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.”

 

 

 

Urban Core Density proposed for Devore Road in Alpharetta

devore-hd-mu

Another rezoning application has been filed with the City of Alpharetta for yet another high density urban mixed use development. This one calls for 200 apartments in a 6 story building, 80 condos in 5 story building, 64 townhouses or homes and more than 130,000 square feet of office, retail and commercial space on about 12 acres of land. That works out to nearly 30 residential units and more than 10,000 square feet of office, retail and commercial built per acre of land.

To help you understand how dense that is just picture a high school football field without the end zones. Then imagine a typical Trader Joe’s with 29 apartments, condos or townhomes stacked on top in that little space.

Every property owner in Alpharetta has a constitutional right to apply for rezoning on their property and I will do my best to consider how such a dense urban core could ever be in the best interests of our community. But over the years I have consistently stated my belief that dense, urban development will absolutely destroy the very qualities that have made Alpharetta the greatest place in Georgia to raise a family and do business so it is hard to imagine hearing any justification that I haven’t already heard a thousand times.

For the time being though, I will just shake my head in disappointment that prior decisions by our mayor and council have lead property owners and developers to believe this type of urban core density is appropriate for such a site in Alpharetta.

You can find the application and supporting documents on the city website here.

 

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.

 

 

Is The Current MARTA Vision Worth The Chase?

The article below was written by Mayor David Belle Isle, the mayor of Alpharetta, who gave me permission to share it with you here.

 

Is The Current MARTA Vision Worth The Chase?

I’m a vision guy. I love looking at something and imagining what it could be; what it could be like; and how to get there. I love chasing a vision and seeing the pieces fall into place. But, for a vision to be worth the chase, the promise of “what could be” has to be better than “what is.”

Last week, I found myself in a makeshift room midway up the interior back stairs of the State Capitol. The room was packed. The air was hot. I was there to testify on behalf of Alpharetta at a committee hearing on the proposed MARTA expansion bill, SB 330. To my surprise, the room was not full of concerned every day citizens seeking faster commute times to home and work. Rather, it was filled with developers, lobbyists, and employees of chamber and public policy groups. Indeed, a total of 7 lobbying firms have been retained to make sure this MARTA bill gets passed and that you vote for it. Big money. Big stakes. Big supporters.

Among others, two developers spoke of how wonderful the MARTA expansion would be for the economy, specifically their economy. They introduced a new phrase: “transit premium.” This is the concept by which the properties serviced by the rail will increase in value by 50%. This is fantastic! Fantastic, that is, if you’re a property owner or developer near a proposed new transit station.

On the whole, I firmly believe that the expansion of public transit is part of the solution as we look to shorten our drive times to home and to work. But, the current $8 Billion proposal has me scratching my head:

  1. What About the 97%ers? Only 3% of commuters within reach of the current rail use MARTA and ridership is down over the past 10 years.
  2. Convenience Factor. For most, using rail involves a six-part process: a drive to the station, a wait for the train, a ride on the rail, a wait for a bus, a ride to a bus stop, and a walk to their building. Real people will weigh that time and hassle against driving straight to work.
  3. Transit for Everyone… Else. Many who support the expansion of MARTA rail are laboring under the hope that others will take the train so that their drive downtown won’t take so long.
  4. Until Death Do It Tax. 43 years is a long time to pay a tax on everything you purchase. This puts the full payment outside my life expectancy. I’m 40.
  5. Bait and Switch. The MARTA project list is disposable. MARTA is not obligated to build the projects the voters are being asked to fund. They should be.
  6. Hadn’t Thought of That. No one has thought to measure the expected improvement, if any, along Georgia 400. For an informed vote, we need to know how much quicker our drives will be.
  7. Federal Match? The proposed expansion is dependent on federal matching funds of $4 Billion. There is no obligation by the Fed to commit these funds. Before MARTA expansion hits a ballot, there should be.
  8. I’m Against What? The ballot question is worded in a way that a “No” vote implies you oppose traffic relief and economic development. The question should be neutral.
  9. Stacked Deck for Alpharetta. If successful, 3 new transit stations will attract 3 new streams of traffic from surrounding areas and require 3 new 2,500-car parking decks constructed MARTA-style.

I truly want to see us, as a region, take on traffic and develop a comprehensive plan. I can see it. That’s my vision. It is imprinted on my mind. Yet, we need to look at all the options openly: heavy rail, new roads, light rail, additional lanes, bus-rapid-transit, managed lanes, bus circulator programs, intersection improvements, signal timing, adaptive traffic, Uber, driverless cars. If we’re not careful, we’ll spend more than half of our transportation dollars on 3% of our commuters. “What could be” will be no better than “what is,” except we’ll have the pleasure of paying for “what should never have been.” The best answer probably lies in some combination of travel methods. We don’t know. But before we vote, let’s find out if this vision is worth the chase.

 

 

Resolution of the Mayor and Council Regarding MARTA Tax Increase

Last night the Alpharetta Mayor and City Council unanimously supported a resolution asking members of the Georgia state legislature to allow Fulton County to finish the transportation improvement process begun last year under House Bill 170. It is my understanding that the Mayor and City Council of Johns Creek have also adopted this resolution.

Last year’s House Bill 170 laid out a well designed plan for investing in the diverse infrastructure needs of a county the size of Fulton. The resolution below would preserve that ongoing process while still providing municipalities more flexibility to expand transit within that framework as needed. You can click on the photo below to read the whole thing.

 

Alpharetta SB 330 Resolution_edited-1

Alpharetta City Council Meeting Agenda February 1, 2016

Below is the agenda for Monday night’s Alpharetta City Council meeting along with highlighted links to many of the supporting materials. 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. CONSENT AGENDA
A. Council Meeting Minutes (Meeting of 01/19/2016)
B. Council Meeting Minutes (Meeting of 01/25/16)
C. Financial Management Report for the month ending December 31, 2015.
V. PROJECT UPDATES
A. Convention Center
B. City Center – Public Development
C. City Center – Private Development
VI. BOND DISCUSSION
A. Discussion of Potential Recreation and Parks Bond Projects
VII. PUBLIC HEARING
A. CLUP-15-14/Z-15-15 Oak Hall Companies/Webb Bridge Road
B. MP-15-06/V-15-12 Marriott Courtyard/Pkwy 400 Pod C
VIII. OLD BUSINESS
A. PH-15-24 Sign Ordinance And Text Amendments
Second Reading
IX. NEW BUSINESS
A. Discussion of Financial Audit Reports
B. Fire Engine Acquisitions (Replacement Of Fire Engines #4 And #6)
C. FY2016 Cured-in-Place Pipe (CIPP) Lining Project
D. Update To Personnel Policies: Bereavement Leave
X. PUBLIC COMMENT
XI. WORKSHOP
A. UPDATE: MARTA Route And Fare Changes
XII. REPORTS
XIII. ADJOURNMENT

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