Alpharetta acting with haste to approve different downtown plan?

Planning for Alpharetta’s new downtown may come to a quick and abrupt end over the course of the next week. The city has called, with one week’s notice, a single public meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening. Council is preparing to vote on a plan as soon as June 11th. Additionally, the 22 acre property may include an ambitious mixed-use component that wasn’t previously presented prior to the referendum vote in November.

Here’s how Alpharetta’s downtown plans and sketches have morphed since the public voted.

It was right at a year ago when Alpharetta released this first sketch of downtown. This blogger remarked at the time in this article that he was “stunned and pleasantly surprised not to see small condos all over this plan.” The drawing had a lot of green and a few “future development” boxes. As can be seen, these boxes were almost see-through, directing attention to the white-colored new buildings of city hall, the library and parking deck.

Over the summer of 2011 drawing number two emerged along with several beautiful artist renderings of the plan. “Future development” became a little more visible but remained a small part of the plan, lining the public green. Next the city held several public forums and conducted online city hall discussions. No mention was made of mixed-use plans in the 22 acre project, nor was a residential component brought up. Alpharetta voters approved the $29 million bond referendum in November.

Six months pass with almost no public discussion of downtown plans until the city announces the June 6th public hearing.  Next this third sketch of downtown is released with far less detail. Nearly the entire western half of the 22 acre project is consumed by mixed-use development. MU property even wraps around the Publix supermarket. City Hall and the library are pushed east into the green space.

It’s clear that the scope of the downtown Alpharetta project has materially changed since it was put before voters in November. What was presented at that time was largely municipal buildings, parks and green space. Half of today’s concept could become mixed-use development. Under Alpharetta’s code that’s likely to include condos or apartments. Furthermore the city is acting with haste to approve this plan with only one public presentation announced on short notice.

The city should slow down and encourage more dialogue prior to making such a dramatic change to the downtown plan. Until then, those concerned have only one opportunity to voice their opinions publicly – Wednesday June 6th, 6:30pm at City Hall.

13 comments on this post.
  1. Kim:

    Thanks for posting this Lee. I call it a bait-and-switch. The side-by-side contrast of the pictures is striking, no, jarring…. jaw-dropping.

    As one of my neighbors so adeptly pointed out, it also now makes perfect sense why Community Development proposed a change to the MU zoning code to allow MU on acreage as little as 10 acres. (It is currently only allowed on parcels of 25 acres or more.) First of all, Community Development is not legally supposed to make its own proposals for zoning code changes as I understand it. Second of all, at the workshop when Councilman Gilvin questioned the motivation for reducing it to 10 acres we got a vague “Oh, it might come in handy at some point in the future” from the Community Development Director. Well, we now know the future and why it would be handy. (This comes up for a Planning Commission vote on Thursday night (June 7) and they should vote it down based on the deceit involved here.)

    We were misled with the bond referendum sales literature that implied this was a commercial endeavor, when obviously *somebody* or *some group of people* knew exactly what was going on. (Lee, I still have a copy of the mailer if you’d like to see it or post it.) The truth was hidden because they know that the community does not want all this hideous high density on every square inch of our town. I have an independent survey of over 500 actual residents to back this up. If they had put this plan on the bond referendum literature, I predict it would have gone down in flames. Maybe we need a recall?

    Now let’s talk about the timing. An obscure press release sent to a handful of people on the assistant city administrator’s email list. That’s it? Nothing online. Nothing in the local papers. Hmmm? I remember three weeks of oversized colorful ads in the local newspaper leading up to the bond vote, plus an oversized glossy mailer sent to every home. But this so-called press release was conveniently sent out after the school year is over just two days after Memorial Day when there are likely many people vacationing.

    One obscure viewing followed by 3 business days until a vote!?! Really? Something is rotting in Denmark.

    Furthermore, the Asst City Administrator told me that only Mayor Belle Isle and Councilmen Owens and Mitchell were in on the planning of this monstrosity. Why wasn’t the whole Council involved since they all represent us and this project involves so much money, plus it is such a vital part of the face of our community?!?

    This is unethical behavior and must not be allowed to stand. There must be more publicity, more time, and more public input.

    P.S. I see that my comment from the first time you blogged on this has proved to be prophetic. History always shakes out the truth. They could not mention the high density then because they had just approved 470 condos at Haynes Bridge and 400 just the month before, over community opposition.

  2. Kim:

    One more thing. The bond referendum goes for the City Hall, parking deck, and park. The other buildings are placeholders for future private development.

    However, this future development is relevant today because it is determining the approximate footprint of those future buildings and their usage.

    If you don’t want potential apartments or condos, you must not allow this plan to be accepted with a Mixed Use designation. There is no need to designate what they will be right now if we don’t have a developer for it, period.

  3. Greg:

    I agree wholeheartledly with Kim – this is purely bait and switch.

    What exactly did we vote to pay for with bonds?! A new city hall, but then selling half the land to a developer?

    Lee, that picture is pretty fuzzy. Where can we find a more detailed version?

  4. Travis Allen:

    I say y’all start a recall push on Mr. Almost 44% as soon as possible.

    Throw in Owens while you’re at it.

  5. Ruth Anne Tatum:

    The May 31, 2012, drawing doesn’t even resemble the one sent to every household before the bond vote. I am really disappointed in the “new” mayor and council. Wasn’t the Canton Street fiasco enough? Something must be rotten in Alpharetta.

  6. Michael Hadden:

    Haven’t chimed in here in a while Lee. Thanks for the post. I love the new land use map. It will provide much more flexibility. Remember that mixed-use doesn’t always mean residential. It could be office over retail. One of my favorite mixed-use areas is in Baxter Village, SC and there is NO residential at all in the MU area, only office over retail. It works VERY well and was 98% leased in 2010 which as you recall was not a very good time economically.

    The roads that the new layout has cutting through the development in front of City Hall and the new town square are brilliant. They will create a more fine grained environment that will further promote walkability and commerce. The previous version was trying to create a campus in the middle of the downtown. The center of the block would seem inaccessible. Additionally, you help solve some of the parking woes by adding on-street parking in the area. That wasn’t there in the superblock proposal that made up the previous renderings.

    I agree that it’s a little strange how it got from the first proposal to this and I’d probably be a little upset if I voted for one thing thinking it was set in stone. However, consider that this newer iteration might better accomplish the goals of the development. It would be interesting to see if it was really ever set in stone or if what was presented prior to the vote was just an option to give people a general idea of what was possible.. you might know the answer to that.

  7. Jennie:

    My questions regarding such a large area of Mixed Use is what will the procedures be for private developers to build? And will the public have input? The MU zoning is very broad and allows a lot of flexibility. I’m not necessarily opposed to lowering the acreage requirements for Mixed Use to encourage redevelopment of older parcels, but I don’t believe the MU zoning is appropriate for the downtown project. The bait and switch makes me question the credibility of the process. Please remember that the moratorium on MU expires in August, are they just trying to push this through before the moratorium expires?

  8. Lee:

    A couple of things… First, I’m pleased that the city added more public meetings on this. Thank you.

    @Michael – Professional office over retail would be a good use here provided it doesn’t take over the space like the most recent maps suggest. I just don’t think a developer will take on a project like this in the current environment. They will push apartments over retail and lecture us on how it is necessary to create a vibrant downtown, etc. At the end of the day, it just makes them more money. Plus, I’ve seen material out of the city recently that suggested residential components.

    @Jennie – I think the moratorium may be over now that the UDC has been modified for the MU rules. But I could be wrong.

  9. Jennie:

    Just looked it up, the moratorium ends on either August 1, 2012 or the codification of the MU designation in the UDC. City Council is having the 2nd hearing of the modification to the MU zoning on this Thursday, June 7. I believe the only change to the MU zoning is a reduction in the acreage requirements from 25 acres to 10 acres.

  10. Lee:


    I stand corrected. I was thinking that it passed already. There were several changes to MU, the 10 acre minimum being one of them. But that makes for an interesting “coincidence”. Follow my math…

    22 acre downtown project
    minus 5 acres for a park
    minus 1 acre for the town green
    minus 3 acres for the library
    minus 3 acres city hall and parking deck (my estimate)
    equals 10 acres left over for mixed use development.

  11. Kim:

    @Michael – If it is office over retail, then I am a happy camper. No one from Council seems willing to stipulate a ban on residential though. If they would do that and have it legally binding, I’d be fine. There is plenty of residential surrounding the city. There is no need for it. How did Roswell’s Canton Street survive all these years without out residential right there??? If you bring the right businesses there, it will survive. If you don’t have the right businesses, all the residential in the world won’t save it.

    I am also concerned about the footprint though. I would like to see City Hall be a focal point (not necessarily ostentatious) but it looks like it we will barely be able to see it from Main Street. Before the bond vote, it looked like mainly a civic space with some commercial to complement the space and blend it with the west side. Now it looks like a commercial space with some civic space as an afterthought.

    I also believe that the scale doesn’t seem to meld with the west side of Main Street very seamlessly. If someone said, “Go see Pearl Street in Boulder, CO and that’s what we are after,” I’d be cheering this on. Right now I am afraid it is too much like Avalon and I believe our downtown should be more quaint and village-like. In fact, “village like” was a theme we heard from at least two candidates during the election. This space should be distinguished from Avalon, not just in the type of retail, but also the scale — more like the drawings before the bond vote. Not exactly, but following the spirit of it. This is not even close.

  12. Mike:

    To clarify…the MU code changes are going to Planning Commission for a second and final reading Thursday, then to City Council for first reading later this month. Also, the MU code changes regarding minimum parcel size — among other things — have nothing to do with City Center. Coincidence is a good description, Lee.

  13. mala:

    This is a definate bait and switch. Vote the mayor and council out asap. Liars!

Leave a comment