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It’s never enough in downtown Alpharetta

This year Alpharetta has had a singular focus on downtown. For the most part helping this struggling section of town is a good thing. The city has spent money on landscaping and plantings. They’ve created more parking along streets. Facade grants are available for downtown property owners. The city’s event department hosts all manner of functions and festivals downtown. A lot has been done and it’s working.

But it doesn’t seem to be enough.

That’s the impression you get from reading this article in the Revue and News last week. It takes a certain amount of bravado to be on the receiving end of so much generosity yet still ask for more. I’m describing a particular downtown property owner who’s in the paper, figuratively pictured with his hand out.

Don’t get me wrong. Helping downtown is a good thing. But at some point will it cross a line? Alpharetta is taxing property owners from Windward, North Point and elsewhere to create incentives for a small handful of businesses downtown. When does this go from being helpful to something that violates conservative principles?

It’ll probably happen when other business and property owners stand up and ask for their incentives too. Maybe it’ll be when Windward businesses ask for the city to host a festival in front of their shops. Something like this could  happen sooner than you might think. Later this week I’ll write about a portion of Alpharetta that could struggle with business closures and empty storefronts in the years to come.

And then there’s housing. Remember, it’s never enough. This property owner wants high density residential downtown to create foot traffic to his property. Is this article paving the way to high density residential above city center? Probably. This is an issue Alpharetta’s Council has been too gutless to address and likely won’t before November’s election. But rest assured it’ll be all over the news early next year.

It’s never enough. Eventually weaning has to take place. Let’s work towards creating a thriving and self-sufficient downtown, not one that’s dependent on others.

Potential sites for a convention center in Alpharetta

Alpharetta has received two proposals from private developers that may pave the way to bringing a convention and conference center to town. The city seeks a public/private partnership that would pair a city-owned and operated convention center with a privately built hotel.

The details of the proposals are not yet available but the names of those who participated in the process is. Those submitting an indication of interest are…

Avalon – North American Properties

Avalon’s site plan includes a full-service hotel with development in a future phase. It probably wouldn’t be hard to modify the site plan of the eastern half of the development to include the convention space the city requests. Access to a parking deck is already in place and close proximity to GA-400 is a plus. NAP’s hotel partner Stormont Hospitality Group participated in the bidding process.

Northwinds Land LLC

The second proposal came from this firm along with Duke Reality and Pope & Land. It isn’t clear exactly which parcel they are interested in developing. Chances are good that it’s the 20 acre undeveloped parcel at the northeast corner of Haynes Bridge and GA-400.

It’s interesting to note who chose not to participate in the bidding. Worthington Hyde Partners and Penn Hodge attended meetings but did not submit a bid. They each have ties to the massive Windward Mill project. Its zoning includes a hotel.

The architecture firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart attended a Q&A meeting for the project. It’s not clear who they were retained by. Coincidentally this same firm is working on Alpharetta’s downtown plan.

Also missing is Cousins Westside. A 20 acre parcel adjacent to Encore Park was originally set aside in their master plan for a similar convention or performing arts center. However this idea appears to no longer be viable. An attempt was made earlier this year to amend the master plan to allow residential use in this pod. The attempt failed. The city’s request for proposals suggests that the project should be close to and visible from GA-400. Encore Park is neither.

It’s interesting to contrast this convention center project to that of the amphitheater. Encore Park came to fruition without a heavy commitment from the city. Alpharetta and Fulton County each chipped in $1 million towards the project. The rest of the construction costs and ongoing operations belong to the Atlanta Symphony and the Woodruff Arts Center.

Under the current proposal, Alpharetta would sell bonds to build convention center and would also operate the facility. The private developer would donate land and build/own the adjoining hotel.

The scale of this potential public/private partnership is pretty large by Alpharetta standards. Past partnerships considered by the city have not fared well. Alpharetta’s first downtown development plan had similar trappings and thankfully failed to launch. Then there’s the partnership with Coro Reality to development in downtown. It been successful only in creating vacant buildings.

So the proof will be in the pudding with this deal. The public won’t know specifics of the two proposals until Alpharetta’s council considers them in an open meeting. The two biggest questions remain… Will a convention center be viable in Alpharetta? Is there political will to make such a public/private partnership a reality?

Alpharetta incumbents in 2013

We’re in the calm before the storm. It’s that period of time before municipal elections when everything is happening behind the scenes. Potential candidates are gathering support but doing so privately, holding their cards close. But come August it’s game on for local politics.

This blogger predicts challengers for all three of Alpharetta’s incumbent councilmen facing re-election this year. I’ve heard a few names mentioned but don’t imagine any will announce their candidacy until filing begins. In the meantime, here’s how I see the incumbents going into the Fall.

Mike Kennedy and Chris Owens

These two are thick as thieves. They sit next to each other and vote with each other almost every single time. And after four years of serving they can probably complete each other’s sentences. Yet they have two very contrasting personalities.

Kennedy can be sarcastic at times, almost to the point of being abrasive. He’s gotten better about it recently. But particularly in years past he was known to trade barbs with residents online.

Owens is the salesman of the bunch. How he choose engineering as a profession is beyond me. The guy could sell ice to an Eskimo. It’s a skill that’s come in handy in recent years. He’s often dispatched to speak with homeowner groups and others who are unhappy with something. It might be a zoning in their backyard or concerns over a changing downtown plan. He’s smooth and puts people at ease.

Expect both Kennedy and Owens to lean on positive development trends during their campaigns. They will tout projects like Avalon and Center Center. However they will be very careful not to mention residential components in the City Center project. Even the city will not speak of it until after November.

But the two may have offended small groups of constituencies this past year. Homeowners in Academy Park were not happy about the shrinking park and city hall location in the Center Center plan. And neighbors around the Sharp zoning in the northwest part of the city left that process with an unpleasant taste in their mouths. Will they take out their dissatisfaction at the polls?

Donald Mitchell

I would have put money on a Mitchell re-election had you asked me before March. He’s a super friendly guy and probably the best retailer campaigner Alpharetta’s seen in quite some time.

But then the reality show came along. To say his appearance on Big Rich Atlanta made him vulnerable is an understatement. There’s blood in the water and opponents can smell it. If his antics on the show become a campaign issue (and you can bet they will), then he’s likely to blame bloggers for the attention and not himself.

Yet Mitchell’s vulnerability may be his best chance for re-election. How so? It could draw multiple challengers. Alpharetta’s asinine plurality voting rules would come into play, possibly propelling him to victory. Those concerned about his behavior may split their vote among his opponents. If he can garner 40-45% of the vote then he’s in like Flynn.

Michael Cross

No, he’s not up for reelection this year. Cross is counting his lucky stars that he chose to run for Jim Paine’s old seat in 2011 and not the seat Mitchell got. He’ll need the extra two years to deal with his DUI charge before facing the voters again.

How do you see incumbents going into the 2013 city elections? Leave a comment!

Potential consequences of Donald Mitchell’s reality show gig

I didn’t editorialize much in my original story on Donald Mitchell’s reality show appearance. It was my intention to get the story out there and see where it went. And oh my did it take off.

But I did editorialize in a few interviews this week. My opinion was that Mitchell acted inappropriately. The way he portrayed himself was crude and his actions were demeaning towards women. He tarnished the reputation of Alpharetta.

What many have missed in this discussion is the television program itself. We watched the youtube clips showing Mitchell and that was it. If you get a chance, watch episode #9 which aired March 17th. It will change your mind. I considered posting some quotes from this episode but didn’t want to drag my blog down to this level.

“But Lee, it’s just acting!”

Yeah, I get it. But remember that he is portraying himself in this program. He’s also perhaps the most vulgar and over-the-top character on the entire show. That’s saying something!

I understand that downtown business owners are supporting Mitchell through this. They are his constituency and he does a lot for them. But allow me to frame this discussion differently…

The Cobalt Center

There are rumors that a large company may be close to inking a deal for this site. This is a 400,000 square foot corporate campus and data center that sits empty. Close to a thousand high-paying IT jobs are at stake. Landing a deal would be a huge win for Alpharetta.

Alpharetta is hunting whales here. These are multi-national, Fortune 500 firms. Companies like this don’t like to deal with uncertainty. Controversy is something they run from. They expect the utmost in professionalism and character. They are looking to relocate to a community of the highest caliber.

Donald Mitchell is jeopardizing deals like this by participating in Big Rich Atlanta.

Right now a Chamber of Commerce leader in Dallas or Charlotte is whispering into the ear of a corporate executive. He’s saying, “You don’t want to relocate to Alpharetta. Their leaders get on reality TV shows and demean women. You don’t want to be associated with a community like this!”

So while Donald Mitchell continues not to see anything wrong with his actions, the rest of Council lays awake at night thinking about the scenario above.

Before doing anything in public Councilmen should ask themselves, “Does this reflect a positive image of Alpharetta?” It sounds cliche but nonetheless very true. The consequences are huge.

Donald Mitchell can’t be a City Councilman and a trashy reality TV star at the same time. He should pick one and resign from the other.

Donald Mitchell, on a trashy reality show?

Alpharetta Councilman Donald Mitchell is a reality television star.

Mitchell has appeared on multiple episodes of Big Rich Atlanta, a reality TV show on the Style Network. The show follows a group of wealthy women and their daughters who do whatever it takes to be at the top of the local social scene. If you’re thinking Real Housewives or Jersey Shore then you’re probably not too far off-base.

I’ve not watched the show but episode guides are online in addition to a few clips. It seems that Mitchell made his way onto the show as the interior decorator and friend of one of the stars. He bristles and overreacts when another designer threatens to steal one of his clients. And in typical reality show fashion, the drama boils over.

One episode guide talks of a drunk Donald using derogatory language towards women in the show. His antics earn him a drink to the face.

In the clip above we again see an inebriated Donald Mitchell at costume party dressed as a cowboy. He manages to crawl under a woman’s dress. Those on the show call it awkward and inappropriate.

Another scene was filmed at Sis and Moon’s in downtown Alpharetta. In it Mitchell’s friend scolds him for calling another woman a name for the female anatomy.

As is typical for a show like this, fans on social media sites either love or hate Mitchell. Some call for him to have a bigger presence in the show.

So it comes as a bit of a shock that Donald Mitchell would place himself in the middle of a nationally-broadcast and trashy reality TV show, with all the drama, drinking and embarrassing situations that go with it. How will his new-found stardom play in Alpharetta?

It’s likely to be a boon for his interior decorating business. Talk about exposure!

How will constituents view his antics? A sitting member of Alpharetta’s City Council is drunk on television with his head up a woman’s dress. Is this unbecoming of an elected official or good-natured fun?

And how will Alpharetta’s business community view this? They are very careful to protect the city’s image and reputation, particularly when it comes to business recruitment. This kind of exposure can’t be good for that.

Let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’m setting my DVR to record Style Network on Sunday at 9:00.

Julie Hogg on politics, gardens and the “right to sell it”

The following is a guest post from Julie Hogg. You can read Julie’s work at the Alpharetta-Milton Patch.

When it comes to local politics, I’ve been known to carry on a bit.  Sometimes I just get riled up.  I can’t not speak about issues meaningful to me.

One thing that is meaningful to me is Alpharetta and saying that holds some irony because I didn’t choose to live here – circumstances just converged to bring me here.  I wasn’t happy here for the longest time, but then I had the opportunity to actually DO some things for this city; you know, get involved.  And I got involved with the thing I care the most about:  getting people into the garden, whether that be the Alpharetta Community Garden or the Alpharetta Arboretums at Webb Bridge, Wills Park, Cogburn Road Park, all of which I’m honored to say I had a part in creating.  I believe with my whole heart that if folks would get out of the house and connect with that great mysterious, wondrous, beautiful place – nature – that we would breath, hear, see, eat, sleep, and think better.  And most importantly to me, I think if we would calm down and release ourselves from electronics and the pressures of life to just ‘be’ in the garden or in the woods at a park, we might  find clarity in our souls.

And so, when local Councilpersons flippantly talk of changing the tree ordinance or chopping down 66 trees for City Center or building houses right next to a flood plain (in 2013!)  or squeezing in more subdivisions, which, regardless of the zoning, IS in and of itself, creating more density, I get upset because they’re messing with my garden – our garden.

Of concern to me at present is the potential sell-off and development of 13 acres of land on Rucker Road that contains flood zone and flooding potential.  I blogged about this last Monday on the Alpharetta-Milton Patch.  Since the 13 acres of land on Rucker are adjacent to my neighborhood, I attended a neighborhood meeting about it. Present at this meeting were residents, an attorney, a city councilman, a city staff person, and representatives for the builder/developer.  But that is all I can say as I was requested not to write about the specifics of said meeting in a blog (well, specifically, a blog on the Alpharetta-Milton Patch, but I’m being extra sensitive here).  Was this meeting THAT super secret and scintillating?  You’ll never know, my friends.  But what you can know is that I was asked not to write about it.   Interesting, huh?

There is a statement that sellers and their representatives often say in these situations.  “It’s my land.  I have the right to sell it!” Well, let’s clarify this idea a bit.  Thanks to our Constitution we have the right to own and dispose of private property.  But.  We do not have a guaranteed right to a sale.  Sales are not about rights.  They are about market forces.  And market forces are reined in by common sense, local ordinances, and the well being of the people at large – which is what makes eminent domain possible, but that’s another story.  Our Alpharetta City Council is proving that they believe that all medium to large parcels with a ‘for sale’ sign should be sold to developers no matter what the impact on nature or the larger community, both now and in the future.  I call that government intervening in market forces.  I also call it irresponsible. There are some other words that come to mind but that I can’t prove.  You can draw your own conclusions.

The Michael Cross DUI

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week then you know this news. Alpharetta councilman Michael Cross was arrested over the weekend for DUI. You can read about it here, here and here. There’s no need to go over the facts of the case. They’ve been more than covered.

This blog has been silent on the issue until now. There are a few facets that are still worth talking about. There are also some interesting comparisons and contrasts to be made.

The Paul Oakes Wacky World Incident - There were allegations that Mr. Oakes received preferential treatment from the police during this incident a year and a half ago. Oakes served on the board of the Alpharetta Public Safety Foundation.

Like Oakes, Michael Cross also serves this charity that supports local police and firefighters. But you would have a tough time arguing that Cross received any preferential treatment Saturday night given the seriousness of the charges brought against him.

I expect Cross, a lawyer by trade, to vigorously defend himself. There’s no breathalyzer evidence against him. Without that physical data, he’s likely going to challenge the report and testimony of the arresting officer. This is awkward considering his years of support of Alpharetta’s Public Safety department.

But kudos are owed to the Alpharetta Police for how they’ve handled the case up to this point. Very professional.

DUI Debbie - Cross isn’t the first member of Alpharetta’s Council to be arrested for DUI. Debbie Gibson faced similar charges. During her re-election campaign in 2007 she was the target of a vicious online campaign. The DUIDebbie.com website was mean spirited and downright cruel.

Will Michael Cross get the “DUI Debbie treatment”? If you had asked me Monday I would have said no. But several comments online this week have suggested that this is coming. It’s disappointing.

Should a Councilman resign after DUI charges like this? We can have that discussion. But there is no reason to drag this process into the gutter. My personal opinion is that he can serve while facing the charges. But my opinion might change depending on how he handles himself during this time. Were he to be convicted he should resign immediately.

One personal note… I’ve met Michael Cross a few times. From this time together I’ve found him to be a personable and likeable fella, not unlike most in Alpharetta. I believe him to be a good family man. Before Saturday’s events I had no reason to ever think he would put his family or the public in danger.

That’s all for now. I welcome your respectful and civil discussion on this topic.

Food trucks welcomed, subsidizing — no

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

I wrote this article for the Revue & News and was in the paper this week. Alpharetta’s Council will again take up this issue Monday. What do you think of the city spending money to bring food trucks to town? I believe the event could be self-supporting in a short time. Keep in mind that local restaurants who want to participate in Taste of Alpharetta has to pay a fee (and no food trucks are allowed). But under the previous food truck proposal, the trucks would pay nothing at all to come on Thursdays. Doesn’t seem congruent.

Two weeks ago I had lunch at a food truck. I feasted on a burger made with grass-fed short rib beef and cooked on a big green egg smoker. It had a sweet onion chutney that contrasted an ancho chili dressing. I paired it up with some truffle oil french fries and a cold drink. Are you getting hungry?

This truck was right here in Alpharetta. They docked next to an office park along North Point and peddled their grub to hungry cubicle dwellers like yours truly. And you know the best part of it? No one subsidized this truck’s visit.

That word, subsidized, seems to be a sticking point.

Alpharetta wants to create a Thursday night food truck event in downtown. It would be modeled after a similar event in the city of Smyrna, something that’s proven to be a wildly successfully for that city. No one seems to doubt that the same would be true in Alpharetta. Suburban gastronomes are hungry for food trucks!

But should Alpharetta spend tax dollars to subsidize out-of-town food and alcohol venders? It’s a valid concern. The first proposal would spend $78,000 to make it happen.

On one hand you have Council members who are laser-focused on reviving Alpharetta’s pitiful downtown scene. A food truck event would certainly help. Contrast that with a Council that’s been extremely pro-business for decades. Now we’re at an impasse.

The solution is to allow more local businesses into the mix. Let wine shops or growler stores take turns serving alcohol at these events. Two local wine vendors poured at last November’s Vintage Corks and Gourmet Trucks event. Let’s follow that model. Or how about letting restaurants operate a few tents among the food trucks? And there’s no reason this event couldn’t become financially self-supporting once it gets going.

Smyrna’s City Council was deeply divided when they first approved their food truck event last year. At the end of season they unanimously agreed to extend the popular event into 2013. Alpharetta will find the same to be true if they can work out these last few kinks.

Hopefully you’ll find me downtown on Thursday nights this summer. I’ll be easy to spot. Look for the guy stuffing his face with Korean-fusion tacos.

Photo credit: Jonathan Copsey, Appen News

Brandon Beach vs Sean Jerguson

The resignation of Chip Rogers a few weeks ago was certainly a surprise. But it created a special election that promises to be a mad sprint to the finish. With election day set for Tuesday January 8th, candidates will scramble. And not only is the race short, this campaign season coincides with the holidays. Hope there are no robocalls over Christmas!

What comes as no surprise is that Brandon Beach entered the race. This will be his third state senate race in as many years. He’ll square off against Cherokee County statehouse representative Sean Jerguson.

Beach is quickly becoming the Chicago Cubs of north Fulton elections. The poor guy has finished on the losing side nearly every time. The last time he won an election Bill Clinton was in the White House. On top of that, ballot initiatives he’s supported also tend not to do well. He opposed the charter school issue on the November ballot, which passed. And then there’s T-SPLOST.

Last year’s primary ballot was uncomfortable for Beach. His name was mere inches away from the T-SPLOST question he wholeheartedly supported. There’s no question it cost him votes. How much will it cost him in this special election?

Beach is way out of touch with most suburban voters. It explains his lack of success on election day. His constituency is business, particularly the real estate developer. They along with DOT contractors have been huge contributors to his past campaigns. And why not? He’s supported plenty of projects that would be a boon to big business but a detriment to the taxpayer. And we’re not just talking T-SPLOST here.

He’s supported managed toll lanes on GA-400. Ask your friends from Gwinnett County how popular these have been on I-85. Even many of Beach’s local supporters oppose this beastly idea. He’s also pushed for heavy and light rail projects into north Fulton. He even went so far as to propose a rail line that would bisect the Windward neighborhood.

In short, voters don’t trust the transportation leadership in Gerogia. Brandon Beach embodies that good-old-boy transportation establishment.

But the third time might prove to be a charm. He’s already got his campaign infrastructure in place. Yard signs are being recycled as are contributions. His opponent, Sean Jerguson, is almost unknown in north Fulton. He’ll need to spend a lot of time and money building his name recognition here, indeed an uphill challenge.

Beach also has a strategic advantage in early voting. Fulton County opened an early voting location in downtown Alpharetta. This almost never happens within the city. Alpharetta and Milton voters were not given this courtesy during the high-turnout general election this past November. Perhaps it was intentional this time. In contrast, Cherokee’s early voting location is on the edge of the senate district in Canton.

So pass the popcorn; this one is gonna be fun to watch. Expect robocalls and mailers galore as the mud is sure to fly.

Taking over for Tom Price

Do you read Peach Pundit? You ought to. It’s the premiere blog for all things Republican in Georgia. I read it at least weekly and more often during a campaign season.

I guess it’s been slow recently because the bloggers at PP have written about a particular topic not once, not twice but three times in as many weeks. It seems that Saxby Chambliss is vulnerable for a primary challenge in 2014. His moderate views and compromising attitude don’t sit well with conservatives or Tea Party members.

Among the list of possible challengers are two north Fulton politicos. The first is Karen Handel. She has two state-wide campaigns under her belt, including nearly landing the GOP nomination for Governor in 2010.

The other is Congressman Tom Price from Roswell. And while we usually don’t cover state-wide politics on this blog, this campaign is noteworthy because Price’s Sixth Congressional District would be up for grabs. Who might be the possible contenders?

Perhaps we’d see contenders from 2010′s state senate race? John Albers won that highly-contested race. Or how about Alpharetta’s mayor David Belle Isle? Many consider him to be politically ambitious.

Or don’t forget Chamber leader Brandon Beach. The guy seems to run for anything these days. But his election day batting average is approaching the Mendoza line. Then again Beach might get his shot at the State Senate again if Chip Rogers resigns.

Might other north Fulton mayors be interested in getting their ticket punched to Washington? Mike Bodker? Eva Galambos?

Jan Jones from Milton might be a nice choice. She’s been focused on Milton County creation in her role as Speaker Pro-Tem. Perhaps that is an unfinished job she’d like to see through completion.

And I suppose city councilmen might consider a run. Betty Price serves on Roswell’s City Council and just happens to be the congressman’s wife. Perhaps she’d consider running for her husband’s seat.

Positions down the ballot will open up if any of these folks throw their hats into the ring. A good shuffling of the political deck is a healthy thing from time to time.

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