A “Conspiracy” to Bring MARTA to Alpharetta?

Bust out your tinfoil hats and call Fox Mulder. There’s talk of a conspiracy and I’m not about to let this one get away without an article or two.

And I use the word “conspiracy” in quotes because it isn’t my choice of words. These are the words former Alpharetta councilman John Monson used in a comment over on The Patch. Monson says…

I do wish to say the reference to some “conspiracy” for the City to “bring MARTA to Alpharetta” by approving the MetLife project is completely unfounded.

Do I believe the MetLife/Peridot mixed use project was part of a conspiracy to bring MARTA to Alpharetta? No. On the contrary. I believe Peridot is part of a larger game plan to bring us MARTA high speed rail. It is not a conspiracy because it is being conducted out in the open for all to see. The problem is that not many are paying attention. Follow me on the story, as I see it.

MARTA’s North Line Study

Blogger Jimmy Gilvin leads a wild and crazy life. Nothing excites him more than wallowing in the appendices of MARTA documents; what might be the cure to insomnia for most. Jimmy, you need to get out more often my friend.

Nevertheless, Jimmy found a gem and reported on it back in February. MARTA has been interested in extending the north rail line past its current end at the North Springs station. That interest goes way back to 2000. Several years later they formed the North Line Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Study. Jimmy referenced the appendix A document which contains minutes from meetings held in and around Alpharetta in the latter half of 2006. In the meetings they talk of several “TOD” sites, all along the major exits of GA-400. The crown jewel TOD site would be at North Point Mall.

The minutes suggest that “developers should be incentivised to concentrate development and create higher densities.” They call for the TOD study areas to become LCI’s (a GRTA term for “livable centers initiative”), stating that “GRTA has experience with getting land use in place before land use will support transit options.”

The minutes also say that projects “need a local champion.” That one puzzled me a bit. I don’t see elected officials in Alpharetta wearing the hat of MARTA champion. Diane Wheeler of the City of Alpharetta was in on some of the meetings, but I don’t think she’s the official champion. No, the MARTA champion came in the form of…

The North Fulton CID

If you’re not familiar with the North Fulton CID (Community Improvement District), let me explain. This is a self-funded group of property owners in north Fulton. Most of them are large office and retail real estate owners. For example, MetLife’s Paul Folger is on the board. More on Mr. Folger later. Some of the CID’s more visible projects include the pretty landscaping currently being installed at Windward and GA-400.

But… not many months following MARTA’s completion of the North Line TOD Study, the North Fulton CID released their Blueprint North Fulton Document. In it they call for three nodes or “activity centers” along GA-400 at Haynes Bridge, Old Milton and Windward. Humm, sounds a lot like the TOD areas. These areas are there to “encourage developers” and city planners. There is talk of creating “mixed-use village centers” to “support an extension of transit from the North Springs MARTA station.” This blueprint document leads to the creation of…

The North Point Activity Center LCI

In April 2008 the Alpharetta City Council unanimously approved plans for this LCI. Its model is nearly identical to that proposed by the CID. The diagram used by the city is almost a straight copy/paste from the CID’s document. The only major difference I can find is that the city actually draws in the MARTA line and its station near Center Bridge Road and GA-400.

So if you’re scoring at home… we go from MARTA’s transit orientated development (TOD) area to the CID’s “Activity Center” concept to an LCI plan incorporated into the city’s comprehensive plan. That brings us all the way back to…

MetLife/Peridot

Was the Peridot project a conspiracy? No. It was just another piece of a puzzle that’s been building for five years. Now that the MetLife puzzle piece is in place, the picture is starting to emerge.

What about this conspiracy-sounding quote from Mark McKean in the AJC?

Alpharetta is probably the only city in the country where a developer walks into the Community Development Department requesting a simple stream variance, and he leaves with the promise to push through zoning for a high density, mixed-use project.

Remember that Paul Folger of MetLife sits on the board of the North Fulton CID. I seriously doubt he’s so naive as to not understand the long-laid plans that effected his property. Perhaps I am wrong.

Nevertheless, I believe it is in the best political interest of the Alpharetta City Council to let these plans continue to fly under the radar. As Jimmy put it … “Alpharettans are too busy raising their families and struggling to keep their heads above water to notice.” With campaigns about to gear up in Alpharetta this year, will voters make this an issue? I’d imagine a few local bloggers will.

Photo Credit: Drvec

18 Responses to “A “Conspiracy” to Bring MARTA to Alpharetta?”

  1. Baconwrappedrob March 15, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    Interesting write up. Can we get this saga as a Flow Chart?

  2. Kim March 15, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Bingo! Well said. Thanks for pulling it all together in one place.

  3. Lee March 15, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Rob, I’m terrible with Visio. Perhaps I need Glen Beck and his chalkboard.

  4. jimgilvin March 15, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Great article Lee. Funny how current and former city councilmen insist Alpharetta isn’t being urbanized despite all the evidence to the contrary. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  5. Kim March 15, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Excuse me while I untangle the tin foil from my hair, but you forgot to mention that Penn Hodge sits on the NFCID Board too. Now isn’t he the developer that owns Windward Mill? Ah yes, he got approved for high-density mixed use over the Holidays in 2008. Now isn’t that the one that where Windward residents filled up chambers and the overflow room in protest (to no avail). Yes, that one!

    I heard Hodge is trying to sell it now and is marketing it as “aggressively zoned” and “unheard of densities for this area?” I wonder by how much the value of that land went up literally overnight?

    Are we all conspiracy theorists or are Monson et. al. deniers of inconvenient truths?

  6. David March 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Lee, I’m going to have to come to the defense of Monson on this one. Have you given any thought to the fact that he simply might not be capable of following the trail of evidence like most citizens with even a nominal level of education? As suggested by one of your readers, a flow chart may just be the solution.

  7. Greg March 18, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    Kim, I’m fairly new to the area. Where is Windward Mill?

    And does anyone know what’s being built at the NE corner of Webb Bridge and Tradewinds Pkwy (Morris Rd)?

  8. Lee March 18, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Greg, that is going to be a data center, and a rather big one at that. Was approved by the city a few months back. They are making quick progress clearing that land and laying the foundation.

    I noticed another zoning notice sign near here, on the northwest corner of this intersection. Was not able to see it enough to know what is planned.

    Windward Mill is a little north of here, across North Point from the AT&T and Alcatel/Lucent offices. The big patch of currently undeveloped land adjacent to the MARTA park-n-ride.

  9. Greg March 18, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Thanks Lee. Just curious, whose data center will it be? And I’m guessing that means a relatively few number of employees, right?

  10. Lee March 18, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    It will belong to T5. Yes, these typically don’t have a lot of staff. They only asked for 50 parking spaces.

    Here’s a link to their request of the city. This opens as a 2 meg PDF, so be careful:
    http://www.alpharetta.ga.us/files/docs/pdfs/Council%20Meetings/2011/2011-1-24-PH/Wholesale%20Data%20Center.pdf

    Here’s a sketch from T5′s website:
    http://www.t5-mcf.com/pdfs/T5Atlanta.pdf

  11. Kim March 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    Greg,
    Yes, after MetLife (Haynes Bridge) we now have the high-density trifecta.
    - Windward Mill @ Windward & NorthPoint Pkwys (& 400)
    - Prospect Park @ Old Milton & 400

    This is not including all the Cousins high density along Westside Pkwy (across 400 from NorthPoint Mall by the Verizon venue).

  12. Ellen March 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    It looks like Lowe Engineers did the sketch. Doesn’t Councilman Owens own part of that company? (The answer is “yes.”)
    Re: Kim’s statement: “Are we all conspiracy theorists or are Monson et. al. deniers of inconvenient truths?” I vote for the second choice. The citizens of Alpharetta have been happily ignorant of what City Council (as well as City staff members)have been planning. Lawrenceville, Buford, Duluth, Roswell, all have restored and vibrant downtown areas. Not Alpharetta – our Council DOES want MARTA here, which means bring high density first but be sure to pretend that not really what’s happening. And, yes, “Alpharetta is probably the only city in the country where a developer walks into the Community Development Department requesting a simple stream variance, and he leaves with the promise to push through zoning for a high density, mixed-use project.”

  13. Matt March 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    New to the site, good stuff but sort of depressing. What is the deal with high density? The get more when they sell the land or more revenue per space?

  14. Lee March 22, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    Matt – You are correct, and I’m sure this plays a part in it all. The large land owners here in Alpharetta have enormous influence.

  15. Kim March 23, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    You can take off your tin foil hats now, folks. It is official. See page 10 of the Open House Boards. Under T-policy 2, Strategy 2.6 says “Extend rail transit to Alpharetta…” and T-policy 7, Strategy 7.1 says, “Coordinate with North Fulton cities, North Fulton CID and ARC to implement the North Fulton Comprehensive Transportation Plan” which Lee has already written about in a later post.

    But don’t stop there, look through the whole document. You really need to see this. Unfortunately you must know PlannerSpeak to fully understand everything. Here is a primer and while it is a good start, it doesn’t contain all the buzzwords.

  16. Kim March 23, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    New definition.

    Insert Intelligent Cities just before “light rail” in your dictionary.

    Haven’t heard this one in the Alpharetta vernacular just yet but you may want to file for future reference. Afterall, it comes from a CA site and these new ideas take awhile to get to us.

  17. Lee March 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Thanks for the links, Kim. My favorite is the buzzword primer. Awesome.

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