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Will Alpharetta criminalize homelessness?

Tonight Alpharetta’s City Council will consider an ordinance to prohibit unauthorized “camping” in public and private spaces. If enacted the ordinance would essentially criminalize the act of being homeless in Alpharetta. Police would have the authority, after one warning, to arrest these unfortunate people for simply sleeping or preparing a meal.

It didn’t used to be this way for the homeless of Alpharetta. As many as a dozen sites exist around the city where homeless have lived. Most are out of sight in the woods or along flood plains.

Alpharetta always showed compassion for these hidden homeless. A great example can be found in an article by Revue and News reporter Jonathan Copsey. He describes a clan of homeless living in temporary structures in the woods off Mansell Road. The article talks about how police kept in close contact with this homeless community and how local churches responded.

But now things are different. What’s changed? First, Alpharetta’s homeless are no longer hidden. A new group has taken up residence in downtown Alpharetta. Their belongings and sleeping bags are visible at the abandoned gas station on Main Street next to Smokejack.

Homelessness on display is something we’re not accustomed to Alpharetta. It makes some feel uncomfortable or not safe. Additionally, this particular group of homeless is directly across the street from Alpharetta’s proposed City Center project.

Alpharetta’s Council is laser-focused on downtown right now. They’ve demonstrated they are not willing to let things stand in the way of their $29 million investment – be they specimen trees, liquor laws or now the homeless.

It’s also been reported that some of Alpharetta’s homeless have become aggressive when in the past they were mostly peaceful. However the wording of this proposed ordinance doesn’t address such behavior. It levels the sights on homeless who decided to just lay their heads here, regardless of their temperament.

Alpharetta shouldn’t take the extreme step of criminalizing homelessness. And to consider this on Thanksgiving week? Many choose to extend hospitality to the less fortunate on this week, not the other way around.

But no matter how you cut it, this is a most difficult issue to address. My views may be in the minority but I feel strongly about them. I welcome your comments, as always, so long as they remain civil and respectful.

Photo credit: Jonathan Copsey, Appen News

Avalon, Goodwill, movies and a school

What do these unrelated things all have in common? They are issues that will come before the city of Alpharetta in the coming weeks. Some have the potential of being controversial. Let’s take a quick peek at each one.

Avalon

North American Properties has submitted plans for its first phase of Avalon, formerly known as Prospect Park. Hatcher Herd’s story in the Revue and News is the best source of information at this point (the city’s website almost never publishes things like site plans. Boo). According to Hatcher’s article, the project will have office, retail and hotel space, a 14 story building, 118 condos and 14 houses. But the strangest part… they want 250 apartments.

Alpharetta is already over its ratio of apartments. The folks at NAP are smart and they know this. I’m curious as to why they would even consider asking for them. My guess is that these change into more condos pretty quick. We’ll have to see.

Avalon’s phase 1 plan goes before the Planning Commission on March 1st.

Goodwill

Everyone loves Goodwill but no one seems to want them next door. Back in 2009 the city rejected plans for a Goodwill on Main Street near Cogburn Road. Now Goodwill wants to build down the road a bit at 495 North Main. An online petition from neighbors is already up and going. I expect objections this year to be the same as in 2009. Alpharetta’s Planning Commission will take up the matter on February 2nd.

At this very moment Goodwill is building a large store on McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth. This store is in a much better location and on a bigger road. My concern about a Main Street location is traffic. It’s clear that Alpharetta and Milton want less traffic and slower speeds on highway 9. A Main Street store would add 1500 trips each day. Sorry Goodwill, you need to keep looking.

Fulton Science Academy’s Impact Fees

Alpharetta’s embattled charter school will ask the city to waive impact fees on their $18 million construction project at Westside and Encore Parkways. The matter has been postponed once already and this issue has been overshadowed by the school’s charter renewal controversy.

City staff recommends that the FSA’s request be denied, requiring the school to fork over the impact fees. If the City Council agrees, will the school’s supporters use the same rhetoric from their BOE struggles? I can see the headlines now… “City denies award-winning charter school.” Tread carefully, councilmen.

Northpoint’s Movie Theater

I don’t expect this to be controversial, but it’s worth watching. On February 2nd the Planning Commission will consider the mall’s request to convert the vacant Parisian space into a movie theater. I expect we will learn the name of the theater at this time.

Photo credit: Dwight Burdette (creative commons)

Alpharetta should approve Amana Academy’s plans

I have a lot of readers in the Windward community, and many of you will probably disagree with me today. Please don’t take me off your Christmas card list!

Amana Academy's current location on South Main Street

Meet the Amana Academy, a charter school in Alpharetta. They teach kindergarten through 8th grade and have an enrollment of about 500 students. They were recently recognized as the 2011 Charter School of the Year for Georgia. We’re fortunate that an outstanding school like Amana calls Alpharetta home.

But Amana has a growth problem. Since their founding in 2005 they’ve operated out of leased space on South Main Street. Today it doesn’t meet their needs. They’ve identified a vacant office building on Windward Parkway near Edison Drive that would be perfect for their growing enrollment. However, moving into this space would require changing the Windward Master Plan which prohibits schools. Residents in the Windward neighborhood protested when this came up earlier in the Fall. Thankfully the parties involved agreed to postpone this issue until after the city elections in November. So here we are. The Alpharetta City Council will consider Amana’s case Monday night.

Windward residents object to Amana primarily because they don’t want to set a precedent of making changes to the Master Plan. They don’t see a compelling reason to change the plan. I disagree.

The compelling reason to change the plan is that an award-winning school wants to move near your neighborhood. This should be encouraged and celebrated! This is a highly desirable school for many parents. In the long run I think it’s proximity to Windward might be a boon to property values.

But what about traffic? The studies show that a school in this building would generate less traffic than an office filled with cubicle dwellers. On top of that, the peak traffic times for this school would be slightly offset to that of Windward’s rush hour.

While I don’t live in Windward, I drive the east portion of Windward Parkway as often as any resident. Creating a traffic problem on this road is nothing I’d support. Amana doesn’t create a traffic problem.

I respect the idea of wanting to preserve the Windward Master Plan. I don’t think fighting a school of this caliber is worth expending political capital. I agree with my friends in Windward on a lot of issues, but I think they need to pick their battles. This isn’t one worth fighting.

A Racist and Anti-Muslim Flyer in Alpharetta?

Here we go again.

Wednesday night 11 Alive news lead off their late newscast with a story of a racist, anti-Muslim flyer being passed around Alpharetta. It comes from a group calling themselves the Milton County Tea Party Patriots and they are opposed to the planned Amana Academy school. Amana’s proposal for a school on Windward Parkway will go before the Alpharetta Planning Commission Thursday.

I have not seen the flyer. The racist and anti-Muslim nonsense that 11 Alive quoted is disgusting and isn’t something I want to reprint on my blog. The Tea Party of Georgia is condemning the flyer and says they have nothing to do with it.

It’s disappointing that this happens in Alpharetta. I continue to worry about the reputation our community is earning when it comes to issues surrounding the Muslim faith. Enough already!

Number of the Month – Mosques and Mixed-Use

Around the first of the month I publish the number of the month, a random or meaningless bit of local trivia.

“More Than¬† 100″ versus “About 30″

The number of Alpharetta residents that packed the City Council chamber last year regarding a mosque expansion… versus how many people attended last night’s Peridot mixed-use public hearing.

Both figures are estimates; the first from a local newspaper and the second being my estimated headcount from last night’s meeting. Just goes to show where local priorities stand.

A Milton Fill-In-The-Blank Press Release

I like to poke fun at Milton. Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice place with good folks. It’s just that their city council routinely votes to ban things that I’ve come to like and enjoy. The news stories all tend to sound the same after a while. So as a service to my fellow writers out there, I’ve put together this little Milton press release template. It is kind of like those Mad Libs we used to do as kids. Just fill in the blanks or use the words or phrases I’ve suggested. If you’re the north Fulton beat writer for the AJC or maybe for Access Milton, this ought to make your job a lot easier. Just my way of giving back.

Milton Votes on Controversial Ban

Milton – The City Council yesterday approved a measure to permanently ban (cell phones/gasoline/indoor plumbing) within the Milton city limits. The vote was (unanimous/contentious/split).¬† After the council adjourned, Milton’s mayor said of the vote, “It was important we act on this matter. In my opinion, this was necessary to preserve Milton’s (equestrian/anti-capitalistic) way of life. ”

(Dozens of/hundreds of/several) residents crowded into Milton’s city hall chamber to express their opinions. They held signs which read (“think of the horses”/”no sewer!”) while booing attorneys when they spoke. One of those attorneys, Sindey Getz of the lawfirm (Dolittle and Dalley/Howe, Dewey, Cheatem & Wynn) expressed disgust in the vote, saying “This vote is (horse <bleep>,<bleep>ing stupid,nothing but <bleeeeeep>). I will advise my client to (sue/pout/write a strongly worded letter). ”

“I don’t want people to think this is a NIMBY issue,” said Milton resident Joe Schmo. “I just don’t want that stuff next door to me.”

Also in yesterday’s meeting, the council considered a resolution to (pick a favorite color/lower the city-wide speed limit to 10 mph). The matter was postponed until next month’s meeting to allow for further discussion.

Not as Conservative as You’d Think

I’m a conservative. I’m a true conservative. I was a foot-solider in the Reagan Revolution. I’m so far to the right I can’t turn my head left. These are all lines I’ve heard in this election year. Well, the last one I made up, but you get the idea. The election of 2010 has been an amazing one so far. It reminds me a lot of 1994, only more intense. Candidates are tripping all over themselves to come across as conservative. We live in one of the most politically conservative parts of the country, yet politicians are trying to out-conservative each other. It is almost comical to watch.

At the same time I’m puzzled with local government and how very un-conservative their policies seem to be this year. City and county governments around here stomp on the principles of private property rights and limited government with impunity. Here are a few examples…

Forsyth County in the Golf Course Business – Some Republican county commissioners in Forsyth County want to use taxpayer money to purchase a golf course, namely the Lanier Golf Course. Never mind that other privately owned courses in the northern burbs are struggling financially. I’m sure Forsyth County can do a better job running one while still being good stewards of the taxpayer. Fore!

Roswell Denies Cell Tower Request. Milton Rejects Two Cell Towers – This has been written about a LOT. I’ll probably beat on this dead horse in a few months when Roswell and Milton are dragged into court. The odd thing is that fighting cell towers is politically popular among residents even though the law is clearly NOT in the side of the cities. Tea party principles be damned, we’re talking NIMBY! Can you hear me now?

Gwinnett’s New Garbage Plan Takes Effect – Citizens in unincorporated Gwinnett County now have zero choice in which garbage company to use. This isn’t as big a deal to me since many municipalities do the same thing (the City of Alpharetta being one of them). It is more the principle of the matter. In the name of reduced traffic and pollution citizens had a small freedom taken away from them. That stinks.

I could go on with examples of legit zoning applications being rejected for NIMBY purposes, but you get the idea. In 2010 we will hold politicians in Washington and Atlanta to a higher conservative standard. We’ll demand to have it the other way with city and county commissions. We’re not as conservative as we’d like to think here in the northern burbs.

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