Metropolitan Atlanta is the place to be due to a low cost of living as compared to the rest of the country. Alpharetta is benefitting from this influx of people as it claims all the benefits of the region but also good schools, safe streets, and the charm of a small town with contemporary places.
But, Alpharetta is small – only 21.4 square miles. And herein lies a problem. There is only so much land that can be developed. Quite legally and with potential to have the full blessing of now and future City Councils, Alpharetta could be developed into a concrete jungle with places like Windward community and the adjacent Big Creek Greenway being the only reservoirs for tree canopy.
Today, there are still large swaths of land besides the Windward community that are untouched by the bulldozer. They can be found on large corporate campuses. They are owned by developers as well as corporations formed years ago with the intention of developing when the time is right.
But density is not very flattering to Alpharetta, for Alpharetta functions logistically as a suburb. It is not conducive to the majority of its residents walking to work, to school or to major transportation hubs. Density fits Alpharetta like a horse in the linen closet.
The concrete jungle doesn’t have to happen. Alpharetta has the opportunity to have a progressive paradigm that very few have; a paradigm that considers the natural environment along with concrete and brick. It will require that people be forward thinking and think beyond near-term monetary profits. It will require Alpharetta’s residents and politicians to be intelligent.
It starts with standards such as the Tree Ordinance. Like many cities, Alpharetta has a tree ordinance and a fairly good one – on paper. But how much is it respected? City Council recently approved (7-0) a residential re-zoning at Webb Bridge and Shirley Bridge Roads that will allow 45 single family homes on 33 acres. The applicant, Oak Hall Company, did not even include the incorporation of specimen trees into the site plan when it was first presented it to Community Development. The city did ask the applicant to go back and revise the plan to include specimen trees, but in the end, of the 51 specimen trees on the property, only a minimum of 21 trees were asked to be saved. This is a mockery of the Tree Ordinance.
On May 23rd, City Council will hear another re-zoning, this one from Duke Realty, who wishes to re-zone 16 acres in order to build 24 single family residences at the corner of Webb Bridge and North Point Parkway. What’s interesting about this request is that the land is steep, in fact, some of it un-buildable. And even more interesting is the tree specimen analysis which shows an abundance of one particular tree on this property – sourwood, or Oxydendrum arboreum. And what is interesting about sourwood, a tree of exquisite fall color, is that honeybees create one of the most desired honeys in the world from the flowers of the sourwood tree – sourwood honey. This is an understory tree, a tree that does not tolerate foot traffic, and therefore not a good urban or park tree. It is best left in the wild.
I’m not advocating that we all take to the streets to save the sourwood trees. I’m simply saying ….consider. On a property like this, whose ideal and best use is probably not residential anyway, the land by itself, without development, is carrying out an important function in the eco-system. The soil on this steep and rocky hillside is being kept in place by ….trees. Because there is no pavement, oil, fertilizers and herbicides are not flowing down to the Big Creek below. And the honeybee- whose numbers are declining for reasons still unknown to us – has a cornucopia of nectar from this one important tree – the sourwood.
The progressive paradigm of which I speak can only be formed when we consider needs other than our own immediate needs. We have to look to the future as well as the present. We need water now and in the future. We need a healthy eco-system, both now and in the future.
“Highest and best use” is a legal phrase that doesn’t often refer to habitat for trees, honeybees and wildlife. But as our cities become more dense and as our water supply is threatened by man and as major ecological un-balances occur, like with honeybee colony collapse, we have to consider new meanings of “highest and best use.”
Will Alpharettans be forward thinking enough to consider this?
Photo courtesy: Brandan Jones