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TopGolf seeks to tee it up in Alpharetta

Fore! The golf scene in Alpharetta may get a unique and high-tech addition. TopGolf USA has submitted a request to the city to build a golf-themed entertainment complex on 16 acres of land near Westside and Sanctuary Parkways.

TopGolf was founded in London by two brothers who grew board of endlessly hitting golf balls at the driving range. What evolved was a game that leverages patented microchip technology embedded within golf balls. Real-time data on shot range and distance to targets is relayed back and displayed to players on flatscreen televisions.

TopGolf hopes to build this high-tech driving range and a structure containing 94 driving bays on three levels. Adjoining that will be a 64,000 square foot entertainment building which includes a large 4,600 square foot restaurant and bar. Golfers can enjoy food and adult beverages in the restaurant, on a rooftop lounge or right in their driving bays. Corporate events will also be featured.

TopGolf currently operates similar facilities in Texas, Chicago, Washington DC and the UK. They aim to open 50 more locations across the county. Alpharetta would be the first in Georgia.

But their plan may not be an easy putt to sink. The company will need a conditional use permit and possibly a variance from the city before teeing up on this project. The city’s Planning Commission and Council will decide if the concept is up to par or if they need a mulligan. In the meantime, expect endless golf metaphors from local writers and journalists ahead of the city’s decision early next year.

Do Presidential elections matter in Alpharetta?

Do Presidential elections matter here in the affluent burbs? They probably don’t deserve the effort or attention we give them. Before you label me a cynic or sore Republican loser, hear me out.

Georgia continues to be a solidly red state. The poll numbers during this election never doubted this fact, placing our state in the “solid Romney” column all along. Our sixteen electoral votes were practically counted before anyone mashed a finger to a voting screen. Yet voters turned out in huge numbers.

The presidential election is a circus that goes on forever. Most of what you hear from candidates is carefully screened and put before focus groups. It lacks substance. And as the campaign looms, the talk of the election changes from issues to the race itself. We watch poll numbers and campaign strategy. In the waning weeks no one is bantering issues or ideas. It ends up feeling like more of a popularity contest, like I’m voting for American Idol or something.

Contrast this with local elections. Thankfully they are far shorter in their duration and usually over in one cycle. In most cases candidates lack the funds to conduct a lot of polls or focus groups. Topics actually include issues – real issues that effect your everyday life. In fact I’d argue that local elections are probably more important to what truly matters to you than any national election.

Don’t get me wrong, the presidential election is important. Washington will always take a larger hunk of your wallet than city hall. But it’s the decisions at school board meetings, county commission meetings and among city councilmen that can have an enormous impact on YOU! How?

Your school board decides how your children will be educated. They redistrict neighborhoods, pick your child’s curriculum or oversee your charter schools.

The alphabet soup of transportation agencies (ARC, GRTA, STRA, GDOT, etc) make decisions (usually frightfully bad ones) that effect your commute. How much time do you spend in traffic, away from your family? Barack Obama isn’t likely to improve or worsen your commute.

City Hall directs land use planning. Their decisions have a tremendous impact on your quality of life, the amenities offered in your area and property values. Yet changes to this process attract relatively little attention when compared to the hoopla surrounding Obama’s reelection. It’s a shame really.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should skip the presidential elections. I was among the 80.7% of Forsyth County voters who picked Mitt Romney on Tuesday. But if you’re seeking a place to direct all this leftover political energy, try looking a little closer to home. You might think Barack Obama will run this country into the ground, but local politicians have the potential to wreck your property values, schools or drive to work. Pay attention!

Photo Credit: The Suss-Man Mike (creative commons)

Alpharetta – Suburban Wasteland?

Alpharetta is a suburban wasteland, full of strip malls, disconnected communities and traffic. The “suburban experiment” this country engaged in has failed.

From time to time I hear urbanists spout things like this. Certainly what we recognize as modern suburbia will dwindle and die out, right? Eventually no one will want to live here.

Or better yet, urbanists will follow this fill-in-the-blank model with their logic. “If Alpharetta doesn’t ______, then ______ will happen.” You can fill in the blanks with just about anything. How about – If Alpharetta doesn’t adopt the tenants of new urbanism then young people won’t move here and employers will leave. Or how about – If we don’t pass T-SPLOST, employers won’t relocate here.

If Alpharetta is truly a suburban wasteland, why is this city such an amazing place to live? Why do people and companies keep coming here? Just look at the news in the last few weeks.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that Alpharetta’s Windward Parkway is on a short list of possible locations for General Motors’ new 1,500 employee IT innovation center. GM, being from Detroit, certainly knows what a wasteland looks like. Alpharetta is no wasteland.

Or how about Gwinnett Tech choosing Alpharetta over every other city in north Fulton? Certainly the strong workforce here was a factor. The Georgia Department of Labor reported last week that Alpharetta’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.3%, the lowest in Georgia. Wastelands have large swaths of struggling, unemployed citizens. Alpharetta doesn’t.

The real estate market here is doing surprisingly well given the national economy. We’re starting to see new development of single family home neighborhoods again. Realtor Bob Strader declared on his blog last week that we’re in a seller’s market! People can’t sell homes in wastelands.

Reports of Alpharetta’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. It boggles the mind to think that politicians, policy makers, city staff or others would dare tinker with the recipe that brought Alpharetta such sweet success.

This community is thriving. Job prospects in Alpharetta are good, quality of life fantastic and school system exceptional. This is a great place to live, work or raise a family – by any measure. I challenge you to find news today that suggests otherwise.

Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB (creative commons)

On tragedy and not blogging

One thing I’ve learned from blogging is that sometimes you shouldn’t. The decision not to write about something can be more important than writing itself. That’s the case this week.

In a matter of just a few days two tragedies hit this community resulting in the loss of life. Both were senseless. It would be easy to write something angry and bitter. No doubt some of those involved were careless or acted irresponsibly.

And there’s probably a blog post or two in here about living in an affluent suburb and what comes with that.

But now’s not the time. At the end of the day two lives were taken much too soon. People are grieving. Let them grieve.

Instead spend an extra bit of time with those you love. Step away from the hustle and bustle of suburban life for a moment. Be reminded and refocused on what’s important in life.

Is losing an election cycle a bad thing?

Presidential campaign sign litter - it doesn't happen here

Do you keep getting interrupted during dinner with endless robocalls from candidates? Isn’t is a shame that roadsides are littered with campaign signs? And why must every commercial on radio and television be for a political candidate? Are you annoyed by the endless campaigning during this most recent election cycle?

No, you’re not. The fact is the November election cycle during Presidential election years are almost non-events in the northern burbs of Atlanta. There are a number of reasons for this. First, nearly all of the state constitutional races happen on off-Presidential years. City elections in most north Fulton towns happen on odd-numbered years. Sure we’ve got a few ballot questions to answer, including a contentious issue on charter schools. But that’s about it.

And we have the Presidential election of course. But Georgia is a solidly red state. On top of that, this area votes for the Republican nominee by a wide margin. In 2004 my home county of Forsyth sided with John McCain over Barack Obama by a decisive 4 to 1 margin. Certainly no presidential campaign would waste money or effort here.

We have bitterly-fought primaries of course. Winners of these primaries may face a token Democrat put up as a sacrificial lamb for the slaughter. Maybe a write-in candidate will emerge but that’s about it. November ballots are just thin.

We’ve lost an election cycle, but is that such a bad thing? There are thousands of citizens in battleground states like Ohio who are weary of the long campaign season. They’d change places with us in a heartbeat.

Or do we segregate ourselves by political identity here? And if so, are we depriving ourselves of choices at the ballot box? What do you think?

Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service (creative commons)

Local bloggers worth reading

Hello, is this the Sandy Springs Police Department? I’d like to report something stolen.

That might have been how the AJC reported the theft of one of their best local bloggers. Lieutenant Steve Rose is the public information officer for the Sandy Spring PD. For those from Alpharetta, he’s the George Gordon of Sandy Springs.

For years Lt Rose wrote a blog for the AJC called View From The Cop. It was a funny and well-written blog that often detailed the antics of stupid criminals and silly drunks observed from Lt Rose’s career in law enforcement.

Rose’s AJC blog has been silent for a year and a half but now he’s reappeared on the Sandy Springs edition of The Patch. I’m excited to see him writing again and am surprised that the online paper managed to steal him away from the mighty AJC. His first few columns were about his service as extra security at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. I’d imagine it’ll take a few articles for him to really hit his writing stride again, but I look forward to reading his work.

The Patch is slowly adding onto it’s blogger rolls. Many of their original bloggers have not kept up with submitting stories. In some editions (like the Alpharetta/Milton edition), the lineup of bloggers was lackluster. That’s all changing now. Here are a few that are worth your online reading time.

Julie Hogg – She’s a prolific gardener and has a vast knowledge of Alpharetta history. But it was her series on the trees of downtown Alpharetta that vaulted Ms Hogg to much local attention. Her little blog on the Patch changed the shape of Alpharetta’s future downtown development, literally moving buildings. Read her work and if you see her around town, buy her a beer.

Elizabeth Hooper – I respect Ms Hooper’s opinion on all things charter school. She understands the nuances behind complicated school issues such as the recent Fulton Science Academy debacle. More recently she’s written about the state charter school ballot question that we’ll vote on in November. If you’re undecided about this question, read her work.

Travis Allen – He wrote his first blog post about a month ago on how Alpharetta’s south Main Street has changed (or not changed). Travis lives in Milton and chairs the new city’s Historic Preservation Committee. He’s lived here all his life and brings a deep understanding of local issues to his writing. I look forward to many more of his articles.

Alpharettamoms.org – I’ve talked before about Christy Noll and her blog. It continues to be one of the best hyper-local mom blogs in these parts. It’s professionally put together and contains a ton of local information for moms and families. I hope she doesn’t mind this dad lurking from time to time. I learn a lot.

Mayor Belle Isle’s dig on bloggers

Last night Alpharetta presented an update on the City Center plans. While it certainly isn’t likely to please everyone, the changes are a step in the right direction. The private development is a little smaller and additional trees are saved, including a massive oak behind Publix. Unfortunately city hall still remains in the park space.

The changes to the plan are a testament to the influence of online political activism. More so than myself, Julie Hogg deserves a lot of credit. She wrote numerous articles on the downtown changes as they pertained to green space and trees. Her writing encouraged more meetings, more dialogue and additional citizen input.

So why then did Mayor David Belle Isle level criticism on bloggers last night at the end of public comment? He said that some bloggers wrote that Alpharetta was ramming the downtown plans through. I took that as a dig on myself more than Ms. Hogg. On June 3rd I wrote that Alpharetta was acting with haste to approve a dramatically different downtown plan with little chance for public input. I stand by that initial assessment.

As of June 3rd there was only one public meeting planned for the City Center project prior to the vote. The city quickly added an additional meeting and their online forum. But even at this point there was no talk of weekly forums. It took Ms. Hogg’s articles to make this happen.

It became clear to me that the Mayor was confounded with the public outcry over the City Center plans. The look on his face on June 6th and in other meetings was telling. Let’s just say that Mr. Belle Isle is welcome to play at my poker game anytime!

So while the Mayor praises the level of openness and dialogue during this process, he’ll throw bloggers under the bus for encouraging more discourse. Perhaps it is just his way of showing frustration. Nevertheless it was an unfortunate comment to make as discussion wrapped up.

Threats to a “vibrant” downtown

Two issues made news this week that may prove to be speed bumps in Alpharetta’s downtown plans. The key phrase to look for here is “vibrant downtown.” More on that in a bit.

Alcohol and churches

Ministers from two downtown churches (including my church) spoke Monday night against Alpharetta’s plan to reduce the minimum distance between restaurants that serve alcohol and schools and churches. The issue is a little complicated based on what’s inside the downtown district and how the distances are measured.

I tend to side with the city in this discussion. Nevertheless, Mayor David Belle Isle used the term “vibrant” when discussing downtown and its restaurants.

Trees

On Sunday Julie Hogg posted an article on the Alpharetta Patch about the removal of specimen trees in the downtown plans. It turns out the city may not have consulted with arborists and members of the Natural Resources Commission during the brief master plan debate a few weeks ago.

First I’ll say that I’m not a tree guy. I appreciate old trees and respect that Alpharetta has a tough tree ordinance. I think at times it may go a little too far, but it is what it is. The city usually stands very firm on this ordinance, even against developers.

Nevertheless the city isn’t holding itself to the same tree standards that they would a private developer. The result will be the destruction of scores of specimen trees as part of the downtown plan.

Mayor Belle Isle responded to the criticism explaining that they won’t be able to please everyone. But then that word appeared again…

“Vibrant”

Any further criticism of downtown is likely to face this word. You can almost fill in the blank with this template…

We are working to <blank> while still creating a vibrant downtown.

Fill in the blank here with “preserve trees” or maybe “hide parking decks” or “respect schools and churches.” Or maybe this phrase is next:

Our consultants say we cannot have a vibrant downtown without having <blank>.

The city has multiple teams of consultants studying every part of downtown. It’ll be easy to lean on their advice to steer downtown plans a certain direction. So filling in the blank here might mean restaurants or nightclubs. Or how about residential over retail? That’s how I see this playing out.

The city will let consultants be the bad guys, using their “expert” advice to justify reducing certain aspects of downtown while expanding others. It’ll all be in the spirit of creating something deemed vibrant. Remember this when giving your feedback on downtown. Regardless of what’s important to you, it’ll have to fit into the package the city has decided upon. Otherwise expect the city to throw their “vibrant” trump card.

And for those with the city, please feel free to take my little template and use it as your own. I trust it will be a valuable tool in dealing with bloggers or constituents and their unreasonable ideas for downtown.

Forbes says Alpharetta is best place to move

There’s an article from Forbes making the rounds on twitter this week. Longtime readers of my blog may recognize the article and its author. I’m still a little puzzled as to why this is trending locally. Nevertheless it is a worthy local topic.

Forbes recognized Alpharetta as the country’s top place to move – also known as America’s number one reloville. Actually the designation was conferred on Alpharetta three years ago in this article by Peter Kilborn.

Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Peter Kilborn is certainly no stranger to Alpharetta. In 2005 he penned a feature for the New York Times on a relo family in Alpharetta. The article chronicles their life in Alpharetta and the career move that took them away. The article left so much of an impression on me that it inspired the name of my blog and much of my early writing.

Kilborn’s work here in Alpharetta lead to a book called Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America’s New Rootless Professional Class. It’s an interesting read and very relevant to life here in Alpharetta.

But back to Alpharetta’s #1 reloville designation. Though I’m puzzled as to why this article is trending again, it serves as a great reminder to us all. Even through this economic downturn, Alpharetta remains a great place to relocate. The economy here continues to thrive and unemployment is relatively low. Our schools remain strong, crime is low and quality of life is suburb. Those of us who have been here for a while should not take this for granted. Reading Forbes’ article might help reinforce that reminder.

Independence Day in Alpharetta

Today we feature a guest post from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

Tomorrow is Independence Day.  For most of us, that means burning some meat on the grill, icing down the cooler, hanging at the pool or lake, and enjoying the beautiful summer weather.  One more aspect of July 4th are the fireworks.  Whether you take the long drive down I-20 to Alabama to buy your own, or you gather your family to watch the impressive displays around town, fireworks and Independence Day go hand in hand.   Due to the recent dry, hot weather, home fireworks are discouraged this year to prevent possible fire hazards.  If you don’t want to risk burning your house down, here are several local July 4th events that you and your family can attend this year.

Alpharetta

The annual Alpharetta Fourth of July Celebration will take place as usual at Wills Park this year.  Childrens activities will begin at 4:00 PM behind the Community Center.  There will be entertainment, free parking, free games, and food.  Fireworks start at dusk.  When I go to see the fireworks, I often park in the parking deck at North Fulton hospital.  It’s a great vantage point with easier access to the exits once every thing is over.  From the top level, you can also see numerous other displays to the south and west.  It has gotten more crowded over the years, and you have to pay to park, but it is still fun.

Cumming

Just up Georgia 400 is the City of Cumming 4th of July celebration.  Events there begin July 3rd at 6:00 PM with food and drinks, bouncy castles for kids, and live music.  Cumming’s fireworks are going to start 9:30 PM July 3rd.  The celebration continues July 4th with the annual Steam Engine parade from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM.  The celebration is over at 1:00 PM.

Roswell

Roswell’s 13th Annual Fireworks Extravaganza will take place at Roswell High School.  The festivities get underway at 6:00 PM with live music from Back Trax and Banks & Shane.  Radio personality Moby will host the events.  Childrens carnival and bouncy castles are available for a fee.  Fireworks begin at dark.

Wherever you go to see fireworks this Fourth of July, remember to take plenty of water, drive carefully, don’t drink and drive, have fun, and always have a fire extinguisher handy.  Happy 236th birthday, America!

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