If you were at Thursday evenings’ Food Truck Alley in Alpharetta, then you were at one of the best, most creative and popular events Alpharetta has ever hosted. The only thing that could have possibly made your evening better would have been to cross Main Street to find yourself a seat in City Hall for what turned out to be a riveting Planning Commission meeting.
Up for consideration by the Alpharetta Planning Commission is the re-zoning to MU of the city-owned parcels that front Main Street, Academy Street and the parcel just to the east of Haynes Bridge Road. “MU” is short for “mixed use” and allows office, retail, restaurant and residential (own or rent) and is a seemingly endless 53 year homage paid by city planners and architects to Jane Jacobs and her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It is the attempt to re-create a look of long ago and the life of the small village of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is anti-mall, anti-subdivision. At best, it might solve some traffic woes and make destinations slightly more walkable. At worst, it is sentimental and romantic and belongs in fairy tale places like Rosemary Beach, where it is entirely appropriate to escape reality. Avalon is MU.
The Planning Commission meeting began with a very carefully worded history of the City Center project by City Manager Bob Regus. Mr. Regus was clear to point out, and Planning Commissioner Kyle Caswell confirmed, that when all of this City Center business came before citizens at the bond referendum, the city could not legally speculate on the exact nature of the “future development” outparcels (the parcels being considered at present). This effort at disclaimer with regard to the current proposal before the Planning Commission lost some of its potency however, as about halfway into the presentation the architect for the project emphasized quite strongly that the current development proposal is dead-on with the Alpharetta Downtown City Center Development Guidelines. Indeed, he said, “This is not a concept. This document is the approved plan”…..just one that citizens did not see at the bond referendum – may we remind him.
There are aspects of the current proposal that are attractive on paper: the green spaces, the chef-driven restaurants, the seeming connection to the other side of Highway 9. At issue with citizens and some Planning Commission members, are the existence of and placement of apartment buildings within the proposed mixed use development at City Center.
As seen in the picture below, the apartments are to be 4 stories high (3 apartment floors over 1 retail floor) and will be only 111 feet from the front of Alpharetta’s new and elegant City Hall. The proposed apartments obstruct the view of the City Hall, all except for a tiny sliver down the middle, over the Town Green and then beyond the proposed kiosk. It is this tiny sliver of a view of the new multi-million dollar City Hall that is causing issues with citizens and Planning Commissioners alike. “This isn’t what people want,” said Planning Commissioner Michael Tomy. “We can’t see City Hall,” said Planning Commissioner Jill Reynolds.
Further complicating matters are the proposed “see through gazebos” which in the rendering look like single car garages, at the Town Green. According to Cheri Morris, of Morris and Fellows, and part of the overall design team, these gazebos will be places to gather and sit, but will displace both the sidewalk and tree wells on either side of the Town Green, disrupting a feature voters asked for at the bond referendum.
But, when asked about this, Ms. Morris said, “people don’t have a reason to be in (town greens)”. Ms. Morris evidently knows the true desires of Alpharetta voters, despite citizen comments and votes, and she is willing to make rubbish of the very statement that the city has on its website about Alpharetta’s new Town Green:
The town green is an iconic destination, fronted on Main Street, that will be a focal point of the downtown historic district and forge a connection to the east side of Main Street and the north side of Academy Street The green frames a formal view to the new city hall, will be flanked with large trees at the inception and anchored on the far end by an interactive fountain. The green and the surrounding streets will become the hub for farmer’s markets, street fairs and performances.
Not all the Commissioners were at odds with the Development Team for City Center. At one point, Planning Commissioner Larry Attig interjected that he felt the Commission was “beating up on these guys (the Development Team) badly.” Mr. Attig stated that citizens had had their chance to speak up about City Center and if they missed that chance earlier they had no right to talk now.
To this, Commissioner Jill Reynolds said, “I take offense (at your comment). We have an obligation as Planning Commissioners to ask these questions.”
We, the writers of the Alpharetta Post, loudly applaud Ms. Reynolds statement.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the zoning change for City Center at their next meeting in May. This will hasten the City Center Development. To this we can only say, and we feel we speak for various and sundry millennials, boomers, old people, gay people, black people, white people, rich people, poor people – apartments right up against Alpharetta’s City Hall are just downright ugly, and weird. And why are they weird? Because they are out of context.
But, Oh, the irony! For, let us remind readers about David Belle Isle’s campaign promise to all the residents of Alpharetta, back in 2011 when he was running for Mayor of Alpharetta:
“I promise to…..reject calls for urbanization, apartments and rail and hold back density.”
Would you like to view this meeting for yourself? The city provides video of most meetings. Click here to see and hear more.