Despite Guidelines, Alpharetta Housing Growth is Dominated by Rentals

Apartments and their impact on Alpharetta have been a touchy subject for as long as I can remember. My first introduction to the issue was when a next door neighbor applied for zoning to turn his single family home into an apartment complex nearly twenty years ago and I have written 22 articles discussing apartments going back as far as  this article about urbanization and MARTA written in 2011.

For that entire time the City of Alpharetta has had specific goals regarding apartments or rental properties. There have been at least three different official goals for the city’s housing ratios that I remember. Curiously the only thing consistent about each of those standards is that they have all been ignored by the people elected to achieve them.

Alpharetta’s current housing goal as stated in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan was passed unanimously just last year. It says that the city’s goal is to maintain less than 1/3rd (32%) of our housing stock as rental properties. That ratio is to be measured by U. S. Census Bureau data. The latest numbers available are for 2015 and those numbers show that Alpharetta had 22,824 total housing units and 8,537 of them were renter occupied at the time. That means the current ratio of renter occupied homes to owner occupied homes is 37.4%.

echo-alpharetta

Which means Alpharetta had 1233 rental units more than the the city’s stated goal. To make matters worse there are already 700 more on the way if you include the additional 276 apartments opening this year in Avalon, the 168 apartments being built in front of city hall, the 129 apartments just approved on Devore Road and 111 apartments in the Echo complex on Westside Parkway. That would put Alpharetta 2,000 households over the comprehensive plan goal without even considering the 320 apartments proposed for the Fuqua project on Haynes Bridge Road or any of the senior housing facilities being built all over town. Most of the senior housing projects are not considered to be apartments.

That is a snapshot of how much Alpharetta’s percentage of rental housing exceeded the city’s guidelines in 2015. But what was the overall trend? Did Alpharetta make any progress at all in reducing rental housing ratios between 2010 and 2016? No. Quite the opposite.

The ratio of rentals to owner occupied housing in Alpharetta has gotten substantially worse since 2010. Census numbers show that Alpharetta had a total of 20,454 housing units in 2010 but that grew to 22,824 by 2015 for a net growth of 2,370 households. Of those additional households, 1,752 were identified as renter occupied which means 74% of Alpharetta’s housing growth over that time was fueled by renters.

Click on the pictures below to see the census data.

 

Such rapid growth in apartments and rental homes drove the ratio of renters to owners from 33.2% up to 37.4%. A 13% move in the wrong direction over a five year period. Once again that does not include the thousands of rentals already approved, built or on the way in the next few years and there is no reason to believe that is going to change in the near future. The number of single family homes being built compared to townhouses, condos and apartments is dwindling as available land disappears.

As mentioned earlier the topic of apartments has been a hot button issue in this city for a long time and reasonable people can disagree about the impact of attracting a much more transient population to Alpharetta. But the fact is that Alpharetta has very specific standards for what should be the appropriate mix of housing to maintain the health, safety and quality of life we enjoy…  yet the city moves further and further from those published goals every time we approve more apartments.

For those of you concerned about the impact of zoning decisions on your school district I am including maps of Alpharetta’s three largest high school districts below with numbers of apartments zoned for each. Note that there continues to be an extraordinary concentration of apartments in the Alpharetta High School district. The 6,000+ apartments zoned for Alpharetta High School is more than double those in Milton High school district and twenty one times the number of apartments in the Cambridge High School district.

Alpharetta High School – 6,161    apartment units

1617_hs_zones_alpharettahs

Milton High School – 2,381    apartment units

milton-high-school-zone-map

Cambridge High School – 292 apartment units

cambridge-high-school-attendance-zone

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.

High Density Mixed Use Developments Make Traffic Worse

devore-hd-mu

On December 12th the Alpharetta City Council was scheduled to hear a zoning application for the most dense development in the history of our city. The case is referred to as the Perling development on Devore Road and I have written about it previously here. At the last minute the applicant chose to defer the case until a later date so it was not heard but will presumably come to city council for a final decision in the next few weeks.

A zoning application of this scale is very complex and there are numerous consequences both intentional and unintentional resulting from such a zoning change so I spent weeks researching the case in an effort to make an informed decision. I reviewed the property owner’s zoning application, the video of the planning commission’s hearing and the report of Alpharetta’s Community Development staff who evaluated the application before recommending approval of the project with some changes and conditions. You can review those materials yourself at the links highlighted above in blue.

The Devore Road project is an example of the high density mixed use developments which are currently all the rage among commercial property owners and developers. A mixed use rezoning allows the property owner to exponentially increase the density permitted on a piece of land which then creates a corresponding increase in their property values. The increase in property value frequently amounts to tens of millions of dollars so it is no surprise that property owners, developers and the people who work for them tend to be huge supporters of such projects. That makes good business sense.

But as cities evaluate zoning applications we have the responsibility to balance the right of a property owner to develop their property with the responsibility of a municipal government to provide the infrastructure and public services for those developments in perpetuity. While a property owner and a development team can cash out after a rezoning or after the project is built the impact on the community is permanent.

So even though many developers and urban planners tend to portray high density mixed use developments as if they miraculously reduce traffic and the demand for other public services by creating a “live, work, play” environment it is our responsibility as elected officials to look beyond the sales pitch to determine the truth. The truth is that mixed use developments do not reduce the impact of development on public infrastructure and services when they exponentially increase the number of people and cars permitted on the property.

While cramming more people and cars onto a parcel of land may be good business for  property owners and can be a useful economic development tool for a city, in no way does it reduce the impact on public infrastructure and services. At best it allows a minor cost efficiency to be realized by allowing the higher amount of infrastructure and  service expenses to be spread over a smaller geographic area.

Adding tens of thousands of cars to Alpharetta roads every day does not reduce congestion. Adding thousands of apartments and homes to Manning Oaks Elementary, Northwestern Middle School and Milton High School school districts does not reduce overcrowding. Adding thousands of residents who can walk to a brewery or a restaurant serving alcohol will not reduce crime in that area.

Increased levels of density increase the demand for public infrastructure, facilities and services. It really is that simple. Yet time after time the supporters of high density mixed use developments make unsubstantiated or demonstrably false claims in an effort to convince people that mixed use developments are a solution for problems they actually make worse.

For example, in the Devore Road zoning application they request approval for a 5 story condo building with 80 units, a 6 story apartment building with 200 units and 64 townhouses in addition to more than 125,000 square feet of office space, restaurants, retail space and a brewery. So with a mixed use zoning designation the applicant wants to build 344 apartments, condos and townhouses in addition to the commercial uses which are already permitted under current zoning. All of that on less than 13 acres.

However based on the traffic study supplied by the applicant for the Devore Road development that project would add 5188 to the roads between downtown Alpharetta and GA 400 every weekday. And of those additional 5188 cars on the road 488 of them would be added during the peak morning rush hour and 384 more cars would be added during the peak afternoon rush hour.

So after traffic engineers have accounted for the “efficiency” of a mixed use development, the Perling project would add 872 more cars to Alpharetta roads during just the 2 hours when congestion is already at its most miserable. Adding 872 cars to Alpharetta roads between GA 400 and downtown during what is already the worst time for congestion does not reduce traffic. It will make traffic worse… much worse.

Yet discussing the Devore Road development in isolation doesn’t adequately illustrate the full impact mixed use developments will have on Alpharetta traffic. The mixed use development planned around City Hall should begin construction very soon. That city center development will include 168 apartments in addition to more than 100,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space. The traffic study performed for City Center estimates it will add an additional 5,893 car trips per day to downtown congestion including 880 more cars added during just the two peak rush hours.

And that’s not all. There is already another zoning application  for a high density mixed use development at the southwest corner of Haynes Bridge Road and GA 400. The hearings for that case are scheduled for February.

peridot-2

The applicant, TPA-Fuqua-Peridot, is requesting 430 apartments, 70 townhomes and more than 600,000 square feet of office, retail, hotel and restaurant space. Their traffic study projects an increase of 15,737 cars a day from the development with an additional burden of more than 3,000 cars a day during just the two worst hours of congestion each weekday.

So there are currently three urban, high density mixed use developments proposed along the Haynes Bridge corridor between downtown and GA 400. As planned those three mixed use developments are projected to add almost 27,000 car trips to traffic every weekday. Of the 27,000 extra cars on the road we can expect 4,853 of them to be added during what are already the two worst hours of congestion and that doesn’t even include additional traffic from Avalon.

Avalon is only half completed so far. The total impact of Avalon’s additional traffic once it is finished is projected to be more than 28,000 additional cars every weekday. That is even more than City Center, Devore Road and Peridot combined. So when added with those projects it will mean that high density mixed use developments on the west side town will add more than 55,000 extra cars a day between those Alpharetta residents and GA 400. It will mean almost 10,000 more cars on those roads during just the two worst hours of traffic each week day if you can imagine that.

Now obviously I can’t speak for everyone but the majority of residents I talk to about the pace of development in Alpharetta overwhelmingly agree that adding more than 55,000 extra cars a day  between downtown and GA 400 is unacceptable. But good people can disagree and there are bound to be some people who believe the economic impact of all those high density mixed use developments would be worth adding 55,000 cars to Alpharetta’s current congestion.

However, facts are still facts. And it is not acceptable for proponents of high density mixed use developments to mislead residents into thinking they will ease traffic or lessen the burden on taxpayers for providing infrastructure and services. That is just not true.

High density mixed use developments make traffic worse. There is just no denying it.

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 City Council Agenda October 24, 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. PROCLAMATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
           A. Life Saving Award

V. CONSENT AGENDA
           A. Council Meeting Minutes (Meeting of 10/17/2016)
                10-17-16 Official Minutes

VI. PUBLIC HEARING

A. MP-16-11/CLUP-16-07/Z-16-09 Sharp Residential Townhomes/Windward Pod 20A

Consideration of a request to rezone approximately 13.7 acres from O-I (Office-Institutional) and CUP (Community Unit Plan) to CUP in order to develop 95 townhomes. An amendment to the Windward Master Plan Pod 20A to add ‘Dwelling, ‘For-Sale’ Attached’ to the list of permitted uses is requested, as well as, a change to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan from ‘Corporate Campus Office’ to ‘High Density Residential’. The property is located behind Union Hill Park at the southwest corner of McGinnis Ferry Road and Union Hill Road and is legally described as being located in Land Lots 1038, 1039, 1048 & 1049, 2nd District, 1st Section, Fulton County, Georgia.

Staff Report
Location Map
Zoning Map
Land Use Map
Aerial Map
Revised Site Plan – 10-14-2016
Townhome Supply Analysis – 10-14-2016
Revised Rendering – 10-14-2016
Product Rendering
Revised Site Plan
TownHome Performance Standards
Citizen Part B Report
Application

B. Z-16-12 1530 Rucker Road

Consideration of a request to rezone approximately 1 acre from AG (Agriculture) to R-12 (Dwelling, ‘For-Sale’ Residential) in order to subdivide the property into 3 lots. The property is located at 1530 Rucker Road and is legally described as being located in Land Lot 1273, 2nd District, 2nd Section, Fulton County, Georgia.

Council Agenda Report
Land Use Map
Aerial Map
Zoning Map
Location Map
Revised 2 Lot Site Plan
Citizenship Part B Report
Application

C. MP-16-06/V-16-16 Academy Sports

Consideration of a request to amend the North Point Business Center Master Plan Pod 1 to add additional stand-alone retail density in order to develop a 62,943 square foot Academy Sports retail building. A variance to UDC Section 3.7.2 (2) to reduce the minimum 25% clear glass on a commercial building requirement along roadway facades is requested. The property is located on the north side of North Point Drive west of Haynes Bridge Road and is legally described as Land Lots 743 & 754, 1st District, 2nd Section, Fulton County, Georgia.

Council Agenda Report
Location Map
Land Use Map
Zoning Map
Aerial Map
Revised Site Plan 8.29.16
Elevations 2
Elevations 1
Applicant Aerial View
Revised Traffic Study
Application

D. Z-16-10/CU-16-08/V-16-24 Southerton/72 Thompson Street

Consideration of a request to rezone 0.3 acres from O-P (Office-Professional) to DT-LW (Downtown Live-Work) in order to develop 3 single-family detached homes. A conditional use is requested to increase the allowable density and a variance from UDC Appendix A, Section 3.7.3 to reduce the minimum lot size for detached homes and a variance from UDC Section 2.5.5 (D) to allow for crushed stone to be used for internal private streets is requested. The property is located at 72 Thompson Street and is legally described as being located in Land Lot 748, 1st District, 2nd Section, Fulton County, Georgia.

Council Agenda Report
Land Use Map
Aerial Map
Zoning Map
Location Map
Arborist Report 9.14.16
Tree Inventory
Application

VII. NEW BUSINESS
 A. Design Services – Water Quality and Bacteria Source Tracking Study for Foe Killer Creek
          Design Services – Water Quality and Bacteria Source

 B. Approval of the Release of an Indication of Interest to Solicit Potential                    Public/Private Partnership in the Development of a Performing Arts Center
          Approval of the Release of an Indication of Interest
          Performing Arts Center Indication of Interest Draft

 C. History Room Construction Services
          History Room Construction Services
          Malone Phase 2 Proposal
          Final Design
          Final Text Draft
          Graphic Typical Designs
          Schedule
          Alpharetta History Room Design Services Contract 16-102

VIII. PUBLIC COMMENT

IX. REPORTS

X. ADJOURNMENT TO EXECUTIVE SESSION

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 Alpharetta Continues

peridot-2

 

Once again a zoning application has been filed for another high density mixed use development with hundreds of apartments at the southwest corner of Haynes Bridge Road and Georgia 400. This is just the most recent of several proposals planned for this property since Alpharetta’s City Council began an unprecedented push for urbanization in 2006.

This latest proposal would be similar in scale to Avalon adding 430 apartments, 70 townhomes and more than half a million square feet of offices, restaurants and retail. And in fact it was the rezoning of the MetLife parcel to high density mixed use in 2011 that drove me to run for city council against a council member who voted for it so I have written about the property extensively.

Below are links to some of those articles for those of you interested in the history of the Peridot/MetLife parcel.

I began writing those posts in 2011. A lot has changed since then.

Back in 2011 I wasn’t an elected official. I was an Alpharetta resident who cared deeply about this community and was frustrated by a mayor and city council who unanimously ignored the pleas of moderation from me and my neighbors.

Back in 2011 the Alpharetta city council members would at least pretend they didn’t support high density developments that made traffic worse and negatively impacted our quality of life. Back then they would tell us that the high density mixed use developments they approved would never have apartments because “for the foreseeable future” the city wasn’t going to violate the 85/15 ratio of homes to apartments outlined in their Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Back in 2011 we had no way of knowing “the foreseeable future” was less than a year away. Now just five years later more than 1000 apartments have been built or approved in urban, high density mixed use developments and the 85/15 rule is a distant memory.

But one thing that hasn’t changed. There is still a concerted effort to urbanize Alpharetta at the expense of our schools and the quality of life that attracted people from all over the world to raise their families and do business here.

So once again I look forward to the opportunity of discussing this unrelenting effort to urbanize Alpharetta as it relates to a parcel that has figured prominently in MARTA’s plan to bring a heavy rail station to the site with the help of developers and elected officials.