Today we feature a guest post from Alpharetta resident Frank Wingate.
The proposed high density City Center development in downtown Alpharetta, adjacent to the new City Hall, is winding its way through the approval cycle. The proposal is flawed on a variety of levels. There are better ways to manage this valuable resource owned by the citizens of Alpharetta.
So how did we get here?
In 2011 the voters approved a $29 million bond issue for a new City Hall with small, village style, detached buildings for retail and restaurants on the north and south boundaries of the city center. At the time of the vote, architectural renderings and descriptions of the project were unveiled by the City Council, as well as sent to each household as part of a-get-out-the-vote campaign. Including cost overruns during construction and prior land acquisition, the taxpayers are on the hook for about $40 million.
The currently proposed, radically different City Center design almost completely obscures the new City Hall. And we’re talking some serious urban density – 172 rental apartments (just where did these appear from?), and about 110,000 sq. ft. in restaurants, retail, and office in three separate four/five story buildings — all in two city blocks.
As Jay Leno once famously asked Hugh Grant, “What … were you thinking?”
If the often stated desires of Alpharetta’s citizens are green space, uncrowded schools, and minimal disruptive traffic jams; this high density proposal accomplishes zero.
So what should the Mayor and City Council do instead?
Well, it’s not as if the City Center land is going to move to Detroit tomorrow if there is no development.
PLAN A - Patience. Take the long time horizon. Shelve the development. Current high density, pseudo-urban developments are a fading fad, not the norm. Great cities know that significant greenspace around public buildings is the model for success, whether it’s the National Mall in DC or the Tuileries in Paris. And Alpharetta has success in-hand.
Truck in some dirt to level the grounds in front of City Hall, plant grass, and add a few trees, benches and lighting.
Let the city develop, including Thompson Street, setting the stage around this highly valuable, green oasis in the center of the city.
PLAN B - Keep the commitments that the City Council made to the voters. If the Mayor and City Council absolutely, positively cannot wait; then proceed with the original village style development, but slowly. Wait for financial success by erecting the less obtrusive south side buildings first, then the north side buildings only when south side success has been achieved.
The proponents on the City Council state that the original design doesn’t work, and that high density apartments and offices are required. Work for whom? The developer, secretly negotiating with the City Council? The City Council members with ties to real estate development? Or the City Council members with offices downtown?
If PLAN B doesn’t work for economic reasons, then revert to PLAN A.
In an economic downturn, today’s fashionable urban-style development is tomorrow’s vacant commercial property with declining apartment rental rates — especially with the overbuilt retail shopping in Alpharetta. Does Alpharetta really want to take the risk right in front of City Hall? And why are the economic and real estate lessons of 2007/2008 so quickly dismissed?
The City Council made commitments to the voters of Alpharetta, both at the time of the bond issue vote and in written campaign promises. At a minimum, the City Council should keep the commitments that they made.
And at best, the City Council can inspire a much greener, thoughtful, long-view PLAN A approach.