On Monday night Alpharetta’s city council approved the rezoning of city center in a vote that roughly fell along “party lines.” It was the usual establishment politicians against a small faction of homeowner-friendly councilmen. I regret not writing much about this process as it unfolded. My time has been pressed recently. But here are some random thoughts on the subject.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Woodstock be praised. Alpharetta covets what they have done and has sough in many ways to emulate it. Alpharetta’s council has done everything from touring downtown Woodstock multiple times to poaching staff from that city’s planning department. Now Alpharetta is creating a sweetheart deal for Woodstock’s developer.
There are still questionable issues with the selection process in this deal, almost all of which took place in secret. Alpharetta’s become adept at leveraging bidding and procurement processes to hide important decisions. Send out a request for qualifications, ask your favorite developer to bid on it and the rest of the process stays safely behind closed doors and away from the prying eyes of the public and citizen journalists. Make sure you never have a quorum of council members involved and don’t form official committees so open meeting laws don’t apply. Deny open records requests and stand firm knowing that those requesting don’t have the financial means to challenge it in court. You can even take votes in private, something which admittedly happened with city center.
MidCity’s development of downtown will be subsidized by the Alpharetta taxpayer. They openly admitted in the zoning meeting that these developments are among the most expensive to build and potentially least profitable to operate. It doesn’t help that the buildings will be built on shifting sand, both literally and figuratively. The soil under these apartments isn’t ideal for four story buildings. It makes the real estate less valuable to a builder, something the city will have to adjust for. The developer will also get the added bonus of using the municipal parking deck for their apartment residents.
In the end, I suspect we’ll find out that MidCity will purchase the property for a song. What that price will be is anyone’s guess because, as above, the city hasn’t been forthcoming with details on the negotiations.
Then there’s the whole city center plan versus what was presented to the voters. I spoke in detail with Mayor Belle Isle about this issue last week. In his mind the bond referendum was about municipal buildings, namely the city hall and parking deck. It wasn’t about the city center development plan at all. His comments show a growing dichotomy between those on council and the public who were pitched and sold a far less intense downtown than what is being built. Alpharetta voters can be justifiably upset about this.
Then there are apartments. They are becoming a necessary evil if you are to build mixed use projects like this due to financing constraints. It’s caused Alpharetta to abandon their CLUP’s suggested apartment to house ratio. This council has now approved about 700 apartments. And the precedent is already set. Peridot, the extremely dense project on Haynes Bridge Road, is now asking for apartments at their development. Then again, in a few years the lending market will again shift and someone will break these apartments up and sell as condos.
In the end, I think Alpharetta could have done a lot better downtown and they certainly could have been more open with the process. But it’s clear this is the project the city’s leaders want. Damn the torpedoes it’s full speed ahead on downtown.