“We should also complete Westside Parkway.”
“I will join the efforts to complete the opening of Westside Parkway.”
“(We should) complete Westside Parkway to improve overall traffic flow within our City.”
These are all quotes I pulled off webpages of candidates for Alpharetta city office. You’ve got to hand it to these guys. They hear and understand the frustration of commuters with this incomplete road.
And with the news of Prospect Park’s sale this year to North American Properties, our anticipation was again renewed. Perhaps our frustration would come to an end after all. I joined the bandwagon of those encouraging Mark Toro and NAP to open the road immediately.
Yet even with the apparent sale of Prospect Park, opening Westside Parkway isn’t quite as easy as you might think. This is complicated, and I’ll attempt to explain why. I also think now is the time for Alpharetta’s politicians to act on this road once and for all.
Prospect Park’s Sale is Incomplete
The property that most identify as Prospect Park (now called Avalon) was a collection of parcels assembled by developer Stan Thomas. He financed the project largely with a loan from Wachovia (now Wells Fargo). Other parcels were financed elsewhere or may not have been used as collateral at all.
It appears that the parcels purchased this year by North American Properties were those financed through Wachovia only. The pins on the following map show parcels still identified by Fulton County as being owned by Fourth Quarter Properties, an entity linked to Stan Thomas.
View Prospect Park in a larger map
As seen on the map, North American Properties does not own land at the southwest and northeast corners of the original Prospect Park development. This includes the so-called Ellman Tract of land along Webb Bridge Road, across the street from St James church.
Were NAP to deed its portion of Westside Parkway to the city, the road would still be incomplete as the land under the road at Old Milton and Webb Bridge may still be controlled by Thomas.
Alpharetta is in a bit of a predicament. The zoning of the land requires the road be completed and deeded over before the project can continue. Were Thomas to build on his land, he would have to abide by those original conditions. The city, eventually, should receive a free road at the end of this.
However, if Thomas (or a future owner) wanted to be difficult, he could sit on the land and demand the city purchase the property. He’d be, essentially, holding Westside Parkway hostage in exchange for selling property he’d originally planned to gift the city. It isn’t clear if this a motive, and land negotiations with the city are handled in private.
So what should Alpharetta do? Wait for development to eventually proceed on all parcels, which could leave the road unfinished indefinitely? Purchase the land in a privately negotiated deal? Or perhaps employ…
As one candidate for city council told me last week, the public looks poorly on the use of eminent domain. Yet Alpharetta was more than ready to use it to acquire homes for the downtown Alpharetta plan (here and here) as part of the Haynes Bridge Road relocation. The press did not report on this story at all.
Should Alpharetta use eminent domain to acquire the rest of the Westside Parkway land? Absolutely! It is odd that the city would proceed with condemnation to move (and make more narrow) Haynes Bridge Road but isn’t proceeding with it to open a new and vitally important road like Westside Parkway. Additionally, condemning land in Prospect Park isn’t going to displace families like the threatened Brooke Street condemnation did.
Alpharetta took a gamble when they decided to deal with a developer who was biting off more than he could chew. There are a lot of lessons to learn here, some of which are costly. Alpharetta needs to face the reality that this road isn’t going to be free. Candidates who make a campaign issue of Westside Parkway should be asked if eminent domain is appropriate. Those who disagree should explain how Westside can be opened quicker.