Alpharetta’s 10 Year Plan – Jobs and Infrastructure

This is the second article in a series about Alpharetta’s ten year plan survey.

With apologies to Starship…

We Built This City on High-Tech Jobs!

Maybe that should be Alpharetta’s theme song. Or maybe not, considering the original was rated the worst song ever. But you get my point.

Each of north Fulton’s cities have an identity. Milton is the horse farm town that shuns development. Johns Creek is the hoity toity country club town. Mountain Park is the lake silt lawsuit town. Alpharetta is the high-tech corporate campus city. That’s not a bad thing, it’s who we are. Like it, love it, embrace it. It is the backbone of Alpharetta’s identity. The topics here cascade into the other areas covered in Alpharetta’s 10 year survey, which is why I want to address it first in my series.

I’ve only been here ten years, so I can’t remember the dirt roads and chicken farms. When I arrived I recall seeing all the four lane roads. There were wide roads here long before all the retail and office space filled in. It really stuck out to me, especially when you ventured just a little ways out of town into places like south Forsyth or Cherokee counties. Even today our neighboring burbs don’t have the surface street infrastructure that Alpharetta had more than a decade ago.

And then there are the offices. I work with some long-term Windward cubicle veterans. These dinosaurs teammates remember when Alpharetta’s offices were being built in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know how the city managed to attract businesses like McKesson, HP, Equifax, and the telecoms to open shop here. Nevertheless Alpharetta did, and they brought with them a hundred thousand jobs for college educated professionals. In short, Alpharetta’s previous generation of suburban planners served us well.

So let’s get back to Alpharetta’s survey questions. Here’s one about jobs:

The ability for local workers and families to find quality employment and build personal wealth is very important. Please rate the following statements. Do you feel that Alpharetta provides:

  • Access to jobs that provide a living wage
  • Access to jobs that provide health insurance benefits
  • Affordable housing options
  • Access to affordable education/training programs
  • Access to affordable child care
  • Access to affordable, reliable public transportation options

Um, hello, Mr. Consultant man. Did you copy and paste this question from another town’s questionnaire? Of course Alpharetta provides jobs that meet these criteria, every single one of them. Are you paying attention?

Alpharetta’s success in the next ten years hinges upon the jobs. And every other question on this survey, from education to attracting/retaining residents goes back to jobs. If the jobs go away, the entire house of cards crumbles. It’s why stuff like E-Trade’s recent announcement to renew its lease is a big deal. Municipalities around the country will attempt to lure Alpharetta’s companies away with deals galore. The single most important thing Alpharetta’s leaders can do in the next ten years is to attract and retain the corporate offices and headquarters that call this place home.

And if you still have that damned song in your head… my apologies.

12 Responses to “Alpharetta’s 10 Year Plan – Jobs and Infrastructure”

  1. jimgilvin October 21, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    Another good column. I think most people will agree with your conclusion of attracting & retaining corporate offices.

    The problem is that many people (that don’t live in Alpharetta) insist the very things that have made us successful in attracting these businesses must be sacrificed for the good of the region.

    Alpharetta is a picturesque community with a superior quality of life that makes it the perfect place to raise a family. We have great schools and compared to most of the country we still have a very affordable cost of living. Businesses located here because they liked Atlanta but the traffic sucks. So the corpoarte executives that made the relo decision chose the best place to raise their family that still offered a five minute commute.

    “A great place to raise your family with a five minute commute” should be our niche but developers, land speculators and even Alpharetta’s Community Development department are determined to change the city into a densely populated urban environment. The higher density will justify the public transportation systems they want closer (but not too close) to their homes in Johns Creek, Milton and Forsyth.

    Of course the change will decimate our schools, increase crime and lower our quality of life… but look how great it would be for Milton & Johns Creek! That is why the city keeps approving high density mixed use developments that are completely inconsistent with our “niche”.

    As for the song, it does stink but it brings back a great memory. I saw Starship in the eighties and stood right in front of the stage. Grace Slick had clearly seen better days by then but she still had the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen. WOW!

  2. Bob Strader October 21, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    Jim,

    I agree with everything you mentioned about why people/business moved here but we can’t have our cake without the calories. If schools are great, the commute is easy and quality of life is sought-after then everyone who moves here for those reasons will want all that goes with it.

    That means good food, entertainment, Wal-Mart / Costco, gas stations, movie theaters, the whole she-bang. Suburban will become more urban no matter what. The corporate executive or cubicle code monkey (apologies to Lee) isn’t working there. God knows the tennis mom isn’t driving her SUV to Publix to work a shift as a cashier. Where do those people come from? It makes me think of San Jose. The cost of living is so high that police, fire and every type of labor that works in that city lives outside the area. You wind up with a city that is run and supported by people who don’t live in that community. People who don’t have a connection to the place where they work.

    I know that Milton is a looooong way from being like San Jose, but I think those things have to be considered. We need smart growth but I think that smart growth has to consider people who can’t afford a $500k home in a swim/tennis community. Otherwise the guy working at the burger joint or the cop pulling you over for doing 50 in a 45 is living somewhere else and has no ownership at all in our community.

    And traffic really does get worse when all the low-wage service industry workers are commuting into our area and all the high-earning white collar workers are commuting to their jobs in North Fulton and Atlanta while the tennis moms are all on their way to starbucks. Our community should be a complete ecosystem that supports both ends of our “financial spectrum”.

    Oh, and that song by Starship IS the worst song in the world….

  3. Lee October 21, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    Thanks for the comments, guys. A few thoughts…

    Jim, you can’t ever have everything within your five minute commute. Just being realistic.

    Bob, are you suggesting Alpharetta adopt a living wage ordinance? This is something the survey hinted at yet I decided not to address in this article. I for one don’t have a problem with workers commuting here from the outside. The vast majority of my fellow “cubicle code monkeys” commute from the outside already.

    My opposition to a living wage ordinance is based mainly on economic reasons. Government interference in private markets (labor market included) has a long history of failure.

    And I love the “cubicle code monkey” line. Awesome.

    -Lee

  4. Bob Strader October 22, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    No, not a living wage ordinance. I’m just saying that there is always resistance to higher density living / urban development and as our community grows I don’t think that is avoidable. It should be a consideration along with commercial development, park space, mixed use, etc.

    It’s a good topic for discussion, I’m sure there are plenty of opinions out there!

  5. jimgilvin October 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    Bob, I’m not sure why you thought I was against the development of auxilary businesses like restaurants and shops in Alpharetta. I do however think we have enough vacant space to meet that demand for the next decade even before Windward Mill or Prospect Park become reality.

    When it comes to high density mixed use developments, I can find no evidence to support the claim that they can succeed in a suburban environment. But since we already have two of these maga projects approved for development wouldn’t it be prudent to see if they are even viable before we approve more?

    Regarding affordable housing, there are currently 900 homes & condos priced at $250,000 or less on the market in North Fulton. With interest rates under 4.5% that’s less than $1300 per month for a single family home! And at current sales rates that amounts to a ten month supply so it hardly seems like a shortage of affordable homes to me.

    Of course some people still can’t afford $1300/month so they can choose from the tens of thousands of apartments and rental homes within 15 miles of downtown Alpharetta.

    Lee- I didn’t mean to imply that everyone in Alpharetta has a 5 minute commute but my wife currently enjoys one so it isn’t impossible either.

    Thanks for responding to my comments guys. I enjoy discussing the future of Alpharetta with you both.

  6. Michael Hadden January 20, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    I know this is a little late to the discussion but I wanted to chime in. Jim’s comment about density bringing crime, lower quality of life and poor schools is completely unfounded. Density itself is not the culprit and density does not contribute to the actual causes of the aforementioned issues. Consider crime: The factors that correlate most directly with higher crime rates are high poverty rates, high male unemployment rates, low educational attainment and large household sizes (4+). You can dive into more research here: http://proceedings.esri.com/library/userconf/proc00/professional/papers/PAP508/p508.htm

    If designed properly, a dense environment actually deters crime due to the ‘eyes on the street’ effect. Crime happens when there is little chance that other people are watching and where people don’t care about the environment they live in. This can occur anywhere… dense or rural.

    Concerns over transit bringing crime are unwarranted. The real determinants are the design of the community and the ability of the community to enforce its laws.

    Lastly, the effectiveness of the commercial components of smart growth/mixed-use developments in suburban areas can be evidenced by the overwhelming success of neighborhoods in Charlotte that have done incredibly well even during this RE recession. Check out Baxter Village and Birkdale Village… Here’s an article evidencing that Baxter Village has an incredible 97% commercial lease rate in one of the toughest environments ever.. http://urlwww–fortmilltimes–com.reachlocal.net/2010/08/27/1232651_business-booming-in-baxter.html

    Granted, there are anomalies but in general, if you find a New Urbanist or Smart Growth community that has reached a critical mass (75%+ developed), you will see a commercial component that is at the least on par with the region and at best thriving in this rough economy.

    If you want to live in an environment that separates land uses, forces everyone to drive and makes 30%+ of the population dependent on a chauffeur to get around, that is fine. However, using arguments that aren’t factual to justify that desire isn’t the way to convince people.

  7. Lee January 20, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    Thanks for the comment, Michael. I wasn’t aware of your blog. While I think we will often disagree, I look forward to following your posts and continuing the dialogue.

    Examples in Charlotte are great, I just don’t see any successes in suburban Atlanta. Prospect Park is an embarrassment to Alpharetta that isn’t going away. I propose we enact a moratorium on all mixed-use development at least until we can get through the current real estate crisis. Given our past, I find this more than reasonable and prudent.

  8. Michael Hadden January 23, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    I agree that there are a lot of egg covered faces out there. But, it’s not the concept it’s the economy. Additionally, there really is a de facto moratorium on development right now anyway. Nothing is going to get built. Anything that gets approved by council now won’t be on the ground for at a minimum 3-4 years and that would be a small project. The demographic trends definitely show an increase in demand for M-U development over the next 10-20 years. If Alpharetta stops considering projects that will meet projected demand, they could end up behind the curve.

    Also, one of my favorite successes anywhere is that of Suwanee Town Center. Also, check out Downtown Decatur and Downtown Smyrna. This type of development actually does work in suburban environments even here in Atlanta. Alpharetta’s problem may be that it went too big to fast. It didn’t really get any successful examples of mixed-use development on the ground first (with the exception of the Mill Creek project on North Point which is still very suburban but better than most subdivisions)

  9. Lee January 23, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    This is kind of a topic for my newer post, but I’ll respond here. If nothing is getting built for 3-4 years, then I don’t understand the urgency to get stuff approved now. A moratorium seems completely reasonable.

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