The Fork in the Road, Six Years Later

Yesterday I received the Alpharetta City Council Agenda for Monday night. One of the zoning cases to be heard is a 62 acre high density, mixed use urban development with 320 apartments. It is proposed for the southwest corner of Haynes Bridge and GA 400.

The land was originally zoned for a high density mixed use development called the MetLife project in 2011. I first wrote about the case more than six years ago with this article titled Alpharetta Faces the Fork in the Road. Below is a excerpt:

I hope that as the City of Alpharetta considers approving the MetLife project they will take the time to read this article which was originally published in the Atlanta Journal when MetLife first came to Alpharetta:

Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. held a grand opening this week for its headquarters in Alpharetta. The 81-acre campus, at Ga. 400 and Haynes Bridge Road in the Georgia 400 Center, is expected to hold some 800 employees in about two years. MetLife will occupy four of six floors and lease the rest. MetLife’s business in metro Atlanta includes pensions, brokerage, group insurance, real estate investments, disability insurance, securities and corporate investments. The company moved its corporate headquarters from Perimeter Center because of the increasing traffic problems there. MetLife sold Perimeter Center last year for $336 million.

The key section of the article says,The company moved its corporate headquarters from Perimeter Center because of the increasing traffic problems there. MetLife sold Perimeter Center last year for $336 million.”

So in 1998 MetLife came to Alpharetta because they had developed the Perimeter Center of Sandy Springs into a concrete jungle with disastrous traffic. Now they would like to do the same here. The Atlanta Regional Commission’s review of the proposed MetLife project shows that it will take road improvements that cost 10’s of millions of dollars just to accommodate the extra 12,000 cars a day at that intersection.

I fully expect this project to be approved because influential business interests support it and our community development department is determined to cram enough people into Alpharetta to justify a billion dollar expansion of MARTA into this city. But it is sad to see this happening in my adopted hometown.

As a community we have come to a fork in the road. We can choose growth that compliments our attractiveness as a quiet place to raise families or we can choose growth that turns us into the next Perimeter Center.

I hope we choose the path less traveled but I’m not optimistic. Wonder how long it will be before we read an article notifying us that MetLife has sold their gridlocked property on Haynes Bridge Road and moved to Forsyth County?

If you care about this decision please contact city hall today 678 297-6000.

Since that time I have written 21 other articles mentioning the parcel. In February of 2011 I wrote this article documenting the letter from MARTA explaining how they were working with the city to create the Northpoint Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) as a way to facilitate urban core densities needed to support MARTA heavy rail expansion to the area.

MARTA letter

After the mayor and city council unanimously approved the MetLife development I wrote this article explaining how the 500 acres of mixed use development planned as part of the Northpoint LCI would impact the Milton High School district. That article was written six years and one day ago. Below you can read the response it brought from Alpharetta City Councilman Mike Kennedy who still serves as the mayor’s liaison to the Alpharetta community development department:

Kennedy Blog Comment

Note that despite Councilman Kennedy’s comment that,”the likelihood of any significant apartment construction is remote for many years to come” more than 1,000 apartments were built or approved in violation of the 85/15 rule. Then last year under his direction the 85/15 apartment rule was eliminated altogether.

As recently as December of 2016  I wrote this article explaining how high density mixed use developments like the one on Monday’s agenda are projected to add more than 55,000 cars a day to roads between downtown Alpharetta and GA 400. For a city whose biggest challenge is congestion the continued approval of projects that make traffic worse is counter productive. And yet those daunting numbers quoted just months ago didn’t include the thousands of cars added by the recent application for another massive development right across the street from the MetLife/Fuqua/Peridot project to be heard Monday.

A lot has changed over the past six years. Six years ago my concerns about the urbanization of Alpharetta drove me to run for city council. Now I will be voting on the MetLife parcel rather than watching from the gallery.

Six years ago there was a crumbling remnant of a parking deck where Avalon now stands with more than a million square feet of office, retail and residential space including 525 apartments. Just this week Avalon opened its second phase and the hotel-convention center is scheduled to open next year.

Six years ago Alpharetta city council members assured me that the high density mixed use developments approved on Haynes Bridge Road, Old Milton Parkway and Windward Parkway didn’t include apartments and wouldn’t for the foreseeable future because the city had a steadfast rule to limit apartments to 15% of housing stock. Today Alpharetta has more than 1,000 more apartments built or on the way and the 85/15 rule has been eliminated completely. The latest goal with a maximum percentage of rental housing stock of 32% which continues to be ignored.

In 2011 the heavy rail MARTA station envisioned for the MetLife parcel as part of the Northpoint LCI was dismissed by Alpharetta city council members as something that, “would never happen in our lifetime.” Yet last year Alpharetta’s own State Senator Brandon Beach proposed a MARTA sales tax increase to build four heavy rail stations along the corridor of high density mixed use developments now being built in Alpharetta.

Yes much has changed over the past six years. But the thing that hasn’t changed is that our mayor and city council still find themselves facing the same fork in the road.

We could choose the heavily traveled path of least resistance by continuing to approve more high density urban developments which bring more traffic, more crime and negatively impact the great public schools we have now. Cities scattered all over metro Atlanta once stood at a similar fork and chose unrestrained growth. Now they are suffering the consequences of aging high density developments with the heavy burden of decline.

Or Alpharetta could choose to manage our growth responsibly so infrastructure has a chance to catch up with new development. We could limit the clear cutting of trees like was done in the past to preserve some mature green spaces. We could honor our stated goal to balance the housing supply and keep Alpharetta the greatest place in the state of Georgia to raise a family and do business.

Monday night we have a chance to choose a different path than the one chosen six years ago. That could make all the difference.

I just wish I was more optimistic this time around.

May you and your loved ones have a peaceful Easter weekend.

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7 thoughts on “The Fork in the Road, Six Years Later

  1. At least you can sleep at night… I appreciate you paying your own money to do your own research. I also appreciate your continued advocacy for our neighborhoods, schools, and commutes.

    Let me know when you need another round of fundraising.

    • I do not have an exact answer. Every time a rezoning takes place the calculation changes and I’m not sure if you are referring to the old 85/15 apartment rule or the recently adopted 32% rental housing rule.

      What I can tell you is that the report prepared in October of 2016 states that the ratio used for the 85/15 rule that the apartment ratio was well over at 26% instead of 15%. And according to the 2015 census numbers our rental housing ratio to owner occupied is well over the 32% goal at more than 37%.

      Fuqua developers are asking for an additional 320 apartments on the property and staff’s recommendations would allow up to 307 rental properties.

      • Thanks for your response, Jim.

        “I’m not sure if you are referring to the old 85/15 apartment rule or the recently adopted 32% rental housing rule.” To clarify: I mean the actual ratio of physically-existing properties, not a goal/rule/guideline. You answered it with the 37%.

        Having a goal/rule/guideline is irrelevant if it’s routinely ignored.

  2. Pingback: Alpharetta City Council Meeting Agenda April 24, 2017 | Alpharetta's GA Jim

  3. Pingback: Alpharetta City Council Meeting Agenda May 1, 2017 | Alpharetta's GA Jim

  4. Pingback: Alpharetta City Council Meeting Agenda May 22, 2017 | Alpharetta's GA Jim

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