Alpharetta continues urbanization to attract MARTA

Tonight the Alpharetta City Council voted to approve another high density mixed use project with nearly 500 condos. The vote was unanimous and it was embarrassing to watch how council members fawned over the developers. The council toothlessly imposed ownership restrictions but MetLife balked at an amendment that would prevent the property from converting to 500 apartments within five years so council decided to take their word for it.

Below are my comments to the council.

Good evening. My name is Jimmy Gilvin and I live in Alpharetta. I’ve come to speak against the Peridot project being proposed by MetLife.

Tonight this council will decide whether to continue urbanizing the city of Alpharetta by adding dense housing. The MetLife parcel is currently zoned for more than a million feet of office space which would provide more than 3300 badly needed jobs for the people of Alpharetta. The new proposal replaces 1800 of those jobs with 500 condominiums.

Why would this council trade $123,000,000 in annual salaries for 500 condos? This letter from MARTA’s Office of Transit Planning explains,

“MARTA is also working with the City of Alpharetta to initiate an LCI for the North Point Mall area as part of a north line rail extension… the city of Alpharetta had inquired from MARTA on the feasibility of having the proposed rail station at a location across SR 400 from the mall in the vicinity of the development site. MARTA has not yet made a firm decision on the station location but believes this development will add density in the area, making for better transit supportive environment.”

So for more than 5 years Alpharetta City officials have been quietly but methodically urbanizing this city in the hope of attracting MARTA. Was it happening when current City Councilman Chris Owens was working for the developer of Prospect Park as the civil engineer of the project? I don’t know. But it was happening when the city approved a 12 story condo tower in the Alpharetta High School district and it will continue tonight if you approve this MetLife proposal.

This year Alpharetta voters like me will elect a new mayor and several of you will be up for reelection. With your votes tonight you will help make those choices clear. We can either choose leaders that continue to urbanize our city in the hope of attracting MARTA or we will elect people that will protect what already makes Alpharetta a great place to live.

Alpharetta is a special place. We enjoy a fantastic quality of life with great public schools and low crime rates. As a result we are one of the finest places to live in all of Georgia.

I stand here asking you not to throw that all away. Despite what consultants, developers and land use attorneys may tell you the majority of people that live here don’t want Alpharetta urbanized to attract MARTA. Many voters don’t want MARTA here at all. All of you live here and in your hearts you know that is true. I am asking you to vote accordingly. Please vote no on this project.

The council members that voted for the project were: Douglas Derito, Jim Paine, Cheryl Oakes, Chris Owens, Mike Kennedy and DC Aiken in addition to Alpharetta mayor Arthur Letchas.

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.

Why would Alpharetta trade 1800 jobs for 500 condos? MARTA

Below is a letter submitted by MetLife to justify the Peridot project proposed for Alpharetta. The new project would remove more than 1800 potential jobs from the site in return for building 500 condominiums. Why would the Alpharetta City Council do that? I will let Mr. Ikwut-Ukwa of MARTA’s planning office explain:

“MARTA is also working with the City of Alpharetta to initiate an LCI for the North Point Mall area as part of a proposed north line rail extension. In the past the City of Alpharetta had also inquired from MARTA on the feasibility of having the proposed rail station at a location across SR 400 from the Mall in the vicinity of the development site. MARTA has not yet made a firm decision on the station location but believes this development will add to the density in the area, making for a better transit supportive environment.

For at least five years the City of Alpharetta has been working with MARTA to increase the density of our city so they can justify bringing trains here. Funny, I don’t remember Alpharetta voters being asked about that. It must have happened at a charade charrette.

IF an Alpharetta mayoral or city council candidate comes knocking on your door this summer to ask for your vote don’t forget to tell them how you feel about the urbanization of Alpharetta to lure MARTA. Obviously they think it is a good idea. They just don’t want you to know.

MARTA, is it smarta for Alpharetta?

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.

Alpharetta Planning Commission supports 500 more condos

Thursday I wrote about the next step the city of Alpharetta is taking to transform itself into an urbanized concrete jungle similar to the Perimeter Center in Sandy Springs. You can read that post here.

As I predicted the Alpharetta Planning Commission unanimously approved the high density development that directly conflicts with the comprehensive land use plan. Since the city of Alpharetta typically ignores the land use plan the action comes as no surprise but it is disappointing nonetheless. The MetLife project is now scheduled to go before the Alpharetta City Council for final approval on Monday, January 24th.

I will write more about the details of this mega-project later but for now I would like to point out what disappoints me most about Thursday’s decision: Not one person on the planning commission stood up to defend Alpharetta from this continued urbanization. Not one? Not one single person on the planning commission stood up to represent the Alpharetta residents that want this urbanization moderated if not completely stopped. That is sad.

But I don’t blame the planning commissioners. They are simply doing what they think is best. I happen to know several of them and while they rarely represent my family’s best interests, there is nothing wrong with good people disagreeing. 

The real problem is that not one city councilperson has nominated a commissioner that represents my family’s best interests. Not one city council member nominated a planning commissioner that would vote against a project that adds 500 condos to the Milton High School district and puts 12,000 more cars on the road between downtown Alpharetta and GA 400.  Not one. So let’s be clear, the urbanization of Alpharetta continues because not even one city council member wants it to stop. 

Soon the campaigns for Alpharetta’s new mayor along with several city council seats will begin. If you are unhappy with what is going on I suggest you pay close attention.

In the meantime you should call city hall and let them know what you think: 678 297-6000

Alpharetta faces the fork in the road

Today there will be a very important meeting of the Alpharetta Planning Commission. The commission will review the request by MetLife to convert their property on Haynes Bridge Road from an office complex to a high density Mixed Use Development.

This will be the third such mega development to have been brought before the planning commission in the last few years. The first two projects were Prospect Park on Old Milton Parkway (the enormous dirt pile which serves as the entrance to our fair city) and the Windward Mill project which was approved on Windward Parkway. Neither of those projects complied with Alpharetta’s long term land use plan and neither one has yet to be completed. In fact it is extremely unlikely that they will ever be developed as proposed given the drastic changes in the commercial real estate market in the past two years. But that won’t stop the city’s Community Development Department from foisting another of these projects on the unsuspecting citizens of Alpharetta.

I hope that as the City of Alpharetta considers approving the MetLife project they will take the time to read this article which was originally published in the Atlanta Journal when MetLife first came to Alpharetta:

Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. held a grand opening this week for its headquarters in Alpharetta. The 81-acre campus, at Ga. 400 and Haynes Bridge Road in the Georgia 400 Center, is expected to hold some 800 employees in about two years. MetLife will occupy four of six floors and lease the rest. MetLife’s business in metro Atlanta includes pensions, brokerage, group insurance, real estate investments, disability insurance, securities and corporate investments. The company moved its corporate headquarters from Perimeter Center because of the increasing traffic problems there. MetLife sold Perimeter Center last year for $336 million.

The key section of the article says,”The company moved its corporate headquarters from Perimeter Center because of the increasing traffic problems there. MetLife sold Perimeter Center last year for $336 million.”

So in 1998 MetLife came to Alpharetta because they had developed the Perimeter Center of Sandy Springs into a concrete jungle with disastrous traffic. Now they would like to do the same here. The Atlanta Regional Commission’s review of the proposed MetLife project shows that it will take road improvements that cost 10’s of millions of dollars just to accommodate the extra 12,000 cars a day at that intersection.

I fully expect this project to be approved because influential business interests support it and our community development department is determined to cram enough people into Alpharetta to justify a billion dollar expansion of MARTA into this city. But it is sad to see this happening in my adopted hometown.

As a community we have come to a fork in the road. We can choose growth that compliments our attractiveness as a quiet place to raise families or we can choose growth that turns us into the next Perimeter Center.

I hope we choose the path less traveled but I’m not optimistic. Wonder how long it will be before we read an article notifying us that MetLife has sold their gridlocked property on Haynes Bridge Road and moved to Forsyth County?

If you care about this decision please contact city hall today 678 297-6000.