Too Many Mixed Use Developments Signal Trouble for Alpharetta

Housing starts were reported last week and they’ve surged almost entirely on multi-family housing, or so says the Wall Street Journal.  And according to yet another business news source, CNBC, the gain is attributable to things like Dodd Frank.  Requirements to buy a home are strict.  So, even though homeownership is the goal for the majority, when you can’t buy, what are you going to do?  You’re going to rent, because you have to live somewhere.

 There are about 5800 +/- apartment units in Alpharetta and the above report bodes well for their owners and management companies.   It also bodes well for Avalon, whose luxury apartments at The Haven rent out in a range of $1500 to $5700 monthly.  It has been said that these luxury apartments are being rented to millennial types but also baby boomer types who want to be mobile in retirement and therefore are choosing to rent.

The Haven represents a new sub-set of housing for Alpharetta that is part of the newest development trend known as multi-use development; a combination of hotel, retail, for-rent residential, for-sale residential and office space, or some combination thereof.   It’s not exactly a new concept.  And it’s wide popularity baffles me.  From an aesthetic and square footage viewpoint, if you want walkability and the look of town squares and historic looking architecture, you could always move into an area of town that is undergoing re-vitalization, like Old Fourth Ward, or west Atlanta or Kirkwood where new and old residential fits in among real historic buildings that are enjoying refurbishment and intriguing modern uses.    Their authenticity stands in stark contrast to the mixed-use mini-cities with faux finishes.

And what is going to happen when lenders finally ease up on mortgage qualifications, or  when millennials have saved up enough money and have enough work experience to qualify for a mortgage?  Like all trends, the trend toward multi-family housing in mixed use developments and elsewhere will eventually run out.  And what will you have?  In Alpharetta you’ll have apartments blocking the front of City Hall.

But the most troubling thing I see with mixed-use developments is that occupancy rates are seldom equal for single-family homes, multi-family homes, office spaces and retail spaces.  You will almost always have a low rate of occupancy somewhere in a mixed use development.   And because these developments are so interconnected and interdependent, when one part goes vacant, it affects all the other parts, and not in a good way.  Multi-use developments are shared space so one problem becomes everyone’s problem.

Unless major construction issues, either above ground or underground, turn up at the Avalon property, it will probably enjoy good occupancy rates in general for awhile yet – thanks to expert management by North American Properties and the potential of a convention center being built there. But, Alpharetta has at least 4 other mixed use developments in the wings, or at least places that are being touted as mixed use.  Chances are good that this is overweighted and will bring issues down the road unless Alpharetta residents sit up and take notice.  With a Mayor, who happens to be a real estate attorney by profession, and a Council who seems to follow his lead down at City Hall, Alpharetta might be proving itself overly friendly to development interests and if so, will face density, traffic, and ultimately blight on a scale not seen in its history.

12 Replies to “Too Many Mixed Use Developments Signal Trouble for Alpharetta”

  1. Very well put! Your points should be heeded by those who have approval power over such things.

    “From an aesthetic and square footage viewpoint, if you want walkability and the look of town squares and historic looking architecture, you could always move into an area of town that is undergoing re-vitalization, like Old Fourth Ward, or west Atlanta or Kirkwood where new and old residential fits in among real historic buildings that are enjoying refurbishment and intriguing modern uses. Their authenticity stands in stark contrast to the mixed-use mini-cities with faux finishes.” Additionally, authentic mixed-use *real* neighborhoods do not require you to park in stark parking decks (even ones shod with veneered facades are stark).

    “In Alpharetta you’ll have apartments blocking the front of City Hall.” This is one of the worst concepts in recent Alpharetta history, IMO. If I’d known of this intent, I would have voted against the City Center (as I did with its first iteration).

  2. I share your concerns, and most everyone I know that has lived here for a long time (i.e. generations) also feels this way. We feel as if we are being pushed out. When I raised this issue on a community forum, I was bashed, mostly by “newbies” whose only real concern was the escalation of their property values. They are looking to turn their homes into good profits in the not so distant future. My concern is that this redo of Alpharetta is creating an atmosphere of profit for a lot of people, and ultimately, someone is going to lose. Property values are artificially inflated, and people are paying those prices for existing homes. There are homes in a subdivision behind my mothers house that, if they were located in Cumming, Canton, Roswell, etc, would be appraised for 1/2 of what they are selling for here. I honestly do not believe that Alpharetta will be able to maintain the high cost of living for a long time, I give it maybe 10 to 15 years. When that happens, prices for housing will fall, and these homeowners will be left upside down in their homes. The development agencies will have already parked their profits and lose nothing.

    Additionally, because of the inflation of the values of homes and apartments, those who rent in Alpharetta will be forced to move out. I brought this to the attention of some of the council members, that it feels like they are waging a war on the poorer of Alpharetta residents. The fact is that at last survey, the median income of residents of the city was $85,000. That’s not wealthy, that’s just making ends meet. The reality is that there are a number of poorer people that have lived here for many, many years – they maybe don’t own property they can sell for a profit and move elsewhere. I think Alpharetta wants them all out.

    You will see no new homes or condos built that sell for less than $300k. I’ve just never seen anything like it. I asked them why they couldn’t require that some developers build some small cottage style homes around the downtown area of say 1200 sf that sold for $150k. I was told that the cost of the land just didn’t make that feasible. I don’t have to say whether or not I believe that one.

    1. Lisa, you are bringing up the ‘affordable housing’ discussion and good for you. I’ve been wondering when that would come up. Good food for thought.

  3. I knew that Mr Bell Isle was an attorney, but I did not know he was a real estate attorney – interesting. Although it would certainly be a major conflict of interest and perhaps even illegal, I wonder if somehow the mayor or his firm will benefit from the approval and completion of these new developments. What will his legacy be?

    I know of the 83 unit mixed-use development approved on Academy Street and the proposed 414 unit Met-Life development planned for Lakeview Parkway and GA 400. Where and what are the others?

    New construction on Haynes Bridge across from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and demolition next to the RaceTrac at Westside Parkway and Old Milon

    Perhaps Alpharetta should take a breath and see how Avalon fares when it is built out before another massive complex (Met-Life) is constructed.

    How much expansion and population density can the city infrastructure support? I feel the city is headed down the wrong path.

    Or perhaps the MARTA rail extension to Alpharetta is already a done deal and these new apartment dwellers will be riding into downtown and spending their money in downtown and at Avalon.

    1. You ask what the other mixed use developments are…..You are correct in stating that 1) MetLife is one of them. 2) City Center. 3) the John Wieland development at the old Bailey Johnson Road neighborhood. When Attorney Don Rolader spoke on behalf of his client, John Wieland, Mr. Rolader described this development as “live, work, play” or mixed use. 4) And finally, River Rock Development recently came before Council with a request to develop a mixed use project at Canton Street. But, you do know….”Mixed Use” is simply a euphemism for high-density. Plain and simple.

    2. According to their web site, First Atlanta Homes (Sharp Residential) uses Hipes & Belle Isle as their closing attorneys. Of course the hotly debated residential development “Hearthstone” between Mayfield and Providence Roads along Bates is their development, and was quickly approved and moved through the permitting process by the city. A planned 108 homes in the $800k range would provide a bevy of closing costs for Hipes & Belle Isle. It would be interesting to find out just how many other developers use the firm. Obviously anything outside of Alpharetta is not a problem, but inside the city – something they have to approve, well, I don’t know the legalities. Maybe that’s walking a fine line.

      1. Lisa, you raise some very interesting and disturbing points. I think these things you mention deserve a closer look. This Mayor, who portrays himself as such a fine, Christian man, is just doing some things that don’t make any sense…I wish we knew more. We all want to believe he is serving the city for the true benefit of the city!

  4. Great post today. I too am concerned about all of these developments. When Avalon was first started, I was grateful that we were finally going to have something in place of the eyesore that was there, but the rapid expansion of this type of project is baffling to me. The reason I moved to Alpharetta was for the neighborhoods and the schools, and I suffer through a horrific commute because of it. For now, it’s worth it, however If the increased density leads to even more traffic, I’m out of here as soon as my daughter graduates…

    1. Scott – as you are seeing – mixed use is a huge fad right now. I’m sorry to tell you this but there is more density on the way. There isn’t a City Council meeting that goes by without there being some new development presented…..I’m afraid your traffic problem WILL get worse.

  5. I’m so confused as to why mixed use is being pushed in the suburbs when condos and mixed used are dying in downtown Atlanta. If people in Alpharetta want high density mixed use, there is plenty of condo/town house inventory, public transit, and shops downtown, yet many people still want suburbs.

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