Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – May 2012

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

I don’t have a lot of restaurants to report on this month, but what I have to talk about is a potential game changer in the Alpharetta/Milton restaurant scene.

Grand Champion BBQ – Crabapple

This strip mall barbecue joint in east Cobb (with a Roswell address) has managed to catch a lot of attention in the short time they’ve been open. Many put them among the best barbecue in all of metro Atlanta. And based on the few times I’ve made the trek down to Shallowford Road, I’m not going to argue. These guys are selling barbecue that is almost competition caliber.

Grand Champion will open their second location at 12635 Crabapple Road, in the same shopping center as Sip and Erwoods. Their arrival will rock the Milton/Alpharetta barbecue scene. If you think ‘Cue, Swallow at the Hollow or Smokejack are good then you really need to try these new kids. Look for an opening this summer. Follow them on Twitter (@GCBBQ) or their webpage www.gcbbq.net.

Kabab & Wraps – Milton

It didn’t take these guys long! They officially opened on May 9th in a strip mall at the corner of Webb and Morris Roads in Milton. Look for cheap Indian/Pakistani food in a buffet setting.

Alfresco – Alpharetta

This family-operated pizzeria has finally opened. Look for them on the corner of Main Street and Old Milton Parkway near downtown Alpharetta. Seems like some nice folks running the shop here. I’ve only been once and need to return to sample the rest of the menu. If you’ve tried Alfresco, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!

AMC Theater – North Point Mall

AMC Theaters will be moving their North Point Parkway theater to the vacant Parisian space in the mall. I’d heard rumors that it would be them but it became official this week.

It will be interesting to watch the south end of North Point Parkway over the next few years. AMC’s departure will leave a big hole. There is vacant restaurant space where Champps used to be and Regal is moving to Avalon.

Harry’s Farmers Market – Upper Hembree

With Avalon’s approval it seems that Alpharetta will get a new Whole Foods at the development. The company plans to close their Harry’s Farmers Market location on Upper Hembree Road and convert it to offices and a distribution facility.

Update: I was incorrect with this update about Harry’s and I regret the mistake. Whole Foods does not have plans to close the store but want to keep their options open. However, it is true that they have asked the city for a conditional use permit to allow for office and distribution uses at the Upper Hembree Road location.

Grecian Gyro – Johns Creek

This will be the first franchise location for this small chain of gyro shops. They’ve got stores in Hapeville, Tucker, Forest Park and soon this location in the mixed-use development of Johns Creek Walk. Check out their decent little blog with updates on the buildout.

Haiku Sushi Steakhouse – North Point

Haiku from Roswell
where Yamato used to be,
but is this space cursed?

Restaurants Coming Soon

Meat and Potatoes Kitchen & Bar - Johns Creek in the old Rio Bravo/Star Diner space.
The Velvet Note - Tiny food and music venue coming soon to Old Milton.
Joe’s NY Pizzeria - Buildout has started for their location at 1605 Mansell Road.
Pollo Tropical - Alpharetta’s Planning Commission recommended denial of their proposed drive-thru restaurant at Haynes Bridge and the mall entrance. The city council will ultimately decide, but it isn’t looking good for these guys. However a Johns Creek location is still in the works.
Uncle Madio’s Pizza - I’m moving this to “rumor” status. Someone close to the restaurant chain told me they were looking at the old K-Cafe location on Windward. But I’ve seen no other activity with this new restaurant.
Tassa Carribean Express - Old Milton Parkway in the Brookside area.
Chipotle - Coming soon to Haynes Bridge between the mall and GA400, next to the proposed Pollo Tropical.
Blind Murphy’s Beer - Growler store coming to Main Street in downtown Alpharetta.
Romeo’s NY Pizza - Opening in the old Pizza Vito location in Crabapple.
Mirko Pasta - Opening in Johns Creek, State Bridge and Medlock Bridge.
Carrabbas - Construction has started on their new location at the Avenue Forsyth. Look for them on an outparcel between Chick-Fil-A and Red Robin.

Retail Coming Soon

Cutters Cigar Emporium - Coming soon to Windward next to Qdoba.
Walmart Neighborhood Market - A new grocery-only version of Walmart to open at 11770 Haynes Bridge Road behind Alpha Soda.
Regal Theaters - Moving from North Point Parkway to the new Avalon project.

Brandon Beach vs Chip Rogers

Brandon Beach, sans hat

Brandon Beach wears a lot of hats. He’s president of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the North Fulton CID. He’s also a Georgia DOT commissioner. Behind the scenes Beach is arguably the most politically influential man in north Fulton. But he wants more.

Yesterday Beach announced his candidacy to run for State Senate in district 21. Redistricting changed this seat to include Milton and a large part of Alpharetta in addition to Cherokee County. What’s striking about Beach’s announcement is that he’ll square off against incumbent and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers. This will be a fun race to watch for a number of reasons. Pass the popcorn!

In 2010 Beach ran for Senate against John Albers and David Belle Isle. He lost to the politically inexperienced Albers in a runoff despite far outspending him. After such a stinging defeat, why take on entrenched power and campaign in the unfamiliar grounds of Cherokee County? Maybe Beach knows something we don’t.

Here are the issues expected to dominate this campaign:

T-SPLOST and HOT lanes - Beach, wearing his Chamber of Commerce hat, has been raising funds for Citizens for Transportation Mobility as recently as this week. This group will lobby “educate” voters on the transportation project and the accompanying penny sales tax. Beach might also have to explain or distance himself from the proposed HOT lanes on GA400. None of these proposals are popular with voters, especially with the Tea Party. Beach can kiss their support goodbye before this campaign even begins.

Campaign money - Chip Rogers is sitting on a little over $300,000 cash in his campaign warchest. That’s a huge margin to overcome. But don’t count Beach out of the money game. He raised and spent nearly $175,000 on his 2010 race for Senate thanks to deep connections in the business community. Expect heavy media and direct mail campaigning in this race!

Chip Rogers

Rogers’ real estate dealings - Beach’s campaign announcement talks about “integrity” in leadership. Is this a foreshadow of a campaign tactic to come?

Rogers was a business partner with north Georgia Congressman Tom Graves in a real estate deal. Things went bad which lead to a default and an abandoned project. This issue dogged Graves when he ran for Congress in 2010. It’s worth noting that Graves had to win four elections in 2010 to claim his seat for good. The issue didn’t stick at all. Will Beach play this card against Rogers? Will it work? Or can Rogers fire back with Beach’s ethical missteps during the Avalon debate?

Charter schools - Rogers was one of several legislators to lobby in favor of the embattled, and now rejected, Fulton Science Academy. And if you think the FSAMS controversy was crazy, read up on a similar school in Rogers’ home of Cherokee County.

Additionally, Rogers pushed hard for the charter school constitutional amendment which will go before Georgia voters this year. It’s not clear if charter schools will become a campaign issue, but there are certainly strong feelings on all sides.

Tasting notes from Taste of Alpharetta 2012

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

Another year of Taste of Alpharetta is behind us. The weather was perfect, much cooler and less humid than in years past. The downtown setting was also neat at the beginning of the event. It was nice to stroll the streets of downtown at a leisurely pace. I saw some homeowners along Old Roswell Street sitting on their porches for some people watching.

But by 7:00 the event was crazy. Milton Avenue was elbow to elbow and almost impassable. The narrow streets of downtown couldn’t handle the crowds that were accustomed to four lanes of Old Milton Parkway. But nevertheless the event went off well. Kudos to the city for all their efforts.

I tried to hit newer restaurants this year along with a few favorites. Here are my notes from the evening. Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!

Mole braised pork sandwich from Bite

Bite

They brought a short rib taco, something I don’t think is on the menu. It was pretty good but a little wet and mushy. And as I had hoped, the mole braised pork made an appearance. They served it as a sandwich with cole slaw and a pickled onion. Delicious stuff.

Breadtime

It was great to see a crowd in front of their booth. They offered a lot of variety last night which should drive some business their way. I had, as the Germans call it, weisswurst or white sausage. I’ve eaten this stuff in Munich but never in the states. I didn’t care for the curry sauce on top but it was still very good.

Wildflour

Disappointing. They had spot number one, right as you walk in. Yet even with this prime space they were an hour late setting up. Once they did they only had chicken salad and cookies. I expect better from these guys.

Miltons

I’m also a little disappointed in this Taste of Alpharetta favorite. They were offering fried chicken but couldn’t make it fast enough. I went back several times but they never had any.

Alpine Bakery

For only three tickets folks were walking away with huge slices of cake including red velvet. I dropped two tickets on a cheesecake sample but was underwhelmed. If you’re expecting a dense cheesecake, don’t look for it here.

The Counter

They were set up real close to competitor Smashburger. I liked the grilled slider I tried here. Bursting with flavor, juicy and FAR cheaper than what you’d pay at their over-priced restaurant on Mansell Road.

Madras Chettinaad

The former Minerva Indian buffet doesn’t get enough attention at this event. They always cook a lot for Taste of Alpharetta as their cuisine lends itself well to an event like this. I found my mango lassi to be a refreshing drink towards the end of my evening.

Crepe Cottage – Alpharetta Farmer’s Market

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

Meet John Peltier. By day he’s a mild-mannered software consultant. But on weekends he dons the apron and transforms into a foodie entrepreneur. He’s teamed up with his wife Phay to create Crepe Cottage, a mobile crepe station and catering operation.

Like any business duo, each partner has their specialty. John is the marketing machine and has been responsible for their social media presence. They are on Facebook, Twitter (@CrepeCottage), and even YouTube.

Phay has the crepe talent. When they’re busy (which is often the case) you’ll find her next to a propane-powered crepe griddle. It’s best to watch this YouTube video to see her work in action. She starts with a ladle of crepe batter that lands in the middle of the griddle. Much like a pancake this batter cooks quickly. Yet unlike a pancake there is no leavening agent (like baking powder) in crepe batter.

 

 

The secret to crepes is to spread the batter around quickly. You can tell Phay has done this a time or two. Using a thin spatula-like device she twists and turns her wrists in circles, spreading the batter evenly across the entire surface of the griddle. The process is finished in seconds.

But the crepe is not finished. It’s real duty is to serve as a vehicle to deliver taste and flavor. Phay folds the crepe in half and considers its fillings. On this day I choose banana and Nutella on my first crepe. An entire sliced banana goes in along with a generous helping of Nutella. It is folded again, quartered, and allowed to warm up on the griddle. A paper plate is folded around the crepe and served. It’s almost like eating a large waffle cone of gooey, fruity goodness. The crepe provides some texture although tended to get a little soggy on the last few bites.

I also tried their strawberry and cream crepe. This creation has a white chocolate cream along with fresh strawberry slices. It was good but the creme was very messy and hard to contain. The Nutella crepe was easily the favorite in my group. I had a tough time wrestling this away from my daughter.

Crepe Cottage also has a savory side of their menu. If you try them at a farmer’s market then there’s a good chance the savory menu will be mostly breakfast items. I regret that I didn’t try anything here before my review.

All in all I enjoyed the crepes. They are a little pricey, around $8 each, but are large enough to share. And given time I think they can expand their menu to be a little more adventurous. Since my visit they have rolled out an Elvis crepe which is basically the banana/Nutella crepe with added bacon. Oh my.

The Peltiers plan to split their Saturdays this Spring and Summer between the farmer’s markets in Alpharetta and Sandy Springs. It might be best to check their website or social media channels before trying to catch them. They are also available for catering.
Crepe Cottage LLC (Farmer's Market) on Urbanspoon

Deny FSA’s state charter?

Yesterday saw yet another setback for the embattled Fulton Science Academy Middle School. The Georgie Department of Education recommend the state deny their application for a charter. At this point the best coverage of this issue can be found at this article on The Patch. Also read the four page letter that outlines the reason for the negative recommendation.

Here are a few random thoughts on this continuing saga…

It’s time to resign - Hatcher Hurd over at the Revue & News wrote a great column on the FSA shortly after the county rejected the FSA charter. His opinion was very close to mine. At that time he called for the board to resign, something I thought was overkill. I’m beginning to think Hatcher was right.

This is a touchy thing to say but… FSA’s administration and board are inept. They have bungled this entire process. They’ve also bungled the construction project. Look at the BOE notes as well as Fitch’s latest bond downgrade and read between the lines. It might be too late to make a difference, but heads should roll. Parents should demand it.

Approve or reject the charter? - I don’t know. Before yesterday I would have said yes, renew it for a short duration with a ton of oversight stipulations. This would be least disruptive to the students, parents, staff, and bond investors. However, after reading the letter it seems that FSA hasn’t made any progress towards better governance and oversight in the last several months.

Charter Schools - I continue to support the concept of charter schools. They are the closest thing we have to school choice right now. Don’t view my criticism of FSA as a rejection of the charter school idea.

Gulen Movement - Some people feel called to help educate children as a response to their faith. For centuries people of my faith have done so, as have Gulen followers. I’ve read about the movement and don’t have a  problem with it. Seriously, I don’t.

I think a few (but certainly not all) FSA opponents are influenced by xenophobia. I see it in the blogs that have linked to my articles. So let me be clear… I don’t have a problem with the Gulen Movement.

Alpharetta’s bond approval - Prospect Park 2 is here. Just drive by the FSA’s now-stalled construction project near Westside and Encore Parkways. It’s a pile of dirt.

The city has some explaining to do. The Alpharetta Development Authority approved the issuance of FSA’s bonds last year. Now before I throw them under the bus let’s remember that we have hindsight that they didn’t at the time. But it would be interesting to learn more about the process the authority follows before approving bonds. Is it a rubber stamp? Did the city check on the charter renewal process? What other due diligence did the Development Authority perform prior to approving these bonds?

I’m going to nominate Michael Cross to answer these questions. He chaired the Development Authority last year when the bonds were approved. Today he’s an elected official – a City Councilman. The citizens deserve an explanation, especially those who live adjacent to FSA’s stalled construction project.

Regrettable - No matter what happens to the Fulton Science Academy, I think we can all agree that this is a most regrettable situation. It has also been a preventable situation. The students deserve better treatment than this.

Taste of Alpharetta 2012 – A Preview

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

Alpharetta’s humongous restaurant festival is almost upon us. On Thursday May 10th the city’s population will expand (as well at its waist) as tens of thousands of foodies descend upon downtown. And yes, I said downtown! This year the event has moved from the Will Park area where it lived for several years. I suppose with all the attention on reviving Alpharetta’s downtown scene, bringing the city’s biggest festival down there wouldn’t hurt.

I usually write this article ahead of the event to highlight a few restaurants I want to try. This year I’m going to focus on new restaurants that have opened since this time last year. I’m happy to see many of them planning booths at the festival. Here’s where I would spend a few tickets.

Breadtime - This mom and pop German bakery is going to time their grand opening to coincide with Taste of Alpharetta. Smart move. I’m a huge fan of this place and it’s killing me not to write more about them. They asked me not to write a review until they officially open.

I’m not sure what Breadtime is bringing to the event. But whatever it is I’m sure it’s worth your tickets. Their sandwiches are awesome as is their pasta.

Dal Cuore - It took owner Jon Agri a few tries to find a restaurant concept that fit here. Dal Cuore has attracted a loyal following with their “humble” cooking in a city awash with above-average Italian restaurants. If you have not tried this small restaurant then you ought to try a sample at the festival.

Bite - If you followed me on twitter (@rootsalpharetta) during last year’s event then you know what I’m about to talk about. A popular item at Taste of Alpharetta has always been braised pork in a taco or slider. It’s everywhere and rather boring. However, if Bite chooses to make this then you should buy two of them. Their mole-braised pork taco is amazing – by far my favorite item on their menu.

Seven Seas Mediterrean Café - I’ve not yet tried this small restaurant on Devore Road. Quite honestly, if I’m in the neighborhood then I’ll be at Breadtime across the street. But they might be the newest restaurant at Taste of Alpharetta this year. That alone is worth a try.

La Casa Italian Grill - Go say hi to the super nice folks behind downtown Alpharetta’s newest restaurant. I’d wait to see what these guys are offering before giving up a ticket. In my opinion, Alpine Bakery or Dal Cuore are better choices for Italian food at the event.

Burgers - Something we don’t see a lot of at this event. Smashburger is on the list of restaurants as is The Counter from Mansell Road. My pick here would be The Counter. And spending an inexpensive  ticket here might not be a bad idea as burgers at their restaurant are pretty pricey.

Sweets - If you’ve got leftover tickets that you need to blow, why not take home some sweets? M Chocolat might not be a bad idea. They are Alpharetta’s newest chocolate shop on Old Milton Parkway. Another might be Heavenly Gourmet Popcorn. And while this isn’t a new restaurant, Wildflour has won past awards at Taste of Alpharetta for their cookies.

The entire list of restaurants can be found on the city’s website along with a lot more details. Here are the vitals:

What: Taste of Alpharetta
Where: Downtown Alpharetta
When: Thursday May 10th, 5-10pm
Cost: Free to get in, food samples range from $1-3

Alpharetta’s peculiar and convoluted virtual apartments

Several weeks ago, around the time of Alpharetta’s Planning Commission actions on Avalon, I began researching the transfer of development rights of apartments (TDRs). At the time there was lively discussion online surrounding this proposed zoning condition. North American Properties would be required to purchase the right to build apartments from parcels already zoned for them but were un-built. Some in the community wanted to know which parcels this applied to. Many of those inquiring minds were ardent Avalon supporters who were interested to know if there were conflicts of interest. It was a fair question.

Unfortunately no list was provided of parcels that had these virtual apartments available for transfer. So I did the next best thing. In one hand I took Alpharetta’s zoning map. In another hand I had google’s satellite view of Alpharetta. In a third hand (actually these were browser windows) I had the Fulton County Assessor’s webpage.

I scanned the zoning map looking for parcels with R-10M zoning then checked to see if they were undeveloped. There were only two of any significant size. They were:

The Ellman Tract - This property sits at the southwest corner of GA-400 and Webb Bridge Road, catty-corner from St James United Methodist Church. This 10-11 acre piece of land has played an important part of Avalon/Prospect Park’s history. I mentioned it in my article about Westside Parkway and how difficult it was to put together this deal.

Dunn Foundation Tract - Located on the northeast corner of GA-400 and Old Milton Parkway, across from Burger King and Waffle House.

I also found a few tiny parcels near downtown Alpharetta with R-10M zoning but were not of significance.

In the end, I didn’t write about this issue before Avalon’s zoning for a few reasons. First, I wasn’t confident that my information was correct. The Fulton Assessor’s office isn’t exactly known for their data accuracy. I believe some of their ownership information may have been out of date. And second, I didn’t see any clear conflicts at the time. I believed Ellman was still owned by Prospect Park’s former developer, Stan Thomas. I figured the city now owned the land under Westside Parkway but that Thomas owned the rest.

Fast forward to Monday night’s Council meeting. NAP frontman Mark Toro mentioned during his presentation that he had acquired some apartment development rights and was ok with a TDR zoning condition. What a relief! I later found out that my research on the Dunn Foundation tract was correct as it seems NAP purchased their apartment rights in a private transaction. All is perfectly legitimate at this point. Keep following along.

Next comes the reading of the zoning motion. The wording of the TDR zoning condition suggested that rights could possibly be purchased from the city. Up went the corner of my eyebrow.

Lo and behold it turns out that the city of Alpharetta owns the entire Ellman Tract, not just the portion under Westside Parkway. This fact was not disclosed to the public during the Westside Parkway announcement (unless I missed it). It certainly wasn’t brought to anyone’s attention when public discussion was taking place over the last few weeks.

This tract represents slightly less than half of the unused apartment development rights in the entire city. The city wrote a zoning condition that says the applicant must negotiate the purchase of an intangible asset… from the city… before the city will allow apartments to be built. At best it is peculiar.

From this point on the city will take the role of a land owner/developer and negotiate the sale of this intangible asset. Were the city a private entity wishing to maximize profit, they would market this asset to any potential apartment developer. That might include AMLI (who has another pending apartment zoning application before the city) or perhaps a developer like Rob Forest. But the city is not likely to sell to someone like this. But if the asset isn’t at least put up for bid in this manner then how does the city put a price tag on the rights?

Or how about looking at this on the flip side. NAP has to continue negotiations with the city over apartments, even after the zoning is approved. Their TDR condition says they can come back before Council to renegotiate the zoning if they wish. What are they gonna say? “We couldn’t reach an agreement with the owner of TDRs (the city) so we are requesting the city to allow us to move forward without buying TDRs (from the city).”

You wouldn’t think Mark Toro would like this kind of relationship. One could make an argument that the city has a fiduciary responsibility to maximize its investment in the Ellmen property and its virtual apartments (a truly rare asset). If that’s the case then they had better be taking the bull by the horns with Toro (no pun intended).

On the other hand, Toro once said that a TDR zoning condition would make Avalon too expensive to build. Yet that didn’t seem to be the case Monday night as he easily agreed to the condition. Is the city making this transaction too easy for Mark Toro?

Did I mention peculiar? Convoluted might be another way to describe it as I feel there may be more to this issue. One thing is sure… the issue of Avalon’s apartments is not over. I expect the city to hold a vote on the sale of the apartment rights. You might also see NAP come back before Alpharetta to renegotiate apartments all over again.

So there you have it. I don’t think Alpharetta fully disclosed the purchase of the Ellman Tract. This arrangement didn’t come to light until the 11th hour after the period of public comment was closed. And the city has to wear two hats in a convoluted relationship.

 


View Undeveloped R-10M Zonings in a larger map

WHI Avalon Letter to City Council

The following is a letter from Tom Miller of the Windward Homeowners Inc to the City Council regarding the Avalon project. It is offered here as a guest post with the permission of Mr. Miller. Alpharetta’s City Council will consider Avalon tonight.

Dear Mayor Belle Isle and City Council,

I would like to let you know that the following resolution was passed unanimously by the Windward Homeowners Inc. Board of Directors, on which I am zoning coordinator:

WHI supports the Avalon project, provided that the project is within the approved apartment ratio currently approved by City Council, which is 85/15.

For background, the WHI Board wants to express our support for City Council’s decision to approve the 85/15 for sale/for rent ratio in 2005 and its unanimous re-approval on November 28, 2011 in the 2030 Comprehensive Plan.  If Avalon can stay within the 85/15 by purchasing apartment development rights of any of the 5,500+ apartments already built or approved, or if the developer changes to 100% for sale units, then WHI will support the Avalon project.

I would like to add my personal comments for your consideration of Avalon:

1. Please approve Avalon with the conditions that were approved by the Planning Commission.  These conditions are reasonable and will not deter North American Properties from having a successful project.  The Planning Commission conditions, similar to Community Development staff recommendations, will create a win for Alpharetta and for NAP.  If City Council accepts the bare-bones conditions from NAP as-is, then Avalon may be a success for NAP, but it will not be good for Alpharetta’s residents or businesses.  It will set precedents and erode the protections that led us to invest in Alpharetta.

2. Regarding the apartments, Alpharetta has denied or discouraged more than 1,000 apartments since 2005, and approval of Avalon apartments will set a precedent for many more apartments regardless of any specific zoning conditions.  Avalon’s apartments are high end, but new apartments trigger older apartments to reduce rents and accept lower quality tenants.  Police reports and school test scores easily confirm the effect that Avalon will have on many older apartments.  The 2030 Plan says that future development will be redevelopment, and in the case of rentals, Alpharetta is built out.  Period.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Alpharetta already has a highest percentage of rental vs. owner-occupied homes among our neighboring cities.  The Census says that 35% of Alpharetta households rent (vs. 65% own).  We are worse than Roswell (33%), Milton (26%) and Johns Creek (20%).  Alpharetta already has the highest transient population north of the river; how could be justify adding more rentals?

3. Regarding the public space, please enforce the Mixed Use zoning code that has been in place since 2005.  Planning Commission conditions just reiterated what is a code requirement.  Avalon should have 8.7 acres of public space amenity where people can gather.  NAP boasts about providing two football fields of sidewalks and medians, but a football field is only 1.3 acres between the goal posts, and NAP’s drawings show their football fields include space within the stores.  No reasonable person would say that Avalon’s public space should include sidewalks in front of the stores, a dry retention pond, an HOA managed lawn, or a buffer along GA 400 that is required by law to be undisturbed.  There is no reason why NAP cannot provide the 10% of gross acres for a public space amenity, and we shouldn’t apologize for requiring it.  Santana Row had to provide 8.25 acres (20%) public space and finally settled by paying the City of San Jose $4.5M to satisfy the remaining public space not provided.  The City of San Jose specifically did not let Santana Row count the Marketplace area, the similar area to Avalon’s “football fields”.  Please stand by the MU zoning code which is quite clear.

4. Please allow no drive thru.  This is a project to “get people out of their cars”, and an upscale mall doesn’t need fast food, drive thrus, or gas stations, so prohibit them.

5. Regarding the protection of our existing retail from predatory Avalon leases, NAP spins this as a Constitutional issue.  In fact this is the wrong way to look at this issue.  The Prospect Park zoning from 2005-2008 required a luxury mall with stores from Lenox and Phipps.  Economic studies were done to show that Alpharetta could support this different type of retail without impacting North Point or Downtown Alpharetta.  I have not seen any studies that show that Alpharetta could support two similar malls (Avalon and North Point) so close to each other with our incomes and densities.

No other Atlanta malls are as close as Avalon and North Point would be.  The most similar example is in Gwinnett.  Thirteen years ago, Simon Property Group, which owned Gwinnett Place Mall, also opened Mall of Georgia.  Simon’s studies showed that Gwinnett could support two malls located 13 miles apart.  Two years later, Mills Corporation applied for Discover Mills, located between the two Simon malls (5 miles from Gwinnett Place, 9 miles from Mall of Georgia).  Simon prepared studies showing that Gwinnett could not support three malls and that Discover Mills would largely cannibalize from existing retail.  Newspaper reports show that Simon made compelling arguments that the area could not support three malls.  Discover Mills claimed that it would be a different kind of mall and would be complementary to existing retail, just as Avalon is claiming now.  The pro-developer Gwinnett County Commission approved Discover Mills, lured by sales tax projections.  Now Gwinnett Place is vacant and was recently sold by Simon to an unnamed owner.  Gwinnett Place used to be very nice.  In fact press reports showed that Mall of Georgia and Discover Mills would struggle against the “invincible” Gwinnett Place Mall.  Look at the situation now.  The area could not support three malls within 13 miles of each other, yet we expect Avalon and North Point and Downtown Alpharetta to succeed when they are all much closer than in Gwinnett?  When the City approved Prospect Park, we never signed on for an upscale version of North Point, which is what Avalon would be.

Maybe the intent of Avalon really is to steal tenants from North Point Mall?  Yes, that is where all the signals point.  Avalon’s opening date is October 2013, exactly 20 years to the opening date of North Point Mall.  Exactly 20 years.  Mall leases typically run 10 years, and anchor stores are typically 20 years.  Coincidence?  Mark Toro developed the retail power centers around North Point Mall 15-20 years ago.  The team that Mark Toro has handpicked includes executives from the big retail developers, and the NAP team knows the tenants and the dates of the leases throughout the North Point Mall retail area. It would be much easier to get an area business to relocate to Avalon than to actually recruit a new retailer to Alpharetta in this economy.  At the Planning Commission Don Rolader said that Avalon is pursuing North Point Mall area retailers.  Can the City support a second mall so close to North Point?  We haven’t asked the question, or I should say we haven’t had any quantitative study.  Two years from now when North Point loses some big tenants, City Council may be saying, why didn’t we see this would happen?

6. There are allegations of conflict of interest of Mayor Belle Isle and Councilmen Owens and Cross serving on the Board of Directors of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, which has instructed its members to lobby City Council to approve Avalon with apartments and little public space, at odds with the 2030 Plan and zoning code.  I read the Atlanta Journal Constitution article and saw one of the two news stories on WSB-TV, and for the record I am a Cox (AJC) employee.  Common Cause believes that there is a conflict of interest, and that three Council members should recuse themselves from the Avalon vote.  Common Cause is a national, non-partisan watchdog group, whose mission includes, “reinventing an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest”.  Common Cause’s focus areas include ethics in government and government accountability.  Alpharetta is a City of Ethics, and that should not only mean that we have an ethics code in place.  It should mean that we set a high standard, beyond the minimum required by parsing words in the ethics code.  The three who are on the Chamber Board could trust that the remaining four City Councilmen will approve Avalon with right and reasonable conditions that are best for the citizens of Alpharetta, and not have a conflict with the wishes of the Chamber Board on which you also sit.  If the three Chamber Board members vote on Avalon, than I will ask myself, why was it so important that they cast that vote?  I will have doubts as to whether you were acting in the best interest of the citizens or in the best interest of the Chamber Board on which you are also obligated to uphold.  The simplest solution is to recuse yourselves and let the other four approve Avalon.

7. This large project does not have to be approved in one night.  Mark Toro created a sense of urgency in order to close the deal and to get away with the fewest conditions.  That is his job as a salesman.  City Council should not be rushed into approving Avalon on the spot.  In 2005 Prospect Park was approved at the first City Council public hearing.  Two Councilmen proposed a 30-day delay to get more public input, but that motion failed and Prospect Park was unanimously approved.  Since then some former Councilmen have remarked that they regretted voting for Prospect Park because it turned into a disaster.  Maybe if there had been more study, the City could have learned that Thomas Enterprises had never built a luxury mall, that his wealth was mostly based on the value of a large parcel of land in Florida with favorable zoning, and that he had a dozen similar projects underway across the country with high debt.  North Point Mall was not approved quickly, and that has stood the test of time.  Avalon may have totally different issues, but it is more important to get Avalon right than to get it done fast.

8. Some of Avalon’s supporters say that the City should approve Avalon if only to get something built there, to eliminate the eyesore.  Avalon will not solve the eyesore.  The current phase will leave more than half the site undeveloped.  The west (owner-occupied homes) and east (offices) portions will remain undeveloped without a sunset clause in the zoning.

I want Avalon to be approved and to succeed, but not at any cost.  I want Avalon to be approved with conditions that meet the 2030 Comprehensive Plan, the zoning code and with conditions that are won’t harm the rest of Alpharetta.  I don’t want Avalon approved with zoning that will set a precedent for more apartments or no public space.

I have supporting documents for the specifics that I cited above.  Let me know if you would like anything forwarded.  Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Tom Miller

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – April 2012

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

I’m happy to report on a few new retailers opening shop in downtown Alpharetta. I hope to see this trend continue as Alpharetta moves forward with their downtown plans.

Pollo Tropical – Haynes Bridge

Last month we talked about this Caribbean chain and their plans to open in Johns Creek. Looks like they also have their eye on Alpharetta. They’ve approached the city about opening on the corner of Haynes Bridge and North Point Drive. This would be at the entrance to the mall right next to the proposed new Chipotle I also reported on last month.

Kabab & Wraps – Milton

These guys are building out in a strip mall on the corner of Webb and Morris Roads in Milton. This space has been home to several small restaurants of various international flavors (extra credit if you can name them all). Kabab & Wraps promises Indian/Pakistani cuisine featuring Halal/Zabihah meats. They’re on Facebook and Twitter @KababNWraps.

Pizza Vito – Closed

I wasn’t a huge fan of this small pizzeria in Crabapple. Seemed the owner lived out of the area and wanted to sell. He’s done just that as Pizza Vito is being transformed into…

Romeo’s NY Pizza – Crabapple

Wherefore art thou, Romeo? This Johns Creek pizzeria is expanding fast. They’ve got a Lawrenceville store now. This Crabapple location is next followed by Canton and Emory. I’ve never tried a pie here. Are they any good?

Mirko Pasta – Johns Creek

This pasta chain is also expanding rapidly through franchising. They plan to open what will be their largest store yet near State Bridge and Medlock Bridge. If you like Figo Pasta on North Point then you’ll probably like Mirko. Their founder is a Figo alum.

Blind Murphy Craft Beer Market – Downtown

Alpharetta made big news this month in passing a growler ordinance. Blind Murphy is poised to become the first Alpharetta store to offer the jugs of brew. Look for them building out at 52 South Main Street in downtown Alpharetta. Check them out on Facebook and twitter @BlindMurphyBeer.

One Star Ranch – Demolished

Their former location at 732 North Main Street in Alpharetta was demolished this week. While I most certainly didn’t like One Star’s barbecue , I secretly wished a dive bar/restaurant would emerge here. Ain’t gonna happen.

Ipanema Brazilian Steakhouse

They quietly opened this week on Old Milton Parkway. It will take a great deal of willpower on my part not to write a review of this place in verse.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Alfresco - Pizzeria on Main Street and Old Milton.
Meat and Potatoes Kitchen & Bar - Johns Creek in the old Rio Bravo/Star Diner space.
The Velvet Note - Tiny food and music venue coming soon to Old Milton.
Joe’s NY Pizzeria - In the planning stages for 1605 Mansell Road.
Pollo Tropical - Coming soon to Medlock Center in Johns Creek.
Uncle Madio’s Pizza - Windward Parkway where K Cafe used to be. Still no signs of life in this space though.
Tassa Carribean Express - Their request of the city was approved. Look for them on Old Milton Parkway.
Chipotle - Coming soon to Haynes Bridge between the mall and GA400.

Someone call Jere Wood. Nordstrom sells bowties!

Retail News

Nordstrom Rack – North Point

They opened yesterday following a well-orchestrated social media campaign. Look for them where Linens-n-Things used to be on North Point near Target.

I tried out the store this week and was impressed with the friendly staff. I also like their use of technology. Rack employees can checkout your purchase anywhere in the store using iPhones. Zap a few bar codes, swipe a credit card and you’re outta there. A receipt will appear seconds later in your email. Follow them on twitter @Alpharetta_Rack.

Goodwill – McFarland

If Nordstrom is out of your price range, check out the massive new Goodwill thrift store on McFarland. They opened this week next to the RBM of Atlanta Mercedes dealership.

Karen’s Fabrics – Downtown

They’ve been open for a little bit but they celebrated their grand opening this month. They’re at 23 South Main in the heart of downtown Alpharetta. Check them on social media – Facebook and Twitter @KarensFabrics.

Dress Up Boutique – Windward

Alpharetta is the fifth location for this women’s boutique started in Dahlonega. They opened exactly one week ago on Windward near LA Fitness. Here’s their Facebook profile.

Retail Coming Soon

Northpoint Mall Theater - Still no word on this new theater. Will they ever build it?
Cutters Cigar Emporium - Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em! Coming soon to Windward next to Qdoba.
Walmart Neighborhood Market - A new grocery-only version of Walmart to open at 11770 Haynes Bridge Road behind Alpha Soda.

Disclosure: I received free merchandise from Nordstrom Rack during a promotion. My disclosure policy can be found on my about page. It exceeds that of even the City of Alpharetta!

The follow-up review

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

Restaurants change. It’s just a natural progression I suppose. Staff turns over and sometimes ownership. Menus are updated based on customer preferences and choices. Food quality improves or declines.

Many of the restaurants I review as fledgling newcomers might be somewhat different six months to a year later. For that reason I thought it might be worth doing a follow-up review column from time to time. How are these guys adapting to a new concept?

Thanksgiving Spring Rolls - still delicious

BW Tavern

When I reviewed these guys five months ago I talked about taking chances. They took a chance fiddling with a concept that had been in place for years. But now the restaurant seems to be regressing slowly back to their former self. The menu has become more simple and more pub-like. Favorites like the Thanksgiving spring rolls remain, thankfully. And they’ve left their bowls on the menu. I’ve yet to try a bowl entree that excites me though.

MyFavEats

I don’t use it anymore. This location-aware app built, by Alpharetta-based Radiant Systems (now part of NCR), was supposed to be a mobile device version of a rewards card. However their daily specials kept me interested for a while as some were better than Groupon and Scoutmob. But this wasn’t their business model.

I found the app difficult to use. It often required a perfect data connection on my Android phone, something that can be elusive inside the walls of a restaurant. Additionally many restaurants require you to obtain a daily code-word to get credit for a check-in. I don’t want to have to bother a busy waitress to get a word. And the chances are she probably doesn’t know what My Fav Eats is to begin with.

Studio Movie Grill

Amazingly popular. My wife likes going here so much she’ll drive past several other theaters on the way and not miss a beat. North Fulton has fully embraced the eat/movie concept. What surprises me the most is that other theaters are not coming to town to challenge SMG. As best I can tell the new theater at North Point Mall and the Regal at Avalon will NOT have a restaurant component. Strange.

My opinion of SMG’s food remains the same – forgettable. Most times we will plan to eat elsewhere on Holcomb Bridge Road and just do traditional drinks and popcorn at SMG.

Where SMG is earning our business is with deep discounts and specials. They have great deals on their Facebook page and Groupon. There’s no reason to pay full price to see a flick here. It seems their business model is not to make cash at the box office but rather in the restaurant.

Be careful with the popular shows here. They sell out quick as their theaters don’t seat as many as a traditional theater might. We’ve wasted several trips down for this reason.

Crafty Draught

The only thing that’s changed about our first growler store is their popularity. I waited in a pretty long line on my last visit. One customer was filling four growlers at a time.

I’ve tried some pretty cool beers because of these guys. My favorite so far has been the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale – a fantastic beer packed with bourbon flavor as well as a creamy vanilla core.

But Crafty Draught will face an Alpharetta competitor probably in late summer or early Fall. I’ll get into that next week in my restaurant news column.

Photo Credits: Robyn Guy Photography

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