Early Voting Started for the Alpharetta City Council Election

Early voting for the Alpharetta City Council election to be held on November 7th, 2017 began October 16th. The most convenient early voting locations for Alpharetta residents will be your nearest library during the days and times indicated below.

This is a critical election for the future of Alpharetta. Please make the time to vote!

The only voices that really count in an election are the ones heard at the ballot box.

November 7 2017 early voting map

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Constituent Letter and Response

I sent a letter to many of my constituents two weeks ago. The idea was to solicit feedback from the people who elected me about their vision of our future downtown and their reaction to the current pace of development in Alpharetta.

constituent-letter

Change is occurring rapidly and as a community we are facing pivotal decisions about our future so I wanted to get a better sense of where my constituents stand on those key issues.  That is why I mailed the letter to 1100 Alpharetta residents asking for their responses to the following questions:

The current pace of land development and density growth in Alpharetta is:

a) Too little                       b) Too much                        c) About right

Your vision of downtown Alpharetta in the future would be more like:

a) Buckhead                       b) Canton Street in Roswell                  c) Decatur

The response to the letter has been overwhelming with more than 150 people sending comments so far. In addition to answering the two questions many people also included thoughtful comments about other issues that concern them.

The response has been encouraging and the results surprised me. While my original intent was only to solicit feedback that could guide my future decisions some constituents also copied my fellow councilmen with their responses. Other constituents even asked me to share the results with the public along with the rest of council so I decided to make the results public for anyone who is interested in what my constituents had to say.

Of the 1100 letter recipients one thousand of them were homes containing the most likely voters in the city of Alpharetta. Each of those households contains multiple voters who vote in nearly every election held. Many of those households contain three or more very active voters.

The remaining recipients were people whose opinions I respect, people who have reached out to me about issues in the past or people who serve in various volunteer capacities throughout our community. The list was created as a reflection of the diverse group of people who elected me to represent them and with whom I would want to speak if I were running for re-election today.

The results of the responses I received as of midnight 10/27/2016 are below.

survey-results

Frankly, I was shocked. Based on the people I speak with at schools, churches, softball games, etc. on a regular basis I fully expected the the majority of respondents to select “B” for both questions.

But for 87% of the Alpharetta voters who responded to feel the current pace of development in our city is too much was startling. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the thoughtful, passionate, frustrated and occasionally angry comments many people included.

I was also surprised to find that responses from the list of most likely voters were almost identical to those from people I subjectively selected or who responded because a neighbor sent them the survey. Regardless of the sample group the percentage of responses for selection “B” were only reduced by 1% as a result of rounding.

As a person who ran a successful campaign against an incumbent council member five years ago by pointing out their record on growth and development I take these results very seriously. When nearly 9 out of 10 of the most active voters who hired me say that our current pace of growth and density is too much it is just too overwhelming for me to ignore. And as I cast votes on related issues in the future it will be with these results in mind.

Elected officials cannot always make decisions based on what is most popular. I know that sometimes we have to make difficult choices and ruffling feathers often comes with the territory. But I am also keenly aware that when elected officials stray too far from the vision of their electorate it will not continue indefinitely.

 

 

 

 

 

Alpharetta’s Downtown Parking Deck Discussion

Over the past few weeks there have been several public meetings to discuss where the taxpayers of Alpharetta should spend millions of dollars to build a multistory parking deck on the west side of Main Street downtown. As part of that initiative the city recently spent more than a million dollars to acquire land on Milton Avenue which could be used for a parking deck in addition to two potential sites located on public parking lots nearby.

On September 19th, 2016 the first public discussion about preferred options for adding a parking deck downtown was held during a workshop at City Hall. The video is available online here and the parking lot discussion begins at the 16 minute mark of the video. The City of Alpharetta website also has more supporting materials here.

At the meeting on the 19th an overwhelming majority of Alpharetta residents opposed putting a parking deck on site A, shown above on the left. Instead they preferred site D, shown above on the right. Those same sentiments have consistently been supported  by comments I have received at other meetings as well as the numerous emails and phone calls I have gotten from constituents.

Before the public was allowed to comment about their preferences of deck location I was largely agnostic as to which location was preferable. Of the three options presented above I felt options A and D were preferable but my concerns were primarily about their comparable size, scale and costs.

Both A and D have advantages and disadvantages and I wanted to hear from the people of Alpharetta before making a decision. Now that the people of Alpharetta have had a chance to provide their input it is clear their preference is for site D. There are many objective reasons for supporting site D but in addition to their objective points many residents also voice their opposition to site A based on a subjective evaluation that it would destroy the small town setting they want downtown.

Site A is definitely closer to businesses along Main Street but site D is certainly a viable option. If there was evidence site D was too far away from the commercial properties along Main Street I would never have supported Mayor Belle Isle and the rest of our council when we spent more than a million dollars to purchase it in the first place. So both A and D are viable options and would be a great improvement over the current parking situation downtown.

The major difference I see at this point is that many of the commercial property and business owners around site A prefer it because it is 400 feet closer to their properties while the residents who have no financial  interest in either location prefer site D because that spot best preserves their vision for the future of downtown Alpharetta. Both sides have reasonable positions and neither is wrong. They just have different priorities and visions for downtown.

For now I will continue to work with our council, our staff, the public and local business owners to pursue a solution that addresses everyone’s concern. But many people are asking where I stand on this issue and they deserve an honest response so if I had to choose either site A or D today I would vote for site D on Milton Avenue.

For years Mayor Belle Isle has spoken about his goal of wanting the people of Alpharetta to call this their “hometown”. Now hundreds of people care passionately enough about downtown to speak up about what they want the heart of their hometown to be. It is an exciting sign that we are finally achieving “hometown” status.

So after years of trying to make Alpharetta the city our residents will call their hometown, I am far more concerned about what happens if those people lose faith we are making this the place they want it to be than I am about walking an extra 400 feet from the parking deck. We can always build a parking deck on site A if it becomes necessary in the future… but if we lose the faith of people who now call Alpharetta their hometown there is nothing this mayor and council will ever be able to do to regain it.

 

 

 

 

Urbanization of Downtown Alpharetta

Last week I wrote about the renewed effort to urbanize the City of Alpharetta. This week we will take a closer look at the current transformation of downtown Alpharetta into an urban core.

Last week’s Alpharetta Herald contained a good article providing insight into the public discussion among our Mayor and City Council members about increasing taxpayer subsidies for the city center project in downtown Alpharetta. You can read the whole thing here.

The reporter, Pat Fox, accurately describes my comments as:

He said he also thinks the project has strayed too far from the image he had of a village-style development and become too heavily focused on mixed-use.

“I don’t believe this plan ever met the spirit of what was sold to the public in the original bond issue back in 2011

The illustration below was published with the article.

alpharetta-urban-collage

Do you notice the huge expanses of green space with trees that serve as the focal point for the development? Do you notice how the heights of buildings within each block of development vary as if they were built over time rather than all at once? It looks pretty good doesn’t it?

Unfortunately the picture above is not the development which our mayor and council just voted to further subsidize with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. The actual proposal to be built downtown is shown below.

alpharetta-city-center-2016

As you can see the “village style” city center used to promote bonds for the development has now been transformed into something more resembling Bull Street in downtown Savannah. But even Bull Street doesn’t have a four story apartment building with more than 130 units covering an entire city block. The stark contrast between what was originally sold to residents and what is actually being built provides a timely illustration of the current urbanization taking place in Downtown Alpharetta.

Back in 2011 Alpharetta was mired in the depths of a severe recession. The top priority for our mayor and council at that point was getting Alpharetta’s economy back on track. I am proud to say that when we all worked together toward that common vision the results were overwhelming.

But this is no longer 2011. This is 2016 and today Alpharetta has a booming economy.

The size and density of the numerous development projects approved over the past five years are going to transform this community in ways we can only begin to appreciate. Avalon is only half complete and the developments along Old Milton Parkway and Thompson Street have just started. Thousands of apartments, town houses and homes have been approved but not yet built while nearly every week another large swath of trees is clear cut for more development.

Back in 2011 the people of Alpharetta and their elected officials could only hope for that day when we could face the challenge of how to manage explosive growth. That day is here now.

Mayor Belle Isle and our city council have shown what we can accomplish when we share the same vision. We brought tremendous growth back to this community and we can manage that growth to protect those qualities which make Alpharetta so special.

But when you look at the drastic differences in the two visions above it is no longer clear we still share the same vision. And until we agree on where we are going it will be impossible for us to agree about how we get there.

 

 

Comments about the SB 313 Hearing

I commented on an article at GeorgiaPol.com about a hearing I attended regarding Senator Brandon Beach’s 50% MARTA tax increase proposal. It’s the best article I have seen about the meeting and you should read the whole thing here.

I am including my comment below for readers here.

I appreciate your coverage of the event but am disappointed by your characterization of this discussion as “histrionics”. While there were some jabs taken by both sides at Senator Albers’ hearing there were also a lot of facts and objective analysis presented.

The population of the City of Atlanta was 496,973 in 1970 and MARTA was created the next year. By the 2010 census the City of Atlanta’s population had declined to 420,003 residents while the population of the surrounding metropolitan areas increased by more than 3 million.

For 45 years an outdated transit plan concentrated on a stagnant urban core received billions of dollars in sales tax revenues while booming areas of growth have been starved of money for burgeoning infrastructure needs. Senator Beach’s 50% MARTA Tax increase proposal compounds that error and makes it worse by cementing it in place for another 50 years.

North Fulton is booming and Alpharetta has attracted thousands of new jobs over the last few years despite claims of impending doom by Senator Beach and Mark Toro. The greatest threat to that success is the congestion on our surface streets, arterial roads and GA 400. Senator Beach’s plan would do nothing to address our needs would make it even more difficult for cities to address them.

The legislature tried to address that problem with HB 170 last year which allowed Fulton County to levy an additional 1% sales tax to be distributed among its municipalities for those crucial infrastructure needs. Senator Beach’s tax increase bill complete destroys that framework by cutting the funds available to cities and increasing the MARTA tax by 50% for so long that the Millennial generation will be on Medicare by the time it expires.

SB 313 would cost the City of Alpharetta alone nearly $42 million dollars over the 5 years permitted currently. The cities of North Fulton combined would lose a total of $251 million dollars to MARTA. That is money that could address immediate needs and required to be allocated for projects which can be completed or substantially begun within 5 years. But under Senator Beach’s bill that $251 million would be diverted to MARTA projects dependent on receiving billions of dollars from the federal government and under the best of circumstances would not even be through the environmental studies phase in 5 years.

And as I stated along with several other speakers including Mr. Feigenbaum, the only credentialed transportation expert to testify, Bus Rapid Transit is the only transit method which makes any sense in low density suburban areas like North Fulton. Curiously HB 313 actually designates the cheaper, more efficient BRT for expansion in Dekalb County but there has been no explanation for the extra billion dollars it would cost to use heavy rail in Fulton.

For those wondering where the tax revenue projections I use come from they are the numbers compiled by Fulton County for HB 170 negotiations among the cities.

North Fulton Transportation Funding 2016

The year 2016 promises to be a defining one for the City of Alpharetta and our neighbors in North Fulton County. In Alpharetta we expect to see construction begin on the land in front of City Hall as well as hundreds of homes and townhomes in the surrounding area. Construction of the second phase in Avalon has begun and we expect to see a new convention center take shape along with the hotel, stores, restaurants and apartments also planned on the site.

Around North Fulton our neighbors are also expecting great things. Sandy Springs has begun construction of its own town center and is welcoming the North American Headquarters for Mercedes to town. Roswell is working hard to reinvigorate their beautiful historic areas with new growth while the relative newbies of Johns Creek and Milton are in various stages of creating their own visions of their future.

These are exciting times to live and do business in North Fulton. We are blessed.

And as all of these great things are going on there is an underlying discussion taking place that will affect us all. How will we work as a region to build and maintain the roads and infrastructure needed to accommodate this growth and development?

For the past two decades North Fulton has experienced tremendous growth but the network of roads and infrastructure have not grown accordingly. Anyone who has driven in other metropolitan areas knows that traffic in North Fulton is not as bad as most other comparable cities but it is still an important issue.

That is why the Georgia state legislature passed House Bill 170 last year which raised taxes to fund infrastructure projects at the state level. The bill was heavily publicized after its passage but many people in North Fulton County still don’t know about a seldom discussed feature of the legislation.

HB 170 allows Fulton County to hold a county wide referendum to authorize an additional 1% sales tax increase for funding local transportation projects. There has been media coverage about this lately but many people still don’t realize how this discussion will impact our region for decades to come.

Current projections show that a 1% sales tax increase for 5 years could raise more than $83 million to be used for transportation projects in the city of Alpharetta alone. The total amount projected for all of North Fulton would be more than $500 million. That would approximately double the amount cities currently have to address transportation projects and could make a huge dent in the backlog of projects which have accumulated as fast growing cities struggled to keep up.

But will residents vote for a large tax increase if it’s for transportation? Would the money go to fund road improvements or will some of it go to pay even more than the current 1% MARTA sales tax subsidy? Would the tax increase be limited to 5 years as proposed in the legislation? Or will the county and cities agree to extend the tax for 40 years to allow bonds for expanding MARTA?

These are all questions that have yet to be answered. However if the referendum is going to be placed on the November ballot these questions and many others will have to be answered soon. And those answers will go a long way in determining what the City of Alpharetta and North Fulton County look like for the next 10, 20, even 50 years.

So over the next few months I intend to explore many of the questions posed by the proposed Tsplost tax increase proposal. Hopefully this will be a constructive forum for us to discuss what promises to be the most important issue of 2016, North Fulton Transportation funding.

 

 

 

 

Alpharetta City Council Meeting Agenda for January 19, 2016

Below is the agenda for next week’s Alpharetta City Council meeting along with highlighted links to many of the supporting materials. Please note that next week’s meeting will be held on Tuesday night as we observe the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr holiday on Monday.

Please feel free to leave questions and comments about agenda items in the comment section and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner.

I. CALL TO ORDER
II. ROLL CALL
III. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
IV. PROCLAMATIONS
A. Officer Charles Fannon Retirement
V. CONSENT AGENDA
A. Council Meeting Minutes (Meeting of 01/04/2016)
B. Council Meeting Minutes (Meeting of 1/12/2016)
C. Alcoholic Beverage License Applications
1. PH-16-AB-01 – Alpharetta Family Skate Center
d/b/a The Cooler
10800 Davis Drive
Alpharetta, GA 30022
Consumption on Premises
Liquor, beer, wine, and Sunday Sales
Owner: Alpharetta Family Skate Center
Registered Agent: John Bardis
VI. PROJECT UPDATES
A. Convention Center
B. City Center – Public Development
C. City Center – Private Development
VII. OLD BUSINESS
A. Consideration Of Request For Use Of City Logo By Private Entity
VIII. NEW BUSINESS
A. SR 120- State Bridge to Jones Bridge
B. Miracle Field Drainage Improvements
C. 2035 Comperhensive Plan Update Funding
D. Update To Background Check Policy
E. Update To Extended Leave And Return To Duty Policy
F. Employee Assistance Program Policies And Procedures
G. Grant Funding for Camp Happy Hearts
H. Resolution Authorizing the Adoption of an Amended and Restated City of Alpharetta Retirement Savings Plan
I. Resolution Authorizing the Adoption of an Amended and Restated City of Alpharetta Combined Defined Benefit Pension Plan
J. Fiscal Year 2015 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Application
IX. PUBLIC COMMENT
X. WORKSHOP
A. Staffing Of Building Inspections
XI. REPORTS
XII. ADJOURNMENT TO EXECUTIVE SESSION