Letter from Alpharetta Residents

Before I decided to run for Alpharetta City Council I was one of those peculiar people who would closely follow decisions of our local elected officials. I would go to city council meetings. I would speak up at public hearings and write about what I witnessed on this blog.

And coming from that perspective I found one exchange during last week’s Alpharetta City Council candidate forum particularly enlightening. At the Alpharetta Business Association forum a question about the current pace and scale of development in Alpharetta was posed to both candidates.

Answering first, Mr. Easterling said he supported the current pace of growth in Alpharetta and that if there were any residents unhappy with what is going on then it is their responsibility to show up for public meetings and speak up. Mr. Burnett’s response to the same question was that in his time on the Alpharetta Planning Commission he had seen hundreds of residents show up to speak out about zoning issues only to have their views ignored so he was running to give them a voice.

I was reminded of the candidates’ very different perspectives yesterday when I received an email from two Alpharetta residents who consider themselves some of the ignored residents Ben Burnett spoke about. They are just a typical couple who care about their community and feel their views are not reflected by many recent decisions of their mayor and city council.

Neither of them have ever run for office. They don’t depend on developers to keep a roof over their heads or fund their political campaigns. They have nothing to gain by speaking out about a city council race other than the satisfaction of making their voices heard when it counts.

So I decided to post their letter here:

Why We’re Voting for BURNETT for Alpharetta City Council

We met Ben Burnett through his service on the Planning Commission, and we think he’ll be a great addition to our City Council as a true voice for homeowners (rather than developers). With the phenomenal level of new (and large, and dense) developments recently approved, he sees the need for a more balanced approach to growth, and he wants to make future decisions to guide Alpharetta in the right direction while keeping in mind the best interests of residents.

While you may not see many signs on public rights-of-way (or in developers, contractors, and other businesses yards) for Burnett, you’ll see them in residents’ yards, as his message is resonating loud and clear with Alpharetta residents. The vast majority of residents feel the current growth is too much, too fast.

While recent newspaper articles tout there’s room to grow in Alpharetta and state that all this development meets the goals of the comprehensive land use plan, these articles have quoted developers and nearby businesses as to their support of all the recent rezoning and high density development. The comprehensive land use plan provides suggestions and guidelines.

From what we’ve heard from residents, it’s not that they’re anti-growth, it’s that the amount of development is getting out of control, and the city is approving one application after the other without first knowing the repercussions from the current rezonings that are still under construction and the additional approved ones that haven’t even been started yet.

In addition to Burnett’s emphasis on a more balanced approach to growth, we appreciate his emphasis and outlook on property tax breaks for residents and addressing much-needed transportation solutions. We need Burnett to provide a fresh voice on the Alpharetta City Council!

Edward and Christine Kujawski

 

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We’ve Come a Long Way…

It is hard to believe I first asked Alpharetta voters for the privilege of serving on their city council just four years ago. A lot has changed since then.

When I decided to run for office Alpharetta’s unemployment rate was 7.5%. Our office space vacancy rate was nearly 20% while residential property values had dropped by about 20%.

In that environment I took office and immediately began working with the mayor and council to revive Alpharetta’s local economy. We hired an Economic Development Coordinator and pursued innovative tools like the Opportunity Zone incentives which helped attract the Avalon development as well as major new employers like Fiserve and Halyard.

We aggressively sought a new technical school to maintain our skilled workforce and complement our award winning local schools. We began building a downtown Alpharetta our community could be proud of with special events and a restaurant scene to draw people from all over North Fulton.

Now four years into my service Alpharetta’s unemployment rate hovers near historic lows at 4.8%. The thousands of new jobs we attracted have reduced vacancy rates by half and for the first time in seven years new corporate campuses are being proposed to add more jobs in our thriving business ecosystem.

And during that extraordinary growth I never lost sight of how crucial it is to preserve what makes Alpharetta the best place in Georgia to raise a family and do business. I have consistently voted against hundreds of the apartments which further crowd our roadways and schools. I have devoted millions of dollars toward improving roadways and other infrastructure to accommodate growth. I promised to pursue fiscally responsible growth while rejecting tax increases and that is exactly what I have done.

So yes, we have come a long way from where we were 4 years ago… but there is a lot of work left to do. That is why I now ask the people of Alpharetta to extend to me the honor of serving them one more term on city council. With their blessing I will dedicate the next four years to continue representing this city honorably while fostering growth we can all live with. I hope I have earned your votes once again and appreciate any support you can lend in this effort.

Sincerely,                                                                                                                                           Jim Gilvin                                                                                                                               Alpharetta City Council, Post 4

An open and honest debate

Last night the Alpharetta High School debate team hosted a candidate’s forum. In my remarks to the crowd I pointed out that open, honest debate is what elections are supposed to be about. I emphasized the word “supposed” because the political discourse in this city has become anything but an open and honest debate.

Almost two months ago I declared my candidacy for Alpharetta City Council post 4 because I knew my opponent’s track record and could not bear the thought of her running unopposed. At the time I knew it would be difficult to win a race against an entrenched, establishment candidate but I felt the people of Alpharetta deserved to have another option and regardless of the outcome I looked forward to an open and honest debate about the future of our city.

For the last two months I have done everything in my power to keep this campaign focused on the future of Alpharetta. Scandals and allegations have surrounded my opponent from nearly day one yet I have refused to get caught up in mudslinging. Instead I have devoted all of my time and energy to getting out my message: growth we can live with, leadership on traffic issues and low taxes.

But an open and honest debate takes two people and today’s Alpharetta Revue is a perfect example of what I have been up against.

Page 24 of the October 27, 2011 edition of the Alpharetta Revue contains a candidate profile that my opponent submitted for publication. In Mrs. Oakes’ profile she claims, “Then we must clean up some problems created before I arrived. For example, Prospect Park and Windward Mill were both voted on by council before I arrived”.

That statement is blatantly false. Mrs. Oakes did vote for the Windward Mill development which added seven condominium towers to one of the most congested intersections in Alpharetta. I know that because I was there and it is a matter of public record. But you don’t have to take my word for it, just turn to page 5 of the same paper.

On page 5 there is an article explaining how Mrs. Oakes publicly denied voting for Windward Mill during a debate. Then when the reporter confronted her with the truth, Mrs. Oakes quickly changed her story and responded, “I think it was the right thing at the right location.”

So on page twenty four Mrs. Oakes claims that she did not vote for a high density mixed use project and asks voters to re-elect her so she can clean up the mess left by her predecessor. But on page five Mrs. Oakes admits the truth and defends her vote for the project by saying it was the right thing to do.

It is simply impossible to conduct an open and honest debate with that kind of politician.

Alpharetta is at a critical crossroads of our future. These are challenging times and we can’t afford four more years of false claims with abrupt position switches.

We need leadership. For more than a decade I provided that leadership in protecting the quality of life that makes Alpharetta special. I have the track record to prove it.

So I ask you to please vote for Jim Gilvin, Alpharetta City Council Post 4.

The People of Alpharetta Deserve the Truth

On April 28, 2008 my opponent, Cheryl Oakes, voted to approve a high density mixed use project which will eventually be built at the corner of Windward Parkway and Northpoint Parkway in Alpharetta. I know this because the project called for seven high-rise condo towers to be built in my children’s school district and after months of trying to prevent its approval I was sitting in the audience when the vote was taken.

I mention this now because the Downtown Alpharetta Trade Association held a candidate forum last night and at the event I stated that my opponent for City Council Post 4 had voted to approve that project. Then something surreal happened.

My opponent stood up in front of a room full of Alpharetta voters and blatantly misstated the facts about her record.

Ms. Oakes told the people that she had not voted for the project at all. Ms. Oakes then went on to make the bizarre claim that it was actually her predecessor on council that had voted for the project before Cheryl took office in 2008.

I was stunned that a political candidate could stand up in front of a crowd and so blatantly misstate the facts.  The truth is a matter of public record.

Cheryl Oakes began her term on Alpharetta City Council on January 7, 2008 as reported here. The vote on the high density mixed use project was taken on April 28, 2008 as reported here. The public record shows that all city council members were present at the time and the vote was unanimous as you can see for yourself here.

Ms. Oakes’ predecessor was actually at the DATA forum as well and both she and a current mayoral candidate confirmed my account of the events.

There is no question that my opponent voted to add seven condominium towers to that corner of Windward Parkway. And now there is no question that she blatantly misstated the facts to the voters of Alpharetta.

I take no pleasure in pointing out what my opponent has done… but the people of Alpharetta deserve the truth.

And as a candidate for Alpharetta City Council Post 4 it is my duty to make sure they know the truth before voting on Tuesday, November 8.

The future of Alpharetta

Tonight the City of Alpharetta had planned to approve a new Comprehensive Land Use Plan that would forever change the complexion of our community. The plan was designed to serve as a blueprint for development in Alpharetta for the next twenty years and you can find the full report here on the city’s website. But late last week the city unexpectedly postponed the vote for the proposal and it will now be decided after the November election.

Why the change?

In recent years the people of Alpharetta have been busy trying to support their families in the middle of a devastating recession and very few have had the time or energy to follow the minutiae of local zoning issues. That is why I have worked so hard to help my fellow Alpharettans understand organizations like the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and the Georgia Department of Transportation have been busy working with developers and Alpharetta’s Community Development Department to devise a new blueprint for our city. A blueprint which calls for thousands and thousands of high density housing units to be added within mixed use developments all along Northpoint Parkway, Haynes Bridge Road and Highway 9.

If that blueprint is approved in its current form the future of Alpharetta will be one of more traffic, lower quality of life and endless cycles of school redistricting forced on our children. To help you see what I am talking about I have illustrated the vast acreage which would be designated for high density and mixed use residential complexes in the new plan. You can click on the image to enlarge it:

Alpharetta would never be the same.

People who support the urbanization of Alpharetta have tried to minimize the effects of this drastic change but Alpharettans need only look at what happened to Sandy Springs when this kind of development occurred there. The schools suffered, the quality of life completely changed and the traffic is worse than ever before despite the addition of four MARTA stations.

Fortunately our current election season has brought a great deal of scrutiny upon the revised land use plan and as a result none of our elected officials seem anxious to vote for the proposal before facing the voters next month. Although our current mayor and city council have unanimously supported the development plan in the past, some of them may be having second thoughts. So the city has decided to postpone the decision until after the election

But let there be no misunderstanding. My opponent fully supports the plan to urbanize Alpharetta. In her four years on city council she has already approved two enormous high density mixed use projects which are stalled by the economy. And to quote her campaign website,”Cheryl pushed a new comprehensive land use plan…”.

The choice is clear. If you want our city’s future to be more high density developments with thousands and thousands of high-rise condos or apartments… you should vote for my opponent.

On the other hand if you want a city council representative whose vision of Alpharetta is one that will always be a special place to live… you should vote for Jim Gilvin on November 8th.

It really is that simple. Thank you for your support.

High Density = High Traffic = High Pollution

Common sense tells us that cramming 500  condos onto twelve acres of land will create more traffic and pollution than putting 50 single family homes on the same parcel. But common sense isn’t always the prevailing wisdom so it is nice to see this article on the newgeography.com website.

For years, regional  transportation plans, public officials, and urban planners have been seeking to  densify urban areas, using strategies referred to as “smart growth” or “livability.”  They have claimed that densifying urban areas would lead to lower levels of air  pollution, principally because it is believed to reduce travel by car. In fact,  however, EPA data show that higher population densities are strongly associated with higher  levels of automobile travel and more intense air pollution emissions from cars  and other highway vehicles. In short, higher emissions cause people to breathe  more in air pollution, which can be unhealthful. (emphasis mine)

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To put in the economic terms that appear so often in  planning literature on “urban sprawl,” more intense traffic  congestion and the consequent higher air pollution emissions are negative  externalities of smart growth and densification.

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There are myriad difficulties  with smart growth and livability policies, not least their association with  higher housing prices, a higher cost of living, muted economic growth, and decreased  mobility and access to jobs in metropolitan areas. As the EPA data show, the  densification policies of smart growth and livability also make air pollution  worse for people at risk.

Alpharetta voters should take the time to read the entire article linked above because the new Comprehensive Land Use Plan being proposed by Alpharetta’s Community Development Department calls for more of the same high density developments which exacerbate the traffic issues we already face.

Yes it is true. I have crossed over to the dark side.

Former City Clerk Sue Rainwater wishes me luck

Today I registered as a candidate for the Alpharetta City Council post 4 seat. After complaining about politics and politicians for most of my adult life I finally decided that it was time to put up or shut up.

And as any of my regular readers know, shutting up was never really an option.

Looking ahead to the next two months of campaigning I expect it will be exciting, daunting, frustrating and sometimes even rewarding. I don’t know how much of the campaign I will be able to share on these pages but fear not… the GA Jim blog will survive.