The Big, Red Elephant Is Jumping into the Creek at Thompson Street

On Monday evening at City Hall, item CLUP­15­04/Z­15­06/V­15­07 Thompson St. Investments, LLC came before Council.  This was a re-zoning matter wherein the owner(s) requested that this parcel go from R-12 to DT-LW (downtown/live/work).

This is to be an attractive development of for-sale townhomes, designed and built by Edward Andrews Homes, and even has areas of green-space that will be dedicated to the city of Alpharetta.

I listened to this matter from beginning to end and there were approvals all around – from Planning Commission, from City Council, from neighboring Academy Park, from public comment and apparently from city staff.  I, too, can see that a re-developed Thompson Street could be an incredible walking component to the downtown Alpharetta area.

What I would like to talk about, however, is a big, red elephant that is sitting in the room.  It’s not a loud red elephant; he’s just sitting over there in the corner, being all red and stuff.   This red elephant is the stormwater component to all of this. And he’s not just involved with the above referenced property, but virtually all of the development that is to happen on Thompson Street.

It was Attorney Don Rolader who actually first piqued my attention with regard to this matter when he stated emphatically in his opening remarks that the “stream along the northern property line makes this property a challenge.”  What was he talking about?  He was talking about two things really:  a feeder creek that flows into Big Creek and that stretches the length of this property; and also the 30 foot drop in elevation (at least) from the street to the creek.

In light of recent controversy about the years and years of EPA water quality monitoring that goes on at Wills Park and the dollars *the many dollars* spent on that monitoring and all the angst and hand-wringing over the ways that the 100+ acre Wills Park is used and the things that are done there….. I am heartened, truly heartened that so much can be overcome when a 40 unit for-sale  townhouse development on about 6 acres is at stake.

OK, I’ll pull my tongue out of my cheek.  But, here’s the thing.  There actually is a very beautiful creek to the north of the aforementioned condo development.   I know, because I was invited to walk it once on behalf of some Academy Park residents who wanted me to make some suggestions regarding the trees there.   Academy Park is just to the north of this proposed Thompson Street development and the creek parallels their property.

So, let’s cut to the chase.  Here’s what is going to happen.  The developer is going to build a 10 foot wide impervious surface sidewalk next to the creek at this new condominium complex.  He is going to dedicate this to the city, so it will be a public path.  Residents of this condo complex and Academy Park will use this path, jog on it, stroll their kids on it, walk their dogs on it.  Residents of the city will detour off of Thompson Street in order to see the beautiful creek.  The impervious surface of this 10′ wide sidewalk will keep water from infiltrating the ground.  Instead, it will flow quickly into the creek, along with water from the condo development, which has a 30 foot downhill grade from street to creek, as I said earlier.   (Yes, I know they have a retention pond….that doesn’t catch all the rainfall, however).  All of this means more water downstream and more potential for flooding.  The sediment from construction, people walking, jogging etc. will slowly impact this stream.  Since the developer says he will be clearing away the underbrush adjacent to the sidewalk and replacing it with hydrangeas and native azaleas, much of the plant life that was absorbing the stormwater runoff will be gone.  The pretty hydrangeas and azaleas simply won’t be able to do the job.  In addition to this, all of the nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers as well as glyphosate, 2-4D and other herbicides used in the landscaped areas around the condo development and near the greenway path will flow into the stream and also impact aquatic life and everything else that is downstream. In time, the banks along this beautiful stream will come to look weary and tired, just like the creek running through Wills Park, which has been impacted far too much by walkers and frisbee-disc golfers.  The water quality and aquatic life will be diminished, the amphibian and reptile populations will then be impacted; and soon the land dwelling small mammal population will be impacted.  Oh yea, and the potential for flooding at Big Creek will be even greater,

Now, I don’t doubt that city staff did all they could do and all they were supposed to do to mitigate damage to the environment and to follow codes and state laws with regard to this Thompson Street condominium complex, but it is very important that we realize that even when we do this, we still may be pushing things a bit too far.

How far is too far?  And what can be done about it?






2 Replies to “The Big, Red Elephant Is Jumping into the Creek at Thompson Street”

  1. I too was there Monday night , with my Ex., ( who did the real est. deal ! ) It does sound like a nice project , but your thoughts make sense. Why can`t they do a packed crushed stone type path? Of course it may mean, ” more up keep ” for the City , but it would help with the issues of concern. I wish more people would be aware of the consequences ,as you are . Thanks for all you do !

  2. This truly is a watershed moment for Alpharetta, both figuratively and literally as Julie’s Red Elephant posts make clear.

    Robust trees and plants are critical for the health of our water, air and soil, and therefore critical for our health. So it is essential to maximize the well-being of the remaining green spaces in Alpharetta.

    Recently announced developments in Roswell and Forsyth County recognize the importance of preserving green space. Forty-three percent of the proposed 104-acre Riverwalk Village in Roswell is designated be preserved as a green space, and fifty acres of the proposed 135-acre Halcyon development in Forsyth County are designated to be preserved as green space.

    The challenge in Alpharetta is that few, if any, undeveloped properties appear to provide an opportunity for both a significant development and the preservation of meaningful green space. This is because of their relatively small size and/or topographical and environmental issues.

    Therefore, as effective as developments are at expanding the tax base and containing our property tax bills, the time has come to plan for an Alpharetta that preserves its remaining green spaces. If we don’t take care of nature, then nature can’t take care of us.

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