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Editorial: Saluting the diligent squeaky wheels among us
Hall residents who took active roles in 2 recent zoning disputes made a difference
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“Eighty percent of life is just showing up.”

Variations of this quote attributed to Woody Allen could sum up how America’s representative democracy should work, but often doesn’t. That’s because participation seldom comes close to that level.

Here’s another quote on that topic, one often repeated on this page: “Every nation gets the government it deserves,” Joseph de Maistre wrote in 1811. There’s no way to create a government of, by and for the people if the people tune out and stay home. Those who do show up get to choose for those who don’t. When we take part in how our government and society function, we’re more likely to get what we want, or at least what we need. The squeaky wheels get, and deserve, the grease.

Yet at times, those wheels turn silently. Nationwide voter turnout in last year’s presidential election dipped to a 20-year low of 55 percent. Whether due to the unpopularity of the candidates or the lack of a perceived horse race in many states, that number pales next to the ballot tallies in Hall (78 percent) and Georgia (76 percent).

So are North Georgians more involved than people elsewhere? We can’t say for sure, but since it feels good to think so, let’s go with that conclusion until proven otherwise.

We have seen in recent weeks how public participation over disputed issues can yield results. In each case, Hall County residents rallied to action rather than sit on their hands and let others force decisions on them.

Two came to fruition within a few hours Thursday: one over a proposed new plant by Mincey Marble Co., the other over a home for victims of sex trafficking by the Straight Street nonprofit group. Neighbors concerned about both efforts turned out in ample numbers to earn half a loaf or more of satisfaction that most everyone can live with.

Mincey fought a monthslong battle over its plan to build a larger plant on Browns Bridge Road. Residents in the area opposed the idea based on concerns over the release of smelly chemicals and increased truck traffic. They filled public hearings and meetings, wrote letters to The Times and made it clear they wouldn’t give in quietly.

Mincey won approval from commissioners for rezoning to build the new 100,750-square-foot plant near its current site, which it has occupied for nearly 40 years. But company owners then found an even better solution, announcing Thursday they would build the new plant at the Gainesville Business Park in another part of town, farther from homes.

The 79-acre site on New Harvest Road will house a building of 350,000 to 400,000 square feet that will cost $15 million to $20 million, and likely add 50 jobs to Mincey’s current workforce of 300. Construction and relocation are expected to be completed by early 2018. And sale of the old site likely will result in its conversion to residential rather than commercial use, easing neighbors’ concerns.

Bigger plant, new site, more jobs, happy neighbors. Win, win, win, win.

“I am happy for our opponents and am grateful to those who supported our rezoning efforts. This move should satisfy everyone,” company owner Donna Mincey said.

Mincey cited cost concerns as a key factor in its decision, which included the lengthy rezoning efforts. But public reaction likely led owners to take a second look and find what turned out to be a better option for all concerned. Credit for that goes to Mincey, Hall County government and Chamber of Commerce officials for helping broker a deal, but also to those tireless folks who lifted their voices against the original plan. Their diligence set a course toward a better solution.

A second zoning issue ended with limited approval of the Straight Street home Thursday night. The haven for troubled sex trade victims seemed to offer little threat to those nearby, or so we opined last year when opposition to the plan resulted in disapproval from the planning commission.

The final decision reached by commissioners included several concessions, including limiting the operation to 20 residents. While acknowledging and easing fears by residents concerned about traffic, security and other inconveniences, it still will give 20 women a better chance at life. If the home proves to be no burden over time, neighbors may be less concerned about future expansion.

The point isn’t just whether either the plant or home should have been allowed, but that those nearby had every right to weigh in. Folks in these neighborhoods gave their time and effort to find solutions that, in these instances, led to compromises most can live with. That’s how active participation in decision-making can lead to the best conclusions.

Another fight looms over the proposed Exit 14 interchange off Interstate 985, which residents of the Martin Road area are waging over fears of increased commercial traffic in their neighborhood. We don’t know how that will end, with the state Department of Transportation on the other end of this chess board, but don’t bet too heavily against a determined group of county residents in any such dispute.

Do we still get the government and results we deserve? We do, whether we take part or not. Fortunately, there are enough folks willing to show up, sound off and work hard to swing the odds their way rather than leave their fates to chance. We salute them and take pride in their efforts, knowing they’re helping to hold local government and business leaders accountable.

Kudos also go to those on the listening end for showing a willingness to hear their concerns and work toward compromises and viable alternatives.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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