Alpharetta Six Years Later: 100,000 Cars & 1235 Apartments

On June 19th  Mayor Belle Isle and the Alpharetta City Council approved the seventh high density mixed use zoning case to come before us since I was elected in 2011. The vote Monday night was 4-2 in favor of the project with Councilman Jason Binder joining me to vote against it.

northwinds site 2

That latest project was called Northwinds Summit and will contain 140 apartments, 32 condos, 1.2 million square feet of office space, 30,000 square feet of retail and a 140 room hotel. It is projected to add more than 14,000 cars a day to the intersection of GA 400 and Haynes Bridge Road. Northwinds will be right across the street from the Tech 360 project approved last month which will add another 13,000 cars. Those projects will now draw 27,000 more cars a day to what was already one of the busiest intersections in Alpharetta.

And while 27,000 more cars a day may seem like a lot it is only a fraction of the traffic residents should expect from projects approved over the past six years. The seven urban mixed use projects approved alone are projected to add more than 100,000 cars a day to our already congested roadways.

But even that number doesn’t include the thousands of cars coming from all the acreage recently clear cut on Old Milton Parkway. Or the cars coming soon from property cleared on Kimball Bridge Road. Or cars coming from more developments approved on Webb Bridge Road. Or the houses, town houses and condos being built on Mayfield Road, Rucker Road, Canton Street, Academy Street and nearly every other congested corridor in the city.

City Center 4-3-2017

When I ran for office in 2011 there were three candidates running for Mayor and six candidates running for three city council positions. For ten weeks the nine of us spent every possible moment hosting events, knocking on doors and attending debates to explain why the people of Alpharetta should vote for us. The one issue that all nine candidates acknowledged as a top priority for everyone was Alpharetta’s traffic.

Every candidate promised we were going to do something about the horrific traffic that has plagued this city for years. Yet here we are six years later and city council has approved developments that will add well over 100,000 cars a day while we are still years away from traffic improvements that could ease congestion.

Don’t get me wrong.  Development is not bad and I am not anti-growth.

I am proud of much that our mayor and council have accomplished over the past six years. Cooperation between the City of Alpharetta, our business community and the commercial property owners who have invested hundreds of millions of dollars help make Alpharetta a shining star in the state of Georgia.

But when I promised to do something about traffic I was committed to supporting a pace and scale of development that our infrastructure could support. Many of my fellow candidates promised the same thing.

Rush hour in Alpharetta is already frustrating and over the next five years it is going to get worse before it gets better. Construction is about to begin along every major roadway in the city.  Critical corridors like Rucker Road and McGinnis Ferry may need to be closed for a while as bridges and roundabouts are constructed. All of this will happen just as new developments start to add tens of thousands of cars to our traffic. You can find more detailed information about the planned projects at this link.

City projects

The long term affects of that congestion along with the impact such rapid growth will have on schools and crime rates are going to be immense. I am concerned that it is just too much too fast. And I know a lot of other Alpharetta residents are concerned too because they ask me about it everywhere I go.

People ask me what’s going to be built on the latest piece of land where the trees are suddenly gone. People ask me why the city didn’t do something about traffic before approving so many developments. People ask me why I’m usually the only council member voting against some of the mixed use apartment projects.

Then people ask me the one question I just can’t answer,”We’ve lost so many trees and traffic just keeps getting worse, why does the city keep approving all of this?” All I can say to that is,”I don’t know.”

 

 

 

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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.

Alpharetta City Council Meeting Agenda for January 23, 2017

Friday afternoon I was notified that the developer requesting zoning approval for the most dense mixed use development in the history of our city will be presenting their case tomorrow evening. I apologize for the late notice but last month the applicant chose to defer their case an hour before the hearing and I was only notified of this week’s City Council meeting agenda after I was my on my way out of town for a previously scheduled trip.

Fortunately in my absence there have been a number of concerned residents who stepped up to make their neighbors aware of this precedent setting case. This morning as I was driving back to Alpharetta a reader of this blog identified as “Christine” even took the time to post a comment on this previous blog entry about the additional 55,000 cars a day which mixed use developments will soon be adding to the roads between Downtown Alpharetta and GA 400. I have previously written about the Perling/Devore Rd application here and Christine’s summary with a link to tomorrow night’s agenda is below.

The high-density development application for S Main St and Devore will be presented at the City Council meeting Monday, Jan 23, at 6:30 p.m. The developer has slightly changed his proposal from what the planning commission heard and recommended denial for, but the density is still 2.5x that of Avalon and 2x that of downtown. He is still proposing apartments, a large brewery to be the focal point for the “entranceway into Alpharetta,” and a warehouse style architecture which is very different from the downtown code. The agenda packet with all the information is posted on the Alpharetta city website under the meeting manager portal: http://www.alpharetta.ga.us/government/agendas-summaries/meeting-manager-portal
There was a good amount of opposition from residents at the Planning Commission meeting which helped them determine to deny the application. If you are concerned with the amount of high density development in the heart of Alpharetta, please attend the city council meeting and voice your concerns.

Thank you for taking the time to stay informed about the future of Alpharetta. I appreciate those of you, like Christine, who care enough about our community to stay informed and keep your neighbors informed about the issues that affect our families, our schools and our businesses.

In addition to the Perling/Devore Road case there are other important zoning cases and items on the agenda. We will also take a few minutes to recognize the outstanding contributions of  retiring Public Safety Director Gary George.

Regardless of your position on the other items I hope you will come celebrate with us as Alpharetta recognizes a dedicated public servant who has spent more than 47 years of his life serving the people of this great nation in uniform. Alpharetta would not be the place it is today without Director Gary George. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.