Let the fun begin!

Last week I qualified to run for a second term on the Alpharetta City Council and no one registered to oppose me. So barring unforeseen circumstances I have again been granted the opportunity to serve as the elected representative of the 60,000+ people who call Alpharetta home. For that I will always be grateful.

And as I continue the work begun in 2012 I am determined to do a better job of keeping the public informed during this next term. One of the best ways I can think to do that is using this blog to update and interact with the people of Alpharetta about issues affecting our city.

A few years before I considered running for office this blog was created to let people know about current events which shape the future of this place we call home. Over time it was the insight gained from writing those articles that drove me to public service. I could no longer just stand by and report as the relentless pressure to urbanize Alpharetta threatened to destroy the quality of life that makes it so special.

Back in 2008 a recession brought urbanization to a grinding halt for a while. Three enormous mixed use developments approved during the previous real estate bubble sat dormant and the people who were pushing for Alpharetta to be just another urban core with bad schools, high crime and MARTA stations were nursing badly depreciated investments.

The biggest concern for our city council at that point was how we could breathe life back into our local economy… and we did. But our success has again fueled a determined few to rejoin their quest of turning Alpharetta into a dense urban core.

In the last four years more than 1000 new apartments have been built or approved in the City of Alpharetta. And our community development department is recommending 400+ more in an urban mixed use development already approved for Milton High School district. All of this is added to the hundreds of townhouses and single family homes on tiny lots that have also been approved. This type of urban density threatens our schools and crowds our roads. We have to be more careful or Alpharetta is going to end up just like any other concrete jungle at the end of a MARTA line.

As a community we cannot build a wall around Alpharetta and refuse to change. But as a community we need to evolve in ways consistent with the vision of the people who live and vote here. That is the only way we can assure Alpharetta will remain the greatest place to do business and raise a family in the state of Georgia.

So it is time to revive GA Jim. I have to do a better job of letting all of you know about the issues shaping our city’s future so it is once again time for me to host this forum called GA Jim.

To foster a healthy discussion commenting is encouraged but understand this is not an official City of Alpharetta website. This website belongs to me and while I hope you will use it to exchange information and views this will all be conducted at my discretion. Any disrespect shown to me, other commenters, elected officials or city employees will not be tolerated. Life is too short for that kind of crap.

So let the fun begin!

The urbanization of Milton High School

Tonight will be the final public meeting held by the Fulton County Board of Education about the new high school redistricting in North Fulton county. As parents gather for their last opportunity to voice their concerns about the proposed plan I would like to point out something that may not be obvious to the casual observer.

The new school district proposed for Milton High School encompasses the recently approved MetLife mixed use project and most of the area being slated by the City of Alpharetta for high density urbanization. Below is the newly proposed redistricting map for Milton High School:

Now compare the new Milton School district with the map below which is what the Community Development Department of Alpharetta is proposing in their new land use plan:

The areas in color are locations that the city of Alpharetta want to build out as high density mixed use projects and it covers much of the southernmost portion of the proposed Milton High School District .

So as parents of Milton High School students attend the meeting tonight they should be aware that the city is proposing thousands of apartments or condos be built in what would be their children’s new school district. Unfortunately it appears that neither the Fulton County Board of Education nor the City of Alpharetta care about that fact.

Where are the 15 story condos?

Yesterday I mentioned that the City of Alpharetta didn’t bother promoting the open house for the new Comprehensive Land Use Plan on their website and compared it to making residents play a game of Where’s Waldo to find vital information. Now it looks like the city has decided to take that game to a whole new level.

A few years ago the city rezoned a piece of property at the corner of NorthPoint Parkway and Windward Parkway to mixed use. The project was named Windward Mill and still sits undeveloped. At the time the property was zoned for office space so the change allowed the developer to add about 500 condos to the site. Many of the condos were to be built in 5 story buildings but the developer couldn’t cram them all in without putting 180 of them in a single 15 story building.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the pictures Alpharetta is now using to portray the “Desired Character Images” of the Windward activity area:







Notice Anything Missing?






Where’s the 15 story condo tower? It’s possible that the 5 story buildings could be hidden by using a street level view but a 15 story building? Wouldn’t 15 stories still be visible? And wouldn’t a 15 story building be the kind of detail that residents need to know about?

But what do I know? I’m just some crazy blogger that actually lives in Alpharetta as opposed to an erudite urban planner that doesn’t.



The city wants to expand the use of high density mixed use all over town so this is important. The proposed comprehensive plan expands mixed use in Windward, calls for condos or apartments all over the Northpoint area and it surrounds a good portion of Wills Park with the same stuff. That is a complete change in the character of our city and residents deserve to know that the pictures being used to sell it are accurate representations.

It’s sad that Alpharetta’s Community Development Department is allowed to mislead residents and even sadder that they use our own tax dollars to do it. I look forward to asking this year’s mayoral and city council candidates why they allow this to continue.

Alpharetta Plays Where’s Waldo With Residents

Tonight the City of Alpharetta will unveil a comprehensive plan that shows their vision of the future for our community. The new comprehensive plan will outline how many more high density mixed use developments the city plans to add and which schools will be affected. The comprehensive plan will also determine where development will occur and thus dictate whether Kimball Bridge Road, Rucker Road and Webb Bridge Road will need to be made four lane traffic corridors to accomodate the additional volume of cars. In fact the City’s initiative called Comprehensive Plan 2030 will impact the property values of every homeowner in the city and it will affect every school in Roswell, Johns Creek, Milton and Alpharetta so you might say it’s kind of a big deal.

So why don’t the residents of Alpharetta know about it? Below is a snapshot of the city’s website that I took this morning and you can click on the picture to enlarge it:

Notice anything missing?

Now I know I’m just some crazy blogger but doesn’t it seem like a meeting that  will impact every family in the city might rate a visible mention on their website? You can see that just yesterday the City added notices about Mortgage Payment Assistance, City Pool Passes and Pedestrian Safety but not a single indication that the future of our city will be unveiled tonight. There’s even an entire section about Alpharetta being a Green Community and how we are “Leading the way to Sustainability” whatever that means. But not one single notice on the front page of the city’s website that a meeting crucial to the future of Alpharetta is being held today.

It is inexcusable that the city didn’t even bother to let people know about today’s unveiling but as someone who follows these events closely it isn’t surprising at all. Do I think it is some kind of conspiracy? No. I think it is either incompetence on the part of our Community Development Department or just another example of how little consideration they give to resident input. Maybe both.

But regardless of the reason it is sad that a town our size does such a poor job of listening to the people that live, vote and raise families here. For those of you that wish to attend, the Comprehensive Plan unveiling will be held at Alpharetta City Hall from 4:00 until 8:00 today (March 22).

Oh, and if you had known to go to the city’s website and press the tiny blue link labeled Comprehensive Plan 2030 you could have found Waldo there.

Alpharetta to unveil urbanization plan March 22

Over the last few years the City of Alpharetta has methodically changed the zoning on properties to introduce more than a thousand high density residential units into our school systems and neighborhoods. Most of those projects did not conform to the city’s comprehensive land use plan but the Community Development Department supported them anyway and the Mayor and City Council approved.

In two weeks the city will unveil their new blueprint for the future of Alpharetta. While the new map hasn’t been unveiled it is safe to assume that based on recent history the Community Development Department will use this opportunity to further their goal of putting tens of thousands more people into high density mixed use developments. And even though mixed use projects were approved without being on the land use plan before Alpharetta residents can rest assured that once more mixed use is called for in the plan there will be no stopping them.

If you care about the city of Alpharetta you need to mark your calendars now so you can attend the unveiling of what the city has in store for us on March 22, 2011. Below is the press release from the city of Alpharetta’s website.

Citywide Open House

The City of Alpharetta is hosting an open house to receive comments on the vision for Alpharetta’s future! Please join us to review changes proposed to the City’s Comprehensive Plan 2030. Maps and documents will be available for review along with refreshments.

When: Tuesday, March. 22, 2011 – 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Where: City Hall 2 South Main Street Alpharetta, Georgia 30009

AJC explores the urbanization of Alpharetta

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has an article which explores the ongoing push by City Council to urbanize Alpharetta. You can read the whole thing here.

The piece includes comments from yours truly and another like minded resident. MetLife refused to comment. I guess they feel no need to defend the loss of 1800 jobs in exchange for 500 condos since it was the city’s idea in the first place.

A few snippets:

“The City of Alpharetta continues to add density, add condominiums and it’s going to have a negative impact on the future,” said resident Jimmy Gilvin, who plans to attend Monday night’s meeting. “We have a great quality of life, we have great public schools and for some reason that seems to be under attack right now.”

“Alpharetta is probably the only city in the country where a developer walks into the Community Development Department requesting a simple stream variance, and he leaves with the promise to push through zoning for a high density, mixed-use project,” resident Mark McKean said.

In response to the comments by Alpharetta residents the director of Alpharetta’s Community Development Department, Diana Wheeler, had this to say:

Wheeler denies the charge, and said there has been no attempt to alter the zoning code to fit MetLife’s plan. “If the plan met the code, it wouldn’t require a public hearing,” she said.

Well the city is holding a public hearing. So is Ms. Wheeler saying that the MetLife development doesn’t meet the code? Ms. Wheeler’s comments make no sense to me but then again neither does the Unified Development Code she devised in an attempt to permit developments that most city residents abhor.

There is still time to call the city and notify them of your position before the vote tonight. The phone number is 678-297-6000.

Would you trade $123,000,000 worth of jobs for 546 condos?

Well that’s what the Alpharetta City Council is poised to do on Monday, February 28. That is when the city will vote on the high density mixed use Peridot project that MetLife has requested.

I’d prefer the city show they can make one of the already approved mixed use projects work before approving any more but I have listened to the justifications for this project. I listened to City Council Members say the project would reduce traffic, bring jobs and pay for road improvements. It just seemed too good to be true. And as my Dad used to say,”if something sounds too good to be true,son, it probably is.”

So I decided to check the numbers for myself. Sure enough it was too good to be true. While City Council Members tout the benefits of the MetLife project they have failed to mention that the benefits would come at an enormous price. Based on the numbers provided by the developer the Alpharetta City Council will essentially vote whether or not we will exchange 1894 jobs worth $123,000,000 a year for 546 condos in a completely saturated market.

Are you skeptical? You should be. I couldn’t believe it myself. But facts are facts and you can check it out for yourself.

First you just need to look at the Alpharetta Community Development Department’s comparison of the current zoning for the MetLife parcel to the new zoning proposed for the Peridot project. You can find that analysis on page 10 here: http://bit.ly/fBri9t Notice that the major change proposed is a reduction of office space by 568,320 square feet and the addition of 546 condominiums covering 655,200 square feet.

Then take a look at the job projections that MetLife submitted for analysis by the Atlanta Regional Commission on page 17 and 18 here:http://bit.ly/ibZrVX  The developer’s analysis shows that office space is expected to add “1 employee per 300 SF”. That means a reduction of 568,320 square feet of office space would eliminate 1894 potential jobs from the parcel. So if you plug the salary numbers MetLife used on page 18 for the various occupations you will see that the lost salaries from that zoning change would be more than $123,000,000 a year!

Maybe Alpharetta’s Community Development Department doesn’t mind trading 1894 badly needed jobs for 546 condos in an already saturated market but I know a few Alpharetta residents that beg to disagree. I’m just not so sure any of them are on City Council.

Prospect Park developer faces jail time

Stan Thomas, the developer responsible for the failed Prospect Park development in Alpharetta, Georgia could be facing jail time for contempt of court. The legal case is unrelated to the foreclosure of the Prospect Park development but it does shed some light on the man the city trusted with our future.  The Times- Herald of Coweta County reports:

According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Scheindlin on Oct. 12 issued a $13.5 million judgment in the case in favor of Jerde. Since that time, according to Scheindlin’s contempt order, Thomas transferred a $6.5 million promissory note, backed by real estate Thomas owns in the Cayman Islands, to an unrelated lender, in violation of the judgment. Scheindlin ordered Thomas to transfer $6.1 million and other considerations to Jerde. If Thomas didn’t comply by Dec. 30, he would be fined $10,000 per day. If he doesn’t comply by Jan. 20, he will be jailed.

You can read the whole article here.

If you want to know more about the man responsible for Alpharetta’s dirt mound on Old Milton Parkway you may also want to read here about Mr. Thomas’ dealings with former Governor Sonny Perdue:

That same year, Perdue sold off the family farm and invested his $2 million profit in 20 acres in Florida near Walt Disney World. Perdue never saw the land before buying it from developer Stanley Thomas, who Perdue had just appointed to Georgia’s Board of Economic Development, a plum choice for any state developer, and just after Thomas had given $250,000 to the Georgia Republican Party. The land was assessed at just $185,000, substantially reducing Perdue’s tax burden.“Perdue ethics charges linger,” Associated Press/Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, Dec. 27, 2006.(20)Perdue ethics charges linger,”

And you may recall that the city of Alpharetta investigated ethics charges involving Mr. Thomas last year as reported here in the Alpharetta Revue:

At the time, Thomas said he saw no conflict of interest with the donation. Later when he became aware of the size of the value of the work and the proximity of time between the in-kind contribution and the vote, Thomas said he would have probably advised DeRito “in an abundance of caution” to recuse himself from the vote.

I know Councilman Derito. He seems like a nice guy with a nice family and he was cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident reported above. And though I have no reason to believe Councilman Derito did anything illegal or acted with anything other than the best of intentions it was disturbing to find out about the events that took place regardless of how noble the cause.

The past few years have been unkind to Mr. Thomas and I take no pleasure in seeing a businessman struggle. But the city of Alpharetta and it’s community development department allowed Stan Thomas to turn the most important parcel of land in the city into a wasteland. It is instructive to see who they were dealing with.