Northwinds Parkway extension

Today I’ll provide a glimpse into the process and players involved in the creation of a new transportation project in Alpharetta. I’ll try to not interject my personal opinion into the story and just present facts as I see them. It seems that whenever I draw conclusions in matters before the city, particularly those from the business community, I’m labeled as incorrect or worse – a conspiracy theorist. My readers are smart folks. I’ll leave the dot connecting to you.


View Northwinds Parkway Extension in a larger map

Tonight Alpharetta’s City Council will consider a new road project – the extension of Northwinds Parkway. Northwinds currently runs parallel to GA400 to the west. It starts at Haynes Bridge, running north through office buildings and past the Devry campus. It ends at Kimball Bridge. The extension would add about a half mile and carry the road to Old Milton Parkway.

This road extension is not of high priority to the city of Alpharetta. It is not found in planning documents such as the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Its extension was not included in any LCI studies nor was it ever a project to be considered for T-SPLOST funding.

The road was mentioned in 2007 during a rezoning of the Parkway 400 project on Old Milton. The developer asked to significantly increase the office density of the area, building three eight-story buildings. The city asked him to build the Northwinds extension and he refused, saying “we do not NEED this new road.” The traffic studies didn’t reflect a need for it either, even with the high density. The zoning was withdrawn.

North American Properties frontman Mark Toro mentioned the Northwinds extension during an Avalon presentation this year. The road would end at the main entrance to Avalon, carrying drivers right to the main drag into the development.

It’s worth mentioning that Avalon’s traffic study showed fewer car trips than the much more intense Prospect Park development. But Avalon’s traffic study did not require nor even considered the creation of the Northwinds Parkway extension.

It’s also worth mentioning that NAP owns 25 acres of raw land to the south of Old Milton Parkway. They have not publicly announced their intentions with this land. The proposed extension of Northwinds would add a four-lane road to the west boundary of this property.

The North Fulton Community Improvement District hired a consultant to study the Northwinds extension. Tonight it is the Georgia DOT that’s making the grant to help build the road. The city did not apply for nor did they request the grant money which amounts to a half million dollars of Georgia taxpayer funds.

Brandon Beach is the Executive Director of the NFCID. He is also a Georgia DOT board member. North American Properties contributed $2,000 to Beach’s most recent political campaign for State Senate.

So how will Council react tonight? Conventional wisdom says they will certainly take a new road, not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Then again, it isn’t apparent where this money comes from or what other projects may go unfunded as a result.

On the other hand, Mayor David Belle Isle made news years ago when he, then a mere Council member, opposed on principle receiving federal stimulus money for projects in Alpharetta. Some accused him of political grandstanding ahead of his own State Senate campaign. Stimulus money funded several projects in Alpharetta including energy improvement grants and two projects on Kimball Bridge Road. A good case could be made that these projects were far more important than the extension of Northwinds Parkway.

So there you have it. DOT money is directed to unwanted and unneeded road projects at the benefit of cronies. And we wonder why there is no trust in transportation leaders. Oops, did I interject my own opinions? My bad. I welcome yours.

32 Responses to “Northwinds Parkway extension”

  1. JAH September 10, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    Lee, this is outstanding reporting.

    Isn’t it interesting that mere days/weeks after the rejection of TSPLOST, we find out that the pols are able to produce a half million in transportation funding for a new, unrequested road to placate a developer (NAP/Mark Toro)? And these would be the self same pols who told us that without TSPLOST, there would be no hope of transportation funding?

    I’m sure there is plausible deniability for all sides regarding the source and need for this funding.

    Thanks again for your work. I wish you could get this in front of the traditional media.

  2. Kim September 11, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    I resent my tax dollars going for crony payoffs. Who does he think he is playing with other people’s money? Yep, this is precisely why there is no trust in transportation leaders.

  3. ZoeZoe September 11, 2012 at 7:00 am #

    Brandon Beach’s fingerprints are all over this unnecessary road that profits some of his campaign contributors. CIDs are tied into Sustainable Development. However, this sounds like a “sustainable development” project for one of Brandon Beach’s campaign contributors for sure. Could this be crony capitalism by chance????? Me thinks the GDOT hasn’t really cleaned up its act one iota, and they expect us to trust them?

  4. Mike Lowry September 11, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    Another developer boondoggle. If it’s of value to the developer, the developer should pay for it.

  5. Lee September 11, 2012 at 8:25 am #

    @JAH – Thanks. It’s possible that this money came from another project. We may never really know. The road is likely to cost a lot more, closer to $2 million. This is just a start. The city has to be involved because GDOT cannot give a CID money for a road. Councilman DC Aiken was the only one to vote against this. His reasons were along the lines of what I wrote about, namely that the road is not needed.

    @Mr Lowry – I Agree. If the CID and/or NAP want the road then they can cough up the funds and have at it. But the moment you get GDOT involved in funding all bets are off.

    There have been similar projects in Alpharetta over the last few years that follow this model (CID dreams it, GDOT funds it via the city). Maybe I’ll write a followup article. It’s important to document how these projects go down. The media isn’t doing it.

  6. Kim September 11, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    If there was an agreement, even a wink-wink agreement between Toro and Beach, then that means our tax dollars were used to fund a political campaign b/c ultimately Toro knew his meager campaign donation would pay off nicely.

    Lee, wasn’t that other piece of land Toro owns being discussed for Belle Isle’s convention center dream? Is there an even deeper quid pro quo going on here than we see on the surface?

  7. Lee September 11, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Yes, that land was mentioned during the conversation about the convention center last night. I’ve also heard it mentioned with regard to Gwinnett Tech.

    Remember that NAP still has to “acquire” the apartment rights from the city-owned Ellman tract. You could probably say that NAP owes the city a favor of some sort in exchange for these. Perhaps a public use on this piece of land could come from that. Then again, they could just build there, extending Avalon.

  8. Larry Savage September 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    The North Fulton Community Improvement District hired a consultant to study the Northwinds extension.
    I’ve seen a pattern of CIDs “preparing the battlefield” by doing studies. In T-SPLOST,. The controversial transit line in Cobb is based on a study bought by CIDs in 1998.

    Tonight it is the Georgia DOT that’s making the grant to help build the road. The city did not apply for nor did they request the grant money which amounts to a half million dollars of Georgia taxpayer funds.
    Then again, it isn’t apparent where this money comes from……
    The city has to be involved because GDOT cannot give a CID money for a road.
    There have been similar projects in Alpharetta over the last few years that follow this model (CID dreams it, GDOT funds it via the city).

    If you don’t know this, you should:
    The State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) is probably the source. I’ve not gotten into it deeply enough to know when and how they reached this level of power, but they seem to be the state agency that controls DOT spending. Although they talk about “motor fuel tax money”, their first order of business is to run the toll collections on GA 400 and I-85. So, if you have been wondering where the money goes from excess 400 toll collections…… Remember that money is fungible and much toll money is cash. Once it gets to their money bag, who knows where it originated.

    http://www.georgiatolls.com/ (SRTA web site)

    Select: GTIB tab.
    Select: Grant Program Guidelines
    Scroll down to: “Eligibility”
    “Eligible Applicant: The current Grant Program is restricted to transportation projects by Community Improvement Districts (CID’s). Applicants must be formally recognized as a Community Improvement District by the State of Georgia.”
    The Governor, through the GTIB can GIVE millions to CIDs and only to CIDs. GDOT is not involved. Your city is not involved. The Georgia Legislature is not involved. And, while he is doing that, the CIDs were giving millions to third party organizations whose job was to get the T-SPLOST passed.
    Are you pleased?

  9. Kim September 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Larry,
    I thought we were supposed to be grateful for the CIDs because they are “a self-taxing entity.” That is how they raise their money…. through self-taxing (which ultimately comes from the consumer). Interesting to find out that they are getting even more of OUR money through back-door grants. Disgusting.

  10. Lee September 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    Larry, it was a GTIB grant that the NFCID got to partially fund the Encore Parkway bridge at the mall. You’re right, these grants can go directly to CIDs from the Governor.

    The grant last night from GDOT was call a “Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant” or LMIG. According to the spokesperson from NFCID, these have to go to cities or municipalities, not CIDs.

  11. JP September 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    All,

    As you know from my previous posts, I’m mostly pro-development, so obviously I’m in the minority on this blog.

    However, I do have a serious question – and I’m not trying to be argumentative. I’m trying to frame this correctly since I obviously think differently that a lot of you do.

    Here’s my question: What is so bad about a giving a tidbit (like this proposed road) to help a developer with a project that is going to be a huge windfall to the city? Is it always a bad thing if there is some quid pro quo?

    Again, not trying to be argumentative, just curious. Don’t most municipalities make concessions to developers in order to intice them to develop in their city?

    I’m assuming I’m cluesless, so fill me in. Thanks.

  12. Kim September 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    When it involves taxpayer money and campaign donations, it crosses the line. We’ve lost focus of the main purpose of government which is to punish the evildoer. These deals don’t promote the general welfare either; it is cronyism and benefits a few off of the back of other people’s money.

  13. Travis Allen September 12, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    @Lee,

    What bridge are you referring to by “Encore Parkway bridge at the mall”? Are you just referring to improvements to the bridge?

    The existing bridge over 400 has been there my entire life, although the road name has been changed.

  14. Lee September 12, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    @JP – I think Alpharetta has made concessions to NAP. Impact fees were waived for the development. There was compromise in places where the development didn’t fit the code in one way or another (think apartments, greenspace, etc).

    Avalon may approach $700 million in cost. If they want a road for economic development, then just pay for it. They already own probably 3/4 of the ROW for the road. Incrementally it isn’t that much to them. But asking taxpayers from Valdosta, Macon and all over the state to pay for this road isn’t right.

    @Travis – yes, that’s the bridge, just south (or west) of the mall. I think it was called Center Bridge or something like that. The bridge will be replaced soon. The road will still be two lanes, but it will have a large landscaped median and bike/walking paths. Funding will come from the CID, city, an ARC grant via the LCI project and I think GTIB grants (toll money).

  15. Mike September 12, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    Impact fee credits were issued to North American in exchange for the dedication of Westside Parkway to the city. In fact, the value of the road far exceeded the impact fees anticipated.

    As far as I know, the portion of the North American Properties property being discussed as a possible Northwinds Parkway extension has never been considered for a convention center.

  16. Brian Davis September 13, 2012 at 12:19 am #

    Clearly you have no idea how transportation funding in Georgia works.

    State law requires congressional balancing. Funds for all programs like the Local Maintenance Grants must be distributed evenly to all congressional districts over 5 years.

    Brandon Beach’s job on DOT is to bring funds back to the 6th District and it strikes me that he does a great job fulfilling this mission. This sounds like a great project for the city and CID to pursue. It will assist in spreading out traffic after Avalon is completed.

    Also Lee, you seem to spend a lot of time following politics/local issues in Alpharetta. You would think a guy who puts this much time and effort into a blog would actually live in Alpharetta not South Forsyth.

    Maybe you should focus your attention on local issues in Forsyth county where you live and pay taxes.

  17. Lee September 13, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    I’ve touched a nerve.

    I must know something about Alpharetta politics and transportation funding, otherwise you would not have taken time out of your day to read my blog and enter the conversation (and thank you for doing both, seriously).

    I think I understand how transportation funding works in north Fulton and I plan to document it here. I’ve also clearly shown that this road is not needed. That’s not just my opinion but the opinion of real estate developers, Avalon traffic planners and Alpharetta’s Mayor Pro Tem.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  18. Mark September 13, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    @Brian Davis – did you object when individuals from Atlanta came up to speak in favor of the large mixed-use rezonings in Alpharetta? Did you tell them to stay where they live and pay taxes? I’m sure you didn’t.

    Your blog is nothing but rhetorical foot stomping. Your upset that Lee has and continues to expose the ongoing cronyism that exists in Alpharetta. Keep up the good work Lee!

  19. Kim September 13, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Brian Davis – Having funding return to our districts is most of the problem. There are too many palms to grease along the way which makes for a poor ROI for taxpayers, not to mention the opportunities for corruption, like building roads that no one wants.

    Great work, Lee!

  20. JAH September 13, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Lee, apparently the pols think that this road is needed. For whom and whose interests would be telling. And I’ll repeat myself: Isn’t it interesting that mere days/weeks after the rejection of TSPLOST, we find out that the pols are able to produce a half million in transportation funding for a new, unrequested road to placate a developer (NAP/Mark Toro)? And these would be the self same pols who told us that without TSPLOST, there would be no hope of transportation funding?

    I’m sure there is plausible deniability for all sides regarding the source and need for this funding.

  21. Brian Davis September 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    It is clearly not a road that nobody want. You have a clear majority of the city council who signed on to accept the money for the road, you have the CID and their elected board who represent the commercial property owners in the district supporting it. They work and own in that area and probably have a pretty good pulse of what is needed in that corridor.

  22. MarkToro September 16, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    Lee,

    Whereas your blog and subsequent commentary is interesting, it is by no means factual. Next time, you should feel free to pick up the phone and call me before you and your readers speculate, surmise, assume and accuse. My phone number is 404.965.9060.

    Thank you,
    Mark Toro
    Managing Partner
    North American Properties

  23. Julie Hogg September 16, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Lee,
    As for Mark Toro’s comments above, let me just add:
    Mr. Toro is amazing at finding local commentary that mentions his name. I’m genuinely impressed with his social media/internet search skills. He commented on this blog and has commented on a couple of mine. He is also very good at offering his phone number/email, etc. and asking folks to call him or email him. This is a disarming and cordial approach to take with the public and I commend him for it, but it should be sincere. Mr. Toro actually asked me to lunch (or breakfast? what do you eat at North Highland Bakery?) on a comment once. I immediately left my email (since I can’t find his on his website) and said to email me. Never heard back. Don’t get me wrong – no hurt feelings. But solicitations to “call me” and “let’s have lunch” and “email me” will be seen as nothing more than marketing gimmicks if he keeps that up.

  24. Kim September 17, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Julie,
    Very interesting. You called his bluff and got at the truth. He wasn’t interested in you; he is interested in creating/protecting a public persona. Guess he figures few, if any, will take him up on his generous offers. Thank you for following up with him and thank you for sharing the outcome with the rest of us.

  25. Lee September 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    As predicted, someone from the business community has come forward to say I’m incorrect.

    I left a message with Mr. Toro’s assistant requesting a short phone call. Waiting to hear back.

  26. Mark Toro September 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Thanks for reaching out, Lee. I will call you in the morning.

  27. Kim September 22, 2012 at 1:22 am #

    Lee, I’m guessing your post still stands as written. You would have updated your post if there was a correction, right? Toro implied that you had lied in his earlier comment.

  28. Lee September 23, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    Mr Toro and I spoke briefly last week. I asked him where I went off-course on this article. He didn’t have an answer at that time but was very friendly, offering his number for future interviews.

  29. Greg October 2, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    So, given the recent news, does that mean he said, “The road is going in because something is going to be built there soon, but we can’t talk about it, hint, hint”?

  30. JP October 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    @Greg,

    You beat me to it! With the annoucement of Gwinnett Tech coming to that exact location, it seems like the “road to nowhere” actual is going to be very, very useful…another coup for Alpharetta. Well done.

    Once again, the anti-development faction on this blog gets proven wrong. Our city council seems to know what they are doing.

  31. Lee October 6, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    I stand by my initial take – this road isn’t necessary. Alpharetta’s most senior Councilman agreed with me. I think Mr Aiken was more privy to what was going on than any of us.

    The selection of this site wasn’t announced when the road dollars were being discussed. Additionally, Gwinnett Tech didn’t mention this road in their announcement.

    Are you guys suggesting that the CID, GDOT and Alpharetta managed to get state taxpayer dollars directed to this road in order to get the campus built here? If that’s the case then I’d imagine other north Fulton cities who lost bids might have a legitimate beef with the process as well.

    In the end, this supposed “anti-development” blogger is looking forward to Gwinnett Tech and Avalon. Go figure.

  32. JP October 7, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    @Lee,

    I was in no way directing my comment at you. I enjoy the blog!

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