The Fork in the Road, Six Years Later

Yesterday I received the Alpharetta City Council Agenda for Monday night. One of the zoning cases to be heard is a 62 acre high density, mixed use urban development with 320 apartments. It is proposed for the southwest corner of Haynes Bridge and GA 400.

The land was originally zoned for a high density mixed use development called the MetLife project in 2011. I first wrote about the case more than six years ago with this article titled Alpharetta Faces the Fork in the Road. Below is a excerpt:

I hope that as the City of Alpharetta considers approving the MetLife project they will take the time to read this article which was originally published in the Atlanta Journal when MetLife first came to Alpharetta:

Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. held a grand opening this week for its headquarters in Alpharetta. The 81-acre campus, at Ga. 400 and Haynes Bridge Road in the Georgia 400 Center, is expected to hold some 800 employees in about two years. MetLife will occupy four of six floors and lease the rest. MetLife’s business in metro Atlanta includes pensions, brokerage, group insurance, real estate investments, disability insurance, securities and corporate investments. The company moved its corporate headquarters from Perimeter Center because of the increasing traffic problems there. MetLife sold Perimeter Center last year for $336 million.

The key section of the article says,The company moved its corporate headquarters from Perimeter Center because of the increasing traffic problems there. MetLife sold Perimeter Center last year for $336 million.”

So in 1998 MetLife came to Alpharetta because they had developed the Perimeter Center of Sandy Springs into a concrete jungle with disastrous traffic. Now they would like to do the same here. The Atlanta Regional Commission’s review of the proposed MetLife project shows that it will take road improvements that cost 10’s of millions of dollars just to accommodate the extra 12,000 cars a day at that intersection.

I fully expect this project to be approved because influential business interests support it and our community development department is determined to cram enough people into Alpharetta to justify a billion dollar expansion of MARTA into this city. But it is sad to see this happening in my adopted hometown.

As a community we have come to a fork in the road. We can choose growth that compliments our attractiveness as a quiet place to raise families or we can choose growth that turns us into the next Perimeter Center.

I hope we choose the path less traveled but I’m not optimistic. Wonder how long it will be before we read an article notifying us that MetLife has sold their gridlocked property on Haynes Bridge Road and moved to Forsyth County?

If you care about this decision please contact city hall today 678 297-6000.

Since that time I have written 21 other articles mentioning the parcel. In February of 2011 I wrote this article documenting the letter from MARTA explaining how they were working with the city to create the Northpoint Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) as a way to facilitate urban core densities needed to support MARTA heavy rail expansion to the area.

MARTA letter

After the mayor and city council unanimously approved the MetLife development I wrote this article explaining how the 500 acres of mixed use development planned as part of the Northpoint LCI would impact the Milton High School district. That article was written six years and one day ago. Below you can read the response it brought from Alpharetta City Councilman Mike Kennedy who still serves as the mayor’s liaison to the Alpharetta community development department:

Kennedy Blog Comment

Note that despite Councilman Kennedy’s comment that,”the likelihood of any significant apartment construction is remote for many years to come” more than 1,000 apartments were built or approved in violation of the 85/15 rule. Then last year under his direction the 85/15 apartment rule was eliminated altogether.

As recently as December of 2016  I wrote this article explaining how high density mixed use developments like the one on Monday’s agenda are projected to add more than 55,000 cars a day to roads between downtown Alpharetta and GA 400. For a city whose biggest challenge is congestion the continued approval of projects that make traffic worse is counter productive. And yet those daunting numbers quoted just months ago didn’t include the thousands of cars added by the recent application for another massive development right across the street from the MetLife/Fuqua/Peridot project to be heard Monday.

A lot has changed over the past six years. Six years ago my concerns about the urbanization of Alpharetta drove me to run for city council. Now I will be voting on the MetLife parcel rather than watching from the gallery.

Six years ago there was a crumbling remnant of a parking deck where Avalon now stands with more than a million square feet of office, retail and residential space including 525 apartments. Just this week Avalon opened its second phase and the hotel-convention center is scheduled to open next year.

Six years ago Alpharetta city council members assured me that the high density mixed use developments approved on Haynes Bridge Road, Old Milton Parkway and Windward Parkway didn’t include apartments and wouldn’t for the foreseeable future because the city had a steadfast rule to limit apartments to 15% of housing stock. Today Alpharetta has more than 1,000 more apartments built or on the way and the 85/15 rule has been eliminated completely. The latest goal with a maximum percentage of rental housing stock of 32% which continues to be ignored.

In 2011 the heavy rail MARTA station envisioned for the MetLife parcel as part of the Northpoint LCI was dismissed by Alpharetta city council members as something that, “would never happen in our lifetime.” Yet last year Alpharetta’s own State Senator Brandon Beach proposed a MARTA sales tax increase to build four heavy rail stations along the corridor of high density mixed use developments now being built in Alpharetta.

Yes much has changed over the past six years. But the thing that hasn’t changed is that our mayor and city council still find themselves facing the same fork in the road.

We could choose the heavily traveled path of least resistance by continuing to approve more high density urban developments which bring more traffic, more crime and negatively impact the great public schools we have now. Cities scattered all over metro Atlanta once stood at a similar fork and chose unrestrained growth. Now they are suffering the consequences of aging high density developments with the heavy burden of decline.

Or Alpharetta could choose to manage our growth responsibly so infrastructure has a chance to catch up with new development. We could limit the clear cutting of trees like was done in the past to preserve some mature green spaces. We could honor our stated goal to balance the housing supply and keep Alpharetta the greatest place in the state of Georgia to raise a family and do business.

Monday night we have a chance to choose a different path than the one chosen six years ago. That could make all the difference.

I just wish I was more optimistic this time around.

May you and your loved ones have a peaceful Easter weekend.

High Density Mixed Use Developments Make Traffic Worse


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.


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.




A. Alpharetta Development Authority
Alpharetta Development Authority

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

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
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

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
Aerial Map
Location Map
Zoning Map
Revised Site Plan 12.7.16
Open Space Plan
2008 Zoning Conditions
2008 Zoning Plan
Tree Report
Tree Accessment
Tree Photos

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

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

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)

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

A. Marietta Street Pedestrian Improvement
Marietta Street Pedestrian Improvement




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 (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.