utilities in 2023. At least 30% of the 1,300 acres should be maintained as tree canopy, Rasmussen said, referencing research done by University of Georgia professor James Porter. 

“Maintain 30% of the tree canopy or the greenspace, and you will affect the climate change and global warming in our local area,” she said in an interview. “Do that at the Gainesville 85 Business Park to demonstrate, set the standard. … This is your business park, this can be a niche for companies that want to have an environmental setting.”

Linda MacGregor, Gainesville’s director of water resources, said the city has some ways already to keep the business park from overdeveloping the area. The city will control about 330 acres or a little over 25% of the property to protect Allen Creek, which runs through the center of the property. The business park will also have nature trails running from the Allen Creek Soccer Complex to the end of the creek.

“Often when property is developed the property lines of each individual parcel go to the center of the stream,” MacGregor said. “Instead of doing that here, … we are maintaining that as city property.”

This will allow the city to manage stormwater and runoff issues, she said. Though not the same as preserving tree canopy, keeping a quarter of the property from being developed would also contribute to environmental protection. 

The Redbud Project partnered with a local McDonald’s restaurant last fall to install certain deciduous and evergreen plants at its drive-thru to improve air quality and better capture and contain emissions from idling vehicles. One of Redbud’s proposals to the city includes passing an ordinance to require air quality control landscapes in all new construction or renovated drive-thru businesses.

Mayor Sam Couvillon invited Redbud to speak in front of the council, he told The Times. It was the first time Redbud had presented to some council members, Couvillon said. 

“We’re going to continue to have conversations, get to know more about Redbud and their goals more in detail, and then we’ll just address that as they go,” he said. 

Couvillon has plans to meet soon with Bob Swoszowski who owns several McDonald’s in the area and was the first to adopt Redbud’s landscaping plan to improve air quality. 

“When you have a partner like Mr. Swoszowski that’s willing to do it, that makes it easier,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learned being on council is any time you can get a private partner it just makes it that much easier. Government budgets are stretched to begin with, and it’s hard to keep committing to every project that everybody wants to do.” 

Councilman Danny Dunagan said the Redbud presentation was the first time he had heard about landscaping improvements leading to better air quality at businesses like those with drive-thrus. 

“That’s something that everybody needs to look at doing when they do their landscaping,” Dunagan said. 

Green practices could be as important economically as they are environmentally, Rasmussen said. 

“I feel like the City Council does have a truly green heart and that they can be a model and an inspiration … to Hall County,” Rasmussen said.