Last week I wrote about Alpharetta’s downtown plans and their apparent rush to get a master plan approved. I’m pleased that the city added a few more opportunities to comment, although only one week was added to the schedule.
My original thoughts on the plan remain unchanged since last week. The plan has morphed from largely municipal and park usage in 2011 to an ambitious and intense mixed-used development.
In the last few days I’ve come upon the city’s master development plan, a document that spans some forty pages, in addition to some of the steering committee’s meeting minutes. These unreleased documents give a better glimpse into the scale and magnitude of the project, something you may not gather from the two dimensional aerial views. My biggest concerns are…
Size of development
341,200 square feet. That’s the total size of retail and “other uses” in the four main buildings as drawn up in the master development plan. To put this into perspective, the proposed Walmart I wrote about on GA141 in south Forsyth will measure in at 177,000 square feet. I know this isn’t a big-box retail situation but mention it only to give a basis for comparison. This is a large development on a compacted piece of downtown property.
The city’s bond referendum included a 450-space municipal parking deck. During public comment last year some were skeptical of the parking deck in terms of size and cost. Nevertheless the bond passed and the deck is in the plan.
What’s nearly invisible from the drawings and presentations last week are two additional parking decks. The two largest buildings each sit atop their own parking deck, each packed with two stories of cars. The development plan shows a total of 1,244 new parking spaces between the municipal deck and the two buildings on the east.
The best way to see these decks is via the cross sectional view shown above. Again, the explosion of parking decks shows the sheer size of this development.
Park and Green Space
Many at the June 6th public meeting felt like park space took it on the chin in this plan. It seemed greatly reduced in size over the 2011 drawings. One councilman that night insisted to me that the park space remained the same size. After reading the master development plan I think he might be right… with a little twist
Together the town green, city park and landscaped walkways (on internal streets) provide a total of over six acres of landscaped open space.
Are the landscaped walkways along the new internal streets being counted toward park space? It’s a familiar tactic other mixed-use developers have employed to get to a desired green space footprint. Let’s hope Alpharetta isn’t taking a page from their playbook. I expect better out of Alpharetta given their already stellar public parks.
Additionally, Councilman Jim Gilvin expressed concern Monday night that the city hall building doesn’t have service access drawn into the plan. With this building sitting in the park, such access could cut more from park space.
The City’s Spin
Those with the city are sticking with two main talking points during this discussion. First, they maintain that the 2011 drawings were not master plans but rather concept documents. I think most understand that idea. However, the public drew inferences from the 2011 concept with regard to the scope of the plan. That scope has dramatically changed.
Second, the city is being very careful to avoid discussion on potential uses in the development, particularly what goes above retail. If there’s an elephant in the room, this is it. In the public meetings they guide conversation away from this topic. Even in the steering committee meetings they were careful not to discuss this idea – with one exception. In one meeting the city’s architect “noted that residential seems to be the best use for the land and future development facing the park.”
It is my belief that a private developer would pursue apartments over retail in this plan. Given the glut of vacant office space and demand for apartments, this is a no-brainer.
A Downtown “Village”
Both Mayor David Belle Isle and Councilman Donald Mitchell sit on this downtown steering committee. Both used the term “village” in their campaigns last year when describing downtown Alpharetta. It’s a subjective term I suppose. Conjure up what that means to yourself. If a downtown village includes three parking decks and 341,200 square feet of mixed-use development then you should be in favor of this plan. If you imagine a different village feel downtown then maybe you should let your voice be heard.