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.

Alpharetta City Council Meeting Agenda for December 12, 2016

 

Below is the agenda for Monday night’s Alpharetta City Council meeting. The meeting will take place at Alpharetta City Hall at 6:30 p.m. If you would like to watch the meeting from your computer you can find it at this link.

Before the Council meeting there will be a reception held to say farewell to Alpharetta’s Recreation and Parks Director Mike Perry who is retiring after 25 years of outstanding service to our community. You are all invited to join us as we say “Thank You” and “Farewell”to Mike as he sets out on the next exciting chapter of his life.

Please note that the Notting Hill Old Milton Holdings mixed use zoning case was tabled by the Planning Commission so it will not be heard by City Council on Monday as previously scheduled. In addition you can read my earlier article about the Devore Road urban density zoning application here.

If you have questions or constructive comments please feel free to post them in the comments section of this post and I will do my best to respond in a timely fashion.

I. CALL TO ORDER

II. ROLL CALL

III. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG

IV. BOARD AND COMMISSION APPOINTMENTS
A. Alpharetta Development Authority
Alpharetta Development Authority

V. CONSENT AGENDA
A. Council Meeting Minutes (Meeting of 12/05/2016)
12-5-2016 Official Minutes

VI. PUBLIC HEARING
A. MP-16-14/Z-16-15: Notting Hill Old Milton Holdings MU
This item was tabled by the Planning Commission and will be neither heard nor considered during this meeting.
Consideration of a request to rezone approximately 2.9 acres from R-12 (Dwelling, ‘For-Sale’ Residential) and DT-LW (Downtown Live-Work) to MU (Mixed-Use) in order to develop 48 ‘For-Sale’ condominium units and 36,000 square foot office building. A master plan amendment is requested to the Old Milton Holdings Master Plan to change previous conditions of zoning and add property to the master plan. The property is located at the southwest corner of Thompson Street and Park Street and is legally described as being located in Land Lot 749, 1st District, 2nd Section, Fulton County, Georgia.

B. Z-16-13/CU-16-20/V-16-27: Perling/13 South Main Street/DT-MU
Consideration of a request to rezone 12.913 acres from C-2 (General Commercial) to DT-MU (Downtown Mixed-Use) in order to develop 36,000 square feet of retail/restaurant use 60,500 square feet of brewery, 30,000 square feet of office use, 64 ‘For-Sale’ townhome units, 50 ‘For-Sale’ condominium units and 200 ‘For-Rent’ residential units. A conditional use is requested to allow ‘For-Rent’ residential use and to allow a residential density of 24.317 dwelling units per acre. A variance is requested from UDC Section 2.7.0(b) to delete the requirement for an on-site neighborhood grocery, as well as variances from UDC Appendix A, Alpharetta Downtown Code to increase the allowable height, allow a different architectural style, increase the maximum building setback, and increase the maximum façade length. The property is located at 13 South Main Street and is legally described as Land Lots 693, 694, 695, and 696, 1st District, 2nd Section, Fulton County, Georgia.

Council Agenda Report
FLUP Map
Aerial Map
Zoning Map
Location Map
Craft Brewery Information
Site Plans and Proposed Elevations 12.2.16
Traffic Study
Market Study
Citizen Email
Letter from Resident
Citizen Part B Report
Specimen Tree Report
Trip Generation Report
Application

C. CU-16-22/PH-16-17/V-16-32: Sabri Guven
Consideration of a request to change previous conditions of zoning to allow for the expansion of the existing retail center and a freestanding office building. A request for a conditional use permit to allow a dress shop within 25% of an office building in the O-I (Office-Institutional) zoning district. A variance is requested to reduce the front and side setbacks in the O-I zoning district. The property is located at 2225, 2245 and 2255 Old Milton Parkway and is legally described as Land Lot 748, 1st District, 2nd Section, Fulton County, Georgia.

Council Agenda Report
FLUP Map
Aerial Map
Location Map
Zoning Map
Revised Site Plan 12.7.16
Open Space Plan
Elevations1
Elevations2
2008 Zoning Conditions
2008 Zoning Plan
Tree Report
Tree Accessment
Tree Photos
Application

D. V-16-33: Vein Clinics of America/Sign Variance (City Council Only)
Consideration of a variance to allow one (1) additional wall sign. The property is located at 2775 Old Milton Parkway and is legally described as Land Lots 803 & 804, 1st District, 2nd Section, Fulton County, Georgia.

Staff Report
Council Agenda Report
Location Map
Citizen Part B Report
Application

E. PH-16-18 UDC Changes – Smart Stormwater Code (1st Reading)
Consideration of text amendments to the Unified Development Code to implement smart stormwater strategies.
Council Agenda Report
Draft of Ordinance
Alpharetta Stormwater Design Manual
Alpharetta Extent of Service Policy
UDC Article II Section 2.2.20
UDC Article II Section 2.3.1
UDC Article II Section 2.3.5
UDC Article II Section 2.5
UDC Article II Section 2.5.5
UDC Article III Section 3.1.1
UDC Article III Section 3.2.7
UDC Article III Sections 3.3.1-3.3.6
UDC Article III Sections 3.3.8-3.3.9
UDC Article III Section 3.3.14
UDC Article III Section 3.5.2-3.5.6
UDC Appendix A Section 2
UDC Appendix A Section 3

VII. OLD BUSINESS
A. Fiscal Year 2017 T-SPLOST Budget Amendment (2nd Reading)
Fiscal Year 2017 T-SPLOST Budget Amendment
T-SPLOST Budget Ordinance
T-SPLOST Budget (Exhibit A)

VIII. NEW BUSINESS
A. Tetra Tech – Design services for Bethany Road and Windward Parkway
Tetra Tech – Design services for Bethany Road and
Project Overview – Bethany at Mid-Broadwell
Project Overview-Bethany at Mayfield
Project Overview-Windward Parkway
Cost Proposal -Mid-Broadwell
Cost Proposal – Mayfield
Cost Proposal – Windward Parkway

B. POND and Company – Design services for Morris Road (Webb Bridge Road to Old Milton)
POND and Company – Design Services
Project Overview-Morris Road
Cost Proposal – Morris Road

C. AECOM – Design Services Kimball Bridge Road and Old Milton Parkway
AECOM – Design Services
Project Overview – Kimball Bridge Road
Project Overview-Old Milton Parkway
Cost Proposal – Kimball Bridge Road
Cost Proposal – Old Milton Parkway

D. ATKINS – Project Management of Bond and TSPLOST Projects
ATKINS – Project Management Services
Cost Proposal -ATKINS

E. Northwinds Street Lighting, ITB 17-003
Northwinds Street Lighting, ITB 17-003
ITB 17-003 Bid Tab
ITB 17-003 (Brooks Berry Haynie & Associates)

F. Property Acquisition: 850 And 860 Old Rucker Road
Property Acquisition: 850 And 860 Old Rucker Road

IX. WORKSHOP
A. Marietta Street Pedestrian Improvement
Marietta Street Pedestrian Improvement

X. PUBLIC COMMENT

XI. REPORTS

XII. ADJOURNMENT TO EXECUTIVE SESSION

Prospect Park under contract

Rumors have been circling for the past few weeks and now the Atlanta Business Chronicle is reporting that Alpharetta’s defunct Prospect Park project is under contract to Cincinnati based North American Properties, Inc.

Three years after construction stalled on Alpharetta’s $750 million Prospect Park luxury mixed-use project, North American Properties Inc. has the 106-acre site under contract.

North American Properties will scale back plans of the project’s former developer, Stan Thomas, who once hoped for 750,000 square feet of retail, a hotel, 350,000 square feet of offices and 81 residences starting at $1.5 million.

You can read the whole thing here.

North American Properties is the same company that also purchased a central piece of Midtown Atlanta’s struggling Atlantic Station project earlier this year. You can read more about what North American Properties has done wtih Atlantic Station here, here and here.

As a resident of Alpharetta I can only hope that this sale will mean Prospect Park can now become the jewel that was originally promised.

Will Alpharetta really give up our niche?

Yesterday I was reading this post on the Roots in Alpharetta blog. One comment on the “An Alpharetta Lament” post clearly shows how people supporting Alpharetta’s urbanization want our city to look in a few years. It also provides an opportunity to show why so many people are opposed to that vision. The comment was by another local blogger named Michael Hadden. Michael is a vocal supporter of urbanizing Roswell and Alpharetta and he said:

You can take a look at Reston Town Center in Reston, VA.  They have been planning mixed-use since the early 90′s without connection to transit.  The new Metro Silver Line will be opening with a stop at Reston in the next ~3 years

I appreciate Michael’s willingness to explain his vision of Alpharetta’s future because most of the people trying to change Alpharetta just make vague statements like “mixed use is the future” or “there are plenty of examples of successful mixed use” without ever providing one example of what they consider to be a success. So let’s take Michael’s advice and look at Reston, Virginia.

At one time Reston was similar to Alpharetta, Georgia. That time was back in the 1950’s before Dulles International Airport was built just outside of Reston. Since the 1960’s Reston has been between Washington, DC and the nearest international airport making it geographically much more similar to College Park, Georgia than Alpharetta. And unless Forsyth County builds an international airport in the next few years Alpharetta will never really be comparable to Reston.

But despite that major difference we can still look at what the urbanization of Reston has done to see what urbanization would bring to Alpharetta. First urbanization will bring more traffic. I worked in Reston, Virginia back in the 1990’s and anyone that says high density developments solved their traffic problem has never been there. Stacking people in buildings 5, 10 or 15 stories high does not relieve congestion. It makes it worse. Urban planners know that. They just don’t care because they want to force people out of their cars anyway.

Michael points out that mass transit will come to Reston and that may well be true. Once urban planners have succeeded in making traffic unbearable enough people are willing to spend billions on inefficient rail projects in the hope it will bring relief.

There are three main reasons a transit trains will come to Reston:

1) High density urbanization created a traffic nightmare

2) The traffic nightmare stands between politicians and an airport

3) The politicians are inconvenienced enough that they were willing to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to get the common people off of the roads between themselves and the airport

The second consequence of urbanizing Reston is a mediocre public school system. North Fulton County and South Forsyth County now have some of the best schools in the nation. So let’s see what the future holds if the city of Alpharetta continues down the path being laid by our current City Council. Below are the comparisons of schools in Alpharetta and Reston according to Greatschools.org (You can click on the image to enlarge)

Here are the elementary school ratings:

Alpharetta elementary schools

Reston elementary schools

And here are the high school ratings:

Alpharetta High Schools

Reston high school

There really is no comparison. High density development results in lower test scores. Alpharetta’s low density neighborhoods produce public schools which are among the best in the nation. Reston’s high density developments produce mediocre public schools.

In marketing terms Alpharetta has a “niche” now that brings people to our city when they move to the metro area from all over the world. The Atlanta Regional Commission is trying to change that with the help of our community develoment department and city council. If they succeed our community will be just be another congested concrete jungle with bad schools and nothing special to offer that can’t be found in Buckhead, Sandy Springs or Marietta.

The choice is clear. Alpharetta can continue to draw families with our great public schools and high quality of life much like East Cobb County has for decades. Or we can urbanize and compete with Sandy Springs, Buckhead and Marietta on price alone. The Atlanta Regional Commission and the City of Alpharetta have made their choice obvious. What do you think?

Where are the 15 story condos?

Yesterday I mentioned that the City of Alpharetta didn’t bother promoting the open house for the new Comprehensive Land Use Plan on their website and compared it to making residents play a game of Where’s Waldo to find vital information. Now it looks like the city has decided to take that game to a whole new level.

A few years ago the city rezoned a piece of property at the corner of NorthPoint Parkway and Windward Parkway to mixed use. The project was named Windward Mill and still sits undeveloped. At the time the property was zoned for office space so the change allowed the developer to add about 500 condos to the site. Many of the condos were to be built in 5 story buildings but the developer couldn’t cram them all in without putting 180 of them in a single 15 story building.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the pictures Alpharetta is now using to portray the “Desired Character Images” of the Windward activity area:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice Anything Missing?

 

 

 

 

 

Where’s the 15 story condo tower? It’s possible that the 5 story buildings could be hidden by using a street level view but a 15 story building? Wouldn’t 15 stories still be visible? And wouldn’t a 15 story building be the kind of detail that residents need to know about?

But what do I know? I’m just some crazy blogger that actually lives in Alpharetta as opposed to an erudite urban planner that doesn’t.

 

 

The city wants to expand the use of high density mixed use all over town so this is important. The proposed comprehensive plan expands mixed use in Windward, calls for condos or apartments all over the Northpoint area and it surrounds a good portion of Wills Park with the same stuff. That is a complete change in the character of our city and residents deserve to know that the pictures being used to sell it are accurate representations.

It’s sad that Alpharetta’s Community Development Department is allowed to mislead residents and even sadder that they use our own tax dollars to do it. I look forward to asking this year’s mayoral and city council candidates why they allow this to continue.