Transfer of development rights – a condition Avalon needs

Avalon needs to be built. It is a beautiful and well thought out project put together by a great company. Compared to the three other mixed use developers to come to Alpharetta, North American Properties is much better equipped to make their project a reality.

I also like their track record at Atlantic Station, particularly the revitalized restaurant scene. I believe Avalon has the potential to put Alpharetta’s restaurant scene on the map, something that would make this blogger very happy.

I wanted to come right out and say this because I sincerely believe it. I’ve very much a fan of Avalon and want it to become a reality. At the same time I want Alpharetta to be able to approve the project while staying within their land use goals. I think both are possible through the transfer of development rights.

Apartments

Avalon’s high-end apartments are different – nothing like the garden-style apartments that dot the landscape of Alpharetta. This is a very true statement.

Unfortunately zoning codes, include Alpharetta’s, don’t distinguish between normal and high-end apartments. As a matter of fact Alpharetta’s code only recently separated apartments from other multi-family dwellings like condos. The city has no way under the current code to to say “yes we want these really nice apartments” while also saying “no we don’t want traditional apartments.”

I think this point gets lost in the Avalon apartment debate. Most opposition to Avalon’s apartments is not because of a dislike of how NAP is designing them. It is because apartments, any apartments, violate Alpharetta’s long-standing land use goal. So important has the 85-15 goal been that it’s almost a sacred cow of Alpharetta politics.

That’s why the transfer of development rights is such an important condition to add to Avalon’s zoning. It keeps constant the number of apartments approved within the city while allowing NAP to proceed with their plans.

It also allows the city to reject other future apartment applicants without creating a double standard. How important is this? They’ve already come knocking.

Apartment developer AMLI has a new application before Alpharetta to build 300 traditional apartments on Westside Parkway. This request will immediately follow Avalon, most likely hitting the Planning Commission agenda in May. Others are sure to follow.

Approving Avalon’s apartments outright sets a precedent for apartments that Alpharetta will have a tough time running away from. The Planning Commission understood this and voted to add the TDR condition. The fact that the vote was unanimous puts an exclamation mark on the recommendation as it goes to the City Council. This is very much the will of the people of Alpharetta.

This has been a long and tedious process. Unfortunately at times it has been ugly and unprofessional. But at the end of the day the people in this community want Avalon and they want their land use goals maintained as well. The TDR condition allows us to have our cake and eat it too. It’s a great compromise that I wholeheartedly support. I hope Alpharetta’s City Council approves Avalon with the Planning Commission’s conditions. I’m ready to be writing about Avalon in my Foodie Friday column, not in a political sense.

More reading on Avalon…

 

Name that for-sale restaurant

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

Back in January I wrote a column about some very big and very vacant restaurant spaces for sale. Today I’ll give you some existing restaurants that are for sale. But this post has a twist, something that proved to be rather fun when I stumped my twitter friends with it last week.

There are a handful of restaurant brokers in the Atlanta area with website listings. But unlike the vacant restaurants that are available, the existing restaurants don’t exactly want to advertise their names to the world. Their listings are deliberately vague. For example, it won’t say “For Sale: Joe’s Bar and Grill, $150,000″ but rather they will describe the concept and general location. Interested buyers can contact the broker and get more info but not before signing a non-disclosure agreement. Non-disclosure agreements are not my bag.

If you’re eaten your way through Alpharetta then you stand a reasonable chance at guessing who these restaurants are. And that’s my game this week. I’ll throw out a few restaurants that are for sale in my coverage area. I’ve got my ideas as to who they are but I’ll let my readers take their chances. See how many you can get right by leaving a comment!

Restaurant #1 is a pizza and pasta restaurant in proximity to the best neighborhoods in Alpharetta. This restaurant measures in at 4554 square feet with dual dining rooms. It’s busy for lunch but not dinner. Check out the listing webpage as the picture is a dead give away.

Restaurant #2 is a tavern, part of a group of restaurants, and is located in a lifestyle center in south Forsyth. A fortune was spent on buildout and would be a turnkey opportunity for an Irish or British pub. Nearby restaurants include pizza and Mexican. Here’s the listing.

Restaurant #3 is also a tavern in south Forsyth. They are an end-cap on a stripmall with a national supermarket chain and close to GA-400. Strong lunch business, full-service bar and outdoor dining. Here’s the listing.

Restaurant #4 has Chinese, Thai and sushi all on the menu. They are in Alpharetta in a Publix-anchored shopping center. It’s a smaller place with 112 seats and a beautiful interior. This one was easy to figure out as it is close to where I live. Here’s the listing. For only $145,000 it can be yours!

Restaurant #5 is in Johns Creek. We kicked this one around on twitter a good bit and I think my initial guess may have been wrong. This is a sports bar with tons of TVs, pool tables and darts. 3350 square feet has 100 seats and a patio. They are on a busy road with ample parking. Listing suggests that they are not open for lunch during the week but that could be a mistake. For only $95,000 it is yours. Guess what sports bar this is and I’ll buy you a beer.

Restaurant #6 is also a sports bar in Johns Creek. It’s with a different broker so it possibly could be the same as restaurant #5. The listing says it has been around for 30 years in the same location but the owner is absentee. The space is 5000 square feet.

Photo credit: Serena Epstein (creative commons)

Little change six months after Ticketgate

Six months ago Alpharetta’s political scene was rocked with the Ticketgate scandal. Now that the dust and political rhetoric has settled let’s revisit the issue to see how things are different. Sadly, not much has changed.

The Alpharetta CVB

According to CVB president Janet Rodgers records will again be kept for freebie Verizon Wireless Amphitheater tickets. But those wishing the audit the new process (like yours truly) will have to wait. The concert season is just starting up so no tickets have been disbursed in some time.

Ticket Reimbursement

No other public officials have come forward to reimburse the CVB for free tickets since the AJC last reported on the issue in the Fall, according to Rodgers.

Ethics Reform

Alpharetta’s City Council discussed reforming their ethics ordinance during their January retreat. Mayor David Belle Isle told me in an email that he thought the council reached a “conceptual consensus” on a change. But since that time the City Council has not discussed the matter openly in a public hearing or work session.

Georgia’s general assembly balked at making changes to their own ethics rules this session. Additionally Georgia recently earned an F on the strength of public corruption laws and government openness. In light of this, Alpharetta has an opportunity to make positive ethics news for a change. Now is the time to revamp the ethics ordinance to lower the minimums for gift disclosures. Additionally the Alpharetta CVB should follow the lead of other metro-Atlanta CVB’s who outright forbid gifts to public officials.

Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB/Chris Lee (Creative Commons)

Number of the Month – Avalon’s Shill Campaign

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

64% vs 27%

- The percentage of favorable responses to the Avalon plan since the Progress Partners “call to action” on March 21st versus the percentage before.

Online reviews can be great. They can be a powerful tool in a decision making process. It might be a book on Amazon, restaurant on Yelp, an app in the iPhone store or a multimillion dollar mixed-use activity center in Alpharetta. Online reviews can provide great feedback and serve as a proxy for overall public opinion.

But the integrity of online reviews is diminished when a group solicits for reviews with a directed response, aka “shilling.” This is what happened last week when Progress Partners and the Chamber openly told members to give positive reviews of Avalon on the city’s online forum. The results of this action are measurable. Prior to March 21st, when reviews were more organic in nature, only 27% of respondents gave Avalon an “I like it” review, the most favorable choice. After the campaign nearly two thirds of the reviews were most favorable.

Shill campaigns like this undermine the credibility of the entire review process and online forum. It does a disservice to those seeking to use the results as a decision-making tool (planning commissioners and city councilmen). The campaign itself was also unethical, something I wrote about last week.

DA Butcher – McGinnis Ferry

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

You might get a sense of deja vu walking into DA Butcher. At this early stage they still bear a strong resemblance to the New York Butcher Shoppe, the former occupant of this space. Replace “NY” with “DA”, drop the quaintly spelled “shoppe” and everything else remains the same?

There’s a little more going on with DA Butcher. New York Butcher decided back in the fall to close this Alpharetta location. Their goal was to concentrate on their Sandy Springs store, the last one in Metro Atlanta. A former employee at this Alpharetta location decided to open the independent butcher shop you see today and brought on an entirely new staff.

The store has the same layout as before with a meat case separating patrons from staff. Large cuts of steak are featured prominently here including a monster porterhouse with impressive marbling. Also catching my eye were a handful of prime steaks including a few whole beef tenderloins. There was even this nice Wagyu sirloin, something you don’t see everyday.

Along the wall you’ll find a bank of freezers. Their compressors emit an abnormally loud groan that makes conversation a little difficult in the store. But inside their doors you’ll find an array of prepared foods and frozen meats. They’ve got sushi-grade tuna curiously sitting next to bricks of pork scrapple and many other proteins. You’ll find expensive pastas, ravioli and potato gnocchi along with more mundane steakfries.

On my first visit I took home two prime beef filets. They were cut to order and turned out a little thicker than I had planned. They also offered to season the filets, a suggestion I found unusual of such a quality cut of meat. I declined as I had an au poivre preparation in mind. Otherwise I had no complaints with the steaks. They were wonderfully tender as you might expect from this cut and grade. But price will keep me away from these guys except for the most special of occasions.

I was determined to try their barbecue on my second visit. They smoke pork and brisket in front of the store and sell it at lunch or as whole pieces of smoked meat sealed in cryovac. I’m always on the prowl for good barbecue in the suburbs and am willing to try just about anything out of the ordinary. As I explained to a co-worker, you’ve gotta kiss a few frogs before finding a prince. Unfortunately for DA, there was nothing princely about their barbecue.

I opted for a pulled pork sandwich and cringed as I watched the guy place chilled pork meat into a microwave oven. The small quantity of meat was not tender at all but did have a solid core of smokey flavor. It was a little fatty and overall was not very good at all. I was hungry an hour later.

So for an early look, DA Butcher seems eerily similar to their predecessor. Their steaks and prepared foods are expensive, especially when compared to places like Costco. They can distinguish themselves somewhat by offering very premium cuts and grades, something most are not in the market for on a regular basis. They are planning to expand offerings including beer and wine. That could help as would better execution on the smoker. Give them a little more time and they’ll have it all figured out.

Alpharetta Jobs – March 2011

Approximately quarterly the career websites of Alpharetta’s largest employers are queried. The number of jobs advertised are tallied and trended against data going back over two years. The results are published to the Roots in Alpharetta blog and used by permission in the Appen Newspapers. These numbers were tabulated on March 26th and 27th. All attempts were made to maintain accuracy but some errors are possible.

I’ve run this column monthly for the past two years but am transitioning to a quarterly frequency.

The overall number of openings remains strong at over 700 advertised. 2011 saw strong hiring at HP and Siemens as they ramped up new projects in Alpharetta. The current number of openings at these two companies is down, possibly indicating that their staffing shortages are coming to an end.

Scientific Games in south Forsyth shows 41 openings, the most since I’ve tracked the company. Mega Millions is setting record payouts. Coincidence? Other companies showing an increase in job openings include software shops RedPrairie and Infor in Milton.

Largest Employers in Alpharetta - March 2012

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 166
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 40
ADP 51
E-Trade 11
Equifax 45
AT&T 8
Verizon 58
NCR/Radiant 41
HP 12
Alcatel-Lucent 1
UPS 20
Siemens 65
Traveler's 21
T-SYS 6
Metlife 3
Total 548

Mid-Sized Employers in Alpharetta - March 2012

Company Number of Jobs
Research in Motion 8
Ciena 10
RedPrairie 24
Exide Technologies not available
Ryder 20
Phillips 9
Outcomes Health 5
New York Life 0
GXS/Inovis 2
Infor 19
Hanjin Shipping 4
Scientific Games 41
VeriFone 7
AIG 2
Farmer's Insurance 5
LaFarge 2
Crown Castle 8
Amdocs 1
Total 166

Photo credit: Kevin Harber (creative commons)

Taxpayer-funded Progress Partners crosses ethical line

On Wednesday North American Properties presented their Avalon plans to Progress Partners, the economic development arm of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. The proposed mixed-use development was well received by the chamber and Progress Partners. Even the apartments in the plan passed muster with the group, calling them vital to the project. This is to be expected.

But the leaders behind Progress Partners went a step father. According to an article in the Alpharetta Patch, chamber leaders urged members to begin a lobbying effort. They suggested calling Alpharetta City Council members, responding to online surveys, and speaking favorably of the project during public hearings.

Progress Partners’ attempt to influence a pending zoning matter is inappropriate because the group receives taxpayer funding from the City of Alpharetta.

In December 2011 the City Council voted to enter into an agreement with the chamber and Progress Partners in an effort to further the city’s economic development plan. Part of the agreement provided for $50,000 to be paid to Progress Partners from the city’s general fund. The City Council voted unanimously to approve the deal.

Further compounding the relationship are two councilmen who also serve on the chamber’s board of directors. Michael Cross and Chris Owens both serve the chamber in their professional capacities as well as on behalf of the city.

As an agent of the city and taxpayer-funded organization, Progress Partners committed a breach of ethics when it crossed the line into political lobbying. The taxpayers of Alpharetta deserve better.

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – March 2012

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

I have a handful of new restaurants to announce. Despite all the vacant restaurant space in town, most of these guys are choosing new construction or to use space not designed for an eatery. Go figure.

Tassa Caribbean Express – Old Milton

Tassa Roti Shop is a Caribbean restaurant on Powers Ferry Road in Marietta. They specialize in cuisine from Trinidad and Tobago served buffet-style. Tassa has Alpharetta in their sights for a second location to be called Tassa Caribbean Express.

What’s odd about this proposed new restaurant is the location. They’ve identified a space at 4005 Old Milton Parkway not terribly far from Caribbean Fiesta, a restaurant certainly to be a competitor. But even that isn’t as bad as the building they’ve picked. This office building adjacent to Simon’s Chinese isn’t set up to host a restaurant. Their kitchen would be limited to simply reheating food, presumably brought in from their Marietta location.

Additionally, Tassa will have to go before the city to obtain a master plan change and variance to allow a restaurant in this space. This is an unusual political hoop for a new restaurant to have to jump through.

Reheated food, close proximity to an established competitor and political hurdles make for an uphill battle for this newcomer.

Uncle Maddio’s – Windward

Welcome to Moe’s Uncle Maddio’s!

Uncle Maddio’s will open their first Alpharetta location at 5215 Windward Parkway in the space formerly occupied by K-Cafe. If you’re not familiar with this concept, I’d describe it as the Moe’s of pizza. That’s not an accident because a Moe’s co-founder is behind this idea. They build a custom pizza right in front of you, much like a burrito… or a sandwich… or a cup of yogurt.

The company tells me they plan a May opening. I’ll bet you a pizza with extra anchovies that doesn’t happen. Too ambitious. Look for them this summer.

El Molcajete – Milton

This small chain of Mexican restaurants has finally opened their Milton location at 14155 Highway 9 in the old Zola Bistro space. I haven’t tried them yet but trusted sources are not giving me good reports. Speedy Gonzalez is on the menu. Need I say more?

Chipotle – Haynes Bridge

This national chain of burrito joints has big expansion plans for 2012 and Alpharetta seems to be on their list. They want to open a second Alpharetta location on Haynes Bridge Road. I don’t know where exactly it will be but my sources tell me it will be new construction. I hope to know more soon.

Update: I’ve learned that Chipotle will be between GA-400 and the mall entrance, across the street from Best Buy.

Pollo Tropical – Johns Creek

Matthew Quinn at the Johns Creek Herald wrote a good piece on these guys. This is another Caribbean restaurant but with an emphasis on grilled food. They want to build a new restaurant on an out-parcel at Medlock Center, 5805 State Bridge Road. And just like Tassa, this will require a zoning application to pull off.

DA Butcher – McGinnis Ferry

Remember the New York Butcher Shoppe? They closed their Alpharetta location a few months back to concentrate on their other store in Dunwoody. Well it seems an independent butcher shop has quietly opened in the same space. Look for them at 5354 McGinnis Ferry next to Never Enough Thyme. Also check out their active Facebook page.

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.
Ipanema Brazilian Steakhouse - I’d been calling these guys Ipamena Grill but this seems to be the real name they’re after. Look for them on Old Milton where Chip’s used to be.
The Velvet Note - Itty bitty food and music venue coming soon to Old Milton.
Joe’s NY Pizzeria - In the planning stages for 1605 Mansell Road in an old Starbucks space.

Retailers

I’m considering expanding this monthly column to cover new Alpharetta retailers. I know, this is Foodie Friday. I come across a lot of these guys while researching restaurants, so it’s a natural fit to include a few.

Avalon’s Retail

North American Properties has announced a few retailers for their proposed mixed-use development. They include:

Whole Foods - This will be an important part of the development and a welcomed addition. I think it also explains why there is so much surface parking at Avalon. But the question on everyone’s mind is… will Whole Foods close the old Harry’s location on Upper Hembree once the Avalon store opens?
Regal Theater - Another anchor that’s important to Avalon.
Chick-Fil-A - They didn’t come right out and say the name of this place but rather referred to a very popular fast-food restaurant – with a drive thru – that isn’t open on Sundays. Look for them in one of the Old Milton out-parcels at Avalon.

Other New Retail

Northpoint Mall Theater - I’ve heard a few rumors about which theater is coming to the mall but I’m not ready to say. I’m kind of surprised the mall hasn’t come forward with a name by now.
Cutters Cigar Emporium - Building out in the old Schakolad Chocolate location on Windward next to Qdoba. Long ashes, fellas.
International Gourmet Foods - Coming soon to 222 South Main Street in the rundown stripmall behind Bank of America.
Dress-up Boutique - This small chain of women’s clothing stores started in Dahlonega three years ago. They are building their fifth store on Windward near LA Fitness.
Walmart Neighborhood Market - A new grocery-only version of Walmart to open at 11770 Haynes Bridge Road behind Alpha Soda.

Reuben Lack vs Alpharetta High School

A new controversy is swirling at Alpharetta High School and is starting to get picked up by local and Atlanta media. At this point most of the information is coming from one side of the debate, but here’s what we know.

Reuben Lack is the student body president at Alpharetta High – or I should say he was. Last month he was removed from his position by school administrators. Lack alleges that his removal was due to his support of a proposal to make the prom king and queen tradition more inclusive of gay and lesbian students. He’s retained a lawyer and is suing the school. In his suit he asks to be reinstated as student body president and seeks to be repaid damages including punitive damages.

It’s still too early to take sides in an issue like this. I personally don’t have a problem with any student being considered for prom king and queen. But it’s always been my experience that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Now that the case is in the court system it is doubtful school officials will make public comment.

But the most unfortunate part will be how this reflects on Alpharetta. Atlanta’s media never misses a chance to paint affluent suburbanites as xenophobes (or in this case homophobes). This case will likely serve as ammunition to further that endeavor.

I’m sure this story will continue to play out in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can read Lack’s complaint as filed in US District Court (opens as a pdf). Lack’s lawyer also has a blog entry on the case. And finally, here’s an unrelated Youtube video of Lack speaking before the Fulton County Commissioners.

St. Patrick’s Day in Alpharetta

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today feature sa guest post from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

Every March 17th,  people get together and celebrate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, commonly known as St. Patrick’s Day.  All over America, the beer flows green, shamrocks are everywhere, and all people are Irish.  This year, St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday, so party goers will be out early and often with no worries of being late for work the next day.  If you’re not able or willing to drive to Savannah to join 400,000 of your closest friends in dyeing the fountains green, numerous places in Alpharetta  have much to offer to tickle your Blarney Stone.

Olde Blind Dog Irish Pub – Crabapple

Certainly one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Alpharetta.  They open Saturday at 10:00 AM and close “when the Guinness is gone or 2:00 AM, whichever comes first”.  I’m guessing 2:00 AM.  They will have live music all day.  There is a $5.00 cover charge to get in and tickets will be sold that can be redeemed for food and beverages outside on the patio.  Inside, cash and credit cards only are accepted.  Food is served from a limited menu consisting of burgers, hot dogs, fish and chips, and corned beef and cabbage.  Traffic in the area will be extremely heavy, so come prepared.  If the Olde Blind Dog is too crowded, head across the street to…

Erwoods Kitchen and Keg – Crabapple

Erwoods is hosting the “Ain’t Patrick’s Day” party Friday and Saturday.  According to their Facebook page, they will have a special menu as well as 24 kegs ready to go.

The Firkin and Crown – The Avenue Forsyth

Food specials all week long along with an all day party on Saturday with an outdoor bar under the big tent.  Live music and prize giveaways starting at 6:00 PM.  There is no cover charge and plenty of parking.

Crafty Draught – The Avenue Forsyth

The newest addition to the beer scene in south Forsyth is offering a special St. Patrick’s growler to go along with a whole selection of beers pouring on the growler wall.  Some of the beers special for this weekend include Smithwick’s (Irish Red Ale), Harp (Irish Lager), McSorley’s (Irish Black Lager), Magners (Irish Cider), and Brooklyn Dry Stout (Dry Irish Stout).  They will be closing a little early Saturday at 9:30 PM.

Tilted Kilt – Windward

Don’t forget to wear green all day Saturday for live music from 2:30 PM on in the outdoor tent area.  There will also be DJ’s spinning music on the inside.  VIP tables are available in advance, so call soon.

Scottsdale Farms – Birmingham Hwy, Milton

For those who want to exercise your green thumb for St. Patrick’s Day, Scottsdale Farms is open on Saturday.  WSB radio’s Lawn and Garden Show host Walter Reeves will be on hand at 11:30 AM to answer your gardening questions.  After 2:30 PM, free green mint milk shakes will be given away.

Whatever you end up doing this weekend, drink responsibly and either have a designated driver, or call a cab.  Do not drink and drive.  The police will be out in force, and a DUI is not the way St. Patrick would have wanted your weekend to end.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Photo credit: Sami Keinänen (creative commons)

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