Archive - January, 2012

Avalon, Goodwill, movies and a school

What do these unrelated things all have in common? They are issues that will come before the city of Alpharetta in the coming weeks. Some have the potential of being controversial. Let’s take a quick peek at each one.

Avalon

North American Properties has submitted plans for its first phase of Avalon, formerly known as Prospect Park. Hatcher Herd’s story in the Revue and News is the best source of information at this point (the city’s website almost never publishes things like site plans. Boo). According to Hatcher’s article, the project will have office, retail and hotel space, a 14 story building, 118 condos and 14 houses. But the strangest part… they want 250 apartments.

Alpharetta is already over its ratio of apartments. The folks at NAP are smart and they know this. I’m curious as to why they would even consider asking for them. My guess is that these change into more condos pretty quick. We’ll have to see.

Avalon’s phase 1 plan goes before the Planning Commission on March 1st.

Goodwill

Everyone loves Goodwill but no one seems to want them next door. Back in 2009 the city rejected plans for a Goodwill on Main Street near Cogburn Road. Now Goodwill wants to build down the road a bit at 495 North Main. An online petition from neighbors is already up and going. I expect objections this year to be the same as in 2009. Alpharetta’s Planning Commission will take up the matter on February 2nd.

At this very moment Goodwill is building a large store on McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth. This store is in a much better location and on a bigger road. My concern about a Main Street location is traffic. It’s clear that Alpharetta and Milton want less traffic and slower speeds on highway 9. A Main Street store would add 1500 trips each day. Sorry Goodwill, you need to keep looking.

Fulton Science Academy’s Impact Fees

Alpharetta’s embattled charter school will ask the city to waive impact fees on their $18 million construction project at Westside and Encore Parkways. The matter has been postponed once already and this issue has been overshadowed by the school’s charter renewal controversy.

City staff recommends that the FSA’s request be denied, requiring the school to fork over the impact fees. If the City Council agrees, will the school’s supporters use the same rhetoric from their BOE struggles? I can see the headlines now… “City denies award-winning charter school.” Tread carefully, councilmen.

Northpoint’s Movie Theater

I don’t expect this to be controversial, but it’s worth watching. On February 2nd the Planning Commission will consider the mall’s request to convert the vacant Parisian space into a movie theater. I expect we will learn the name of the theater at this time.

Photo credit: Dwight Burdette (creative commons)

Parental Guidance Filming Locations

We’re not Hollywood yet, but Alpharetta is slowly starting to attract filmmakers to the area. This past fall actors Billy Crystal and Bette Midler were in town to film scenes for a movie called Parental Guidance. This is the biggest movie filmed in Alpharetta since the 2009 film The Joneses staring Demi Moore and David Duchovny.

Crystal and Midler play grandparents who must watch their grandkids while their daughter (Marisa Tomei) goes on vacation. Hilarity ensues as they deal with the generation gap. The movie should be in theaters later this year.

The filming crew set up a base in Dunwoody while filming in Atlanta and north Fulton. Here’s a rundown of Alpharetta-area filming locations.

View Parental Guidance Filming Locations in a larger map

165 Pebble Trail

This ranch-style home near downtown Alpharetta was commandeered by the production company for two full days of filming. On-screen this will be Billy Crystal and Bette Midler’s home in Fresno, California. Look for mostly interior shots.

The owners of the home currently have it listed for sale. Of course a big part of the listing hypes the movie. It is reminiscent of a home in south Forsyth that sold after The Joneses was released in theaters. That home was used by Demi Moore during filming, a fact that no doubt influenced the sale of the property.

The Country Club of Roswell

Marisa Tomei was featured during scenes filmed here. They used the club’s ballroom and golf course. Look for country club staff and members as extras during these scenes.

Ocee Park

Little league scenes were filmed in this Johns Creek park. Skateboard legend Tony Hawk plays himself during scenes filmed here.

Independence High School

Filming occurred at the former Milton High School in downtown Alpharetta. No additional details are available.

Other Metro-Atlanta filming locations

  • The former Bloomingdales at Perimeter Mall
  • Peidmont Park
  • Atlanta International School
  • Gwinnett Braves Stadium

 

Start/Stop/Continue – Alpharetta Restaurants 2012

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

It is truly pitiful that I draw blogging inspiration from stuff at work. But indeed it happens and has resulted in this yearly article, now in its third year of life! Here’s how it works…

At the office we follow this routine during annual reviews. Your peers are asked to list things you should start doing in the new year, bad habits you should stop and activities you should continue. It is sort of a kinder and gentler way of telling someone what they should or shouldn’t be doing. I’ve adapted this theme for Alpharetta’s restaurant scene.

Start – Hot Dogs

Yeah, that’s right, I want hot dogs. Or maybe I should say “haute” dogs. They’ve got the potential to be our next great food craze. Hot dogs provide the chef a platform to be creative and innovative in a lot of ways – from the toppings to the protein and even the bun. They can be versatile culinary creations or simple ballpark grub, and everything in between. On top of that, hot dog margins are better than that of say a hamburger or pizza. I’d love to see a suburban restaurateur take a chance like this.

Stop – Self-serve Frozen Yogurt

I’m totally ripping this off from last year. It didn’t take a crystal ball to realize that closures were coming in the froyo space in 2011. We lost Tutti Frutti and Yoforia on Windward. Yoforia’s Alpharetta closure was significant as this was the franchise’s first failure. Also closing was the froyo shop in the Northpoint Mall food court (can’t remember their name).

I don’t wish failure on anyone, but I really would like to see a return to real, honest-to-goodness ice cream. Is that too much to ask?

Continue – Food trucks

2011 saw at least three food trucks make the drive up GA400 to Alpharetta. It’s a trend I’d very much like to continue. The suburbs could use the diversity and creativity these guys bring up from Atlanta. I’ll write more about this topic again.

What restaurant trends would you like to see begin or end in 2012?

Photo Credit: Maura Neill (creative commons)

MARTA’s GA-400 Meeting – January 26

It’s MARTA! Looks like they’ve quietly started planning for another meeting to discuss bringing high-capacity transit up the GA-400 corridor. They’ve got a study area defined as the highway from Sandy Springs to the Forsyth County line and a mile on either side. Oh and there’s also a consultant. Yay consultants.

The first kickoff meeting is Thursday January 26th, 6:30 pm at the Fulton County North Service Center, 7741 Roswell Road, Atlanta, Ga. 30350. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make this due to a prior commitment. The language on the MARTA webpage suggests that more meetings may be coming.

If you’re an opponent of transit expansion in Alpharetta like I am, then you should consider going to a meeting. And if you’re a politician who campaigned against MARTA (like say David Belle Isle or Jimmy Gilvin) then I’d certainly expect to see you working against this.

Here’s some links for your clicking pleasure:

An article in the Revue & News, the only mention I’ve seen thus far in the press.

MARTA’s webpage on the project:
http://www.itsmarta.com/north-line-400-corr.aspx

MARTA’s Facebook page on the project:
https://www.facebook.com/Connect400

 

Big restaurant spaces

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

So you want to open a restaurant. It’s a romantic idea at first, the notion that you could put together a beautiful space with a fabulous menu. Food writers would craft eloquent prose about your culinary creations and paste beautiful photographs in glossy magazines.

And while we’re day dreaming, let’s make this big! We don’t want a strip mall space next to a frozen yogurt shop or anything. Not a chance. Go big or go home, right? We’re talking free-standing building with cavernous space and sprawling patios.

Cue the record scratching sounds. Back to the real world of 2012 for a moment… No one is opening places like this. Today most new restaurants rarely exceed 2,000 square feet. However, if you do feel so inclined to open such a monster of a restaurant, there are options available! I’ve got three spaces ready to turn your dream into reality (or possibly bankrupt you).

45 Roswell Street

If you build it, he will come? Not exactly. This restaurant space was built about three years ago and no one came. It’s in the heart of what might someday become Alpharetta’s hip downtown restaurant scene. Pure Taqueria is a stone’s throw away. La Casa is across the street.

45 Roswell is 5,300 square feet of unfinished restaurant with a 1,400 square foot patio. It’s a beautiful building with nice landscaping and decent parking. Last year a film production company nearly purchased the building but the deal fell through. It’s a shame a thriving restaurant doesn’t live here.

Rainwater – 11655 Haynes Bridge Road

The grandaddy of all empty restaurant spaces in Alpharetta. The old Rainwater restaurant building has two floors, an elevator and measures in at over 20,000 square feet . The architecture is similar to that of a vineyard estate. It’s much more than a restaurant as this place was built for events like large wedding receptions. It’s been vacant for over three years.

Champps – 7955 North Point Parkway

When Champps opened here they spent $4.5 million on the real estate, buildout and fixtures. They’ve had the building on the market for a while now but about two weeks ago they closed up shop. If you’re interested in this joint you’ll find 9,000 square feet of restaurant space, a beautiful bar, 1,500 square feet of patio and an exceedingly large kitchen.

North Fulton’s best newspaper writers

I try hard to promote other local bloggers that create valuable content. You can find a few on the right in my blogroll. Somehow I’ve managed to forget some exceptional local writers who work in more traditional journalistic roles. If you’re not reading these guys and gals, you should be!

Joan Durbin

Joan writes for the Neighbor Newspapers. It’s her restaurant reviews, written in a column called “Dining Destinations”, that stand out to me. She’s easily the best food writer in north Fulton. Writing about food may seem like, um, a piece of cake. In fact it can be pretty difficult to put into words the taste, smell and texture of a dish. Joan does this in a way that places you in the seat right next to her.

She wrote one of the first legitimate reviews of Bite in Alpharetta right after they opened – and it was a good one. I also appreciate her frankness in a review of Scratch Fresh. She was delicately critical of a popular locals joint.

Ray Appen

I don’t agree with Ray Appen on every issue, but you’ve got to respect him for his longevity in Alpharetta. He’s published Alpharetta’s weekly newspaper, the Revue & News, for 29 years. Needless to say, a lot has changed in Alpharetta in that span of time. His little paper has covered it all. I appreciate his opinion and perspective.

My favorite recent column from Ray was his father’s day story from last year. It’s an amazingly vivid and almost surreal account of a traffic accident he observed with his son.

Randy Wyles

He’s got an amazing background as both a private investigator as well as journalism. Wyles has mastered all media from television to radio and print. I’ve enjoyed his recent online work at examiner.com and the Johns Creek Patch. His article on teen-aged daughters and their boyfriends is hysterical.

a.e. mayer

Ok, this is a but of a stretch, but maybe not. She used to be a journalist, is that good enough? Mayer makes this list because she’s just too darn cool. I have one initial in my writing name – she’s got two… in all lowercase. Double cool.

Mayer writers a very witty blog that doesn’t get enough attention. She’s also written a book called Temp: An Accidental Fairytale. I’ve been told it’s a fantasy story about cubicle dwellers in a fairytale setting. I’ve promised to read and review the book. I haven’t forgotten about you a.e!

Length of campaigns, dollars influence local elections

Last week the final campaign contribution reports were quietly submitted to the state ethics commission. It’s boring stuff I assure you. Being an armchair political wonk, I found myself combing through reports from Alpharetta and Milton. I didn’t notice any 11th hour contributions that stood out. A few other things did jump out at me.

Spending

I’ve forgotten most of my college statistics class. But it seems pretty clear that dollars spent on local campaigns correlate to votes. It’s expensive to get your message to the electorate. Candidates dropped thousands on newspaper ads, mailings and robocalls.

Milton newcomer Lance Large spent a staggering amount of money (24 large) for a simple council seat… and won. David Belle Isle dropped the most cash in Alpharetta.

Length of Campaign

It’s also worth noting that both Belle Isle and Large ran lengthy campaigns. Both were among the first candidates in north Fulton to announce. Could this be a trend in the future?

Consultants

I’ve listed consultants when I see evidence of a campaign sending money their way. Nearly every establishment candidate had at least one professional working on their behalf. One interesting note is Fred Hicks at HEG. Four years ago he worked for Alan Tart and Julie Zahner Bailey. This time around he worked to defeat them. It’s all business I suppose. Then again, Hicks is building a pretty good track record in Milton.

Alpharetta/Milton Campaign Spending

Candidate Spending Consultant
David Belle Isle $35,647.60 Red Salt
Doug DeRito $22,770.58 Fred Hicks/HEG, Eamon Keegan
Jim Paine $22,712.27 Landmark Communications
     
Jim Gilvin $8,195.78 none
Cheryl Oakes $9,314.24 RP Communications, Eamon Keegan
     
Donald Mitchell $9,895.87 Eamon Keegan
Ron Carter $7,764.00 none
     
Michael Cross $17,553.78 Red Salt
Hans Appen    
     
Matt Kunz $11,960.10 HEG/FredHicks
Julie Zahner Bailey $11,208.92 none
     
Lance Large $24,698.21 HEG/Fred Hicks, Razors Consulting
Alan Tart $7,773.69 none

A few things to note on this data… I’ve done my best tabulating the numbers, but mistakes are possible. What I call “spending” is total campaign expenditures minus loan repayments. I had incomplete or partial reports from Michael Cross and Hans Appen due to filings that were not made electronically.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – January 2012

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

I search a lot of sources to keep up with restaurant changes in our area. But by far my best source of information is you! My readers are always sending me emails and tweets about new joints or places that have gone tango uniform. Thanks a bunch guys!

Unfortunately you guys sent me a lot of closures. Let’s get them out of the way first…

Champps Americana – Closed
Champps has wanted out of Alpharetta for some time. They employed a broker to find a new restaurant for this space. They even went so far as to offer rent concessions if someone would take over their lease. It isn’t clear at this time if they found someone or just closed. Let’s keep a close eye on this space in the weeks to come.

Tre Vietnamese – Closed
Tre never got great reviews and their prices were a little high. They closed their doors right at the new year. I wonder if the threat of a new competitor (Saigon Cafe) played a factor in their decision?

Legends Deli – Closed
This strip mall on McGinnis Ferry is a tough one. It doesn’t have good visibility from the road and obtaining a liquor license is difficult due to school/church proximity.

Rosa’s Pizza – Closed
This is a competitive market for New York-style pizza and Rosa’s couldn’t cut it. A poor location on Jones Bridge didn’t help. It’s interesting to note that this was the original Bassano’s location. We’ll talk about them in a bit.

Movie Theater – Northpoint Mall

The operators of Northpoint mall have requested a conditional use permit from the city to allow a movie theater in a vacant anchor store. One must assume this is the Parisian space. The mall did not identify which chain is interested in this location but I’m told we will know in a few weeks.

I wonder if it will be a dinner/movie combination along the lines of Studio Movie Grill (perhaps AMC Fork and Screen)? SMG’s been stealing movie goers from the two existing Northpoint theaters. It’s a total guess on my part, but we’ll know soon enough.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill – Avenue Forsyth

My friend Aldo Nahed at the Forsyth Herald broke this story last week. Carrabbas submitted plans to Forsyth County to build on the empty parcel between Chic-Fil-A and Red Robin. It’s a prime spot although traffic sometimes jams up here. And while chain Italian restaurants don’t get me very excited, I expect this location to do well.

Ipanema Grill – Old Milton

I don’t have a lot of information on Ipanema at this point. They are looking at a strip mall on Old Milton in the space where Chip’s Southern Cooking used to be before they closed… a second time.

Cafe Efendi – Main Street

They re-opened Wednesday! Go check out their new digs in Durty Kelly’s former location on North Main Street. I went for lunch yesterday and really enjoyed my doner wrap. I wouldn’t expect any opening jitters from this established player.

Brindavan – Windward

Yet another name/ownership change for this small Indian restaurant in the double-decker strip mall on east Windward. My co-workers and I still call this place Andy’s, the original name of the joint. It became Dosa Houze followed by a series of increasingly more difficult names to pronounce. I ate here Tuesday and found the food and price to be almost the same as Sai Murali, the previous restaurant.

M Chocolat – Old Milton

Turns out this is the name of the chocolate store I’d been calling Dulce Chocolat. They’re now open on Old Milton Parkway just west of Park Bridge Road. I tried a few truffles and was impressed. They’re made in-house and the prices are more than reasonable relative the competition. Being so new I’d give them some time to expand offerings before passing judgment.

Jilly’s Cupcakery – Roswell

Yesterday Jilly’s opened their second location in a strip mall on the corner of Mansell and Highway 9. I normally don’t cover events in Roswell but I thought this was noteworthy. I’m happy to see these ladies doing well as they run a fine shop.

Coming Soon

Saigon Cafe - Their opening seems imminent yet the chain isn’t publicizing a date. I talked with them over email this week and still couldn’t get a date out of them.
El Molcajete - Mexican restaurant set to open in Zola Bistro’s old space on Highway 9 in Milton.
Alfresco - Corner of Old Milton and Main Street in Alpharetta.
Bread Time - Still no word on when this German bakery will open on South Main Street in Alpharetta.
China Inn - A relo from Chamblee. They’re still building out their location on 141 in Johns Creek near the hospital.
Bassano -I was able to confirm with the new owner that they are NOT affiliated with the former Bassanos on Jones Bridge in Johns Creek. Look for the new Bassanos on State Bridge were Tasca Latin Bistro used to be.
Construct a Burger - They are looking at space near GA-400 at exit 13. Still no word on exactly where that might be. If I had to guess I’d say the Hangry’s space or Bad Bob’s old location.
Meat & Potatoes - The potential name of a restaurant to be located in the old Rio Bravo/Star Diner space in Johns Creek.

Photo credit: Ildar Sagdejev (creative commons)

Wild turkeys invade Windward

So here I was, driving along the Windward side street of Edison Drive at 5:00 pm yesterday. Something caught my eye. At first I thought it was a group of geese. Then I saw their necks moving all around while they walked. Not geese, these were wild turkeys!

A group of four turkeys were pecking around in the well-manicured flowerbeds of the Metropolitan Club, probably destroying some pansies. I whipped the car around and snapped this blurry picture with my cell phone. They were not afraid of me or my car. They took one look in my direction and carried on with their pecking, almost as if they belonged here. Perhaps they’ve got an account at Private Bank?

Fulton Science Academy – Transparency and Accountability

This is the second of two articles about the charter renewal of the Fulton Science Academy.

Last week I talked about how both the Fulton County School Board and the Fulton Science Academy acted poorly when negotiating the school’s charter renewal. Today I’ll discuss why the FCSB was justified to insist on a shorter charter term. But first let’s reveal the elephant in the room…

The Gülen Movement

This is a loosely organized group of followers of a Islamic theologian from Turkey. Here in the states they are heavily involved in education including the formation of dozens of charter schools. Many believe that the Fulton Science Academy is under Gulen influence.

If you search the internet you’ll find a lot of websites and blogs critical of the Gulen movement. Most of them have a heavy conspiracy theory tinge to their writings.

It doesn’t bother me that people of the Islamic faith from Turkey want to open schools here. However…

Gulen opponents earned a boost of credibility when a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist penned a story in the NY Times about the movement. Gulen-run schools have been accused of operating without financial transparency, offering contracts to Turkish-owned businesses without competitive bids and a lot more. Read the NY Times story for yourself.

Fulton Science Academy doesn’t seem to be nearly as shady as the schools outlined in this article. For example, I don’t see a Turkish connection with the contractor they selected to build their new campus. However there are a few conflicts that concern the Fulton County School Board.

Grace Institute

FSA spends taxpayer money on services offered by the Grace Institute. It isn’t clear to me how Grace consults the school except that they are an Educational Management Organization. According to tax returns the school continued to spend more and more money on Grace’s services each year. The FCSB insisted that the relationship with Grace end early in 2011. At this point it isn’t clear if all ties have been severed.

Transparency and Accountability

The relationship between FSA and Grace isn’t clear nor are how funds are spent. The linkage is unusual and makes many wonder who is the ultimate governing body of the school. And to make the waters more murky, some FSA board members also served on Grace’s board.

And speaking of boards… The FSA’s board should be made more diverse to include parents, school board officials, or possibly distinguished members of the community.

There are other potential issues but these strike me as the most severe. It isn’t appropriate to offer blanket waivers and maximum contract extensions to a school with such unresolved issues. The Fulton County School Board acted reasonably and responsibly when they insisted on a shorter charter. I believe the Fulton Science Academy is a terrific school. They have the opportunity to be a truly exceptional school if they will do the right thing and operate with more transparency.

The debt and building

And one final note on this issue… I believe the city of Alpharetta’s Development Authority dropped the ball. Here was a group that had the opportunity to question FSA’s dealings yet failed to do so. They failed to notice the conflicts of interest and they didn’t consider the rocky relationship between the school and the school board. The city approved the issuance of revenue bonds and construction on the new campus began. If the charter impasse continues, the school will shut down and default on the debt. And while the city and school board are not on the hook for the debt, a default might create an ugly new problem… another stalled development project in Alpharetta.

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