It Would Be a Mistake for Mayor BelleIsle to Think Only of Downtown

Alpharetta’s Mayor Belle Isle is a champion of all things that pertain to downtown Alpharetta.  During his tenure he has seen many projects come to fruition that pre-dated his role as Mayor and he has also initiated and certainly influenced a great many projects in and details of downtown.  It was sorely needed.

But, sometimes it seems that Alpharetta’s Mayor is a proponent of downtown only.  Some say he is fixated on it.  Recent discussions at City Hall have backed up this train of thought.

First, there was the T-SPLOST discussion where the Mayor bristled at road improvements at McGinnis Ferry and Haynes Bridge – two huge problem roads on the east side of Alpharetta.   He initiated a 4 minute discussion on  improvements to Ga. 400 at Holcomb Bridge Road (which, in light of his stand on MARTA rail makes sense).   The road projects Mr. Belle Isle WAS interested in were road projects directly affecting downtown, i.e., the Webb Bridge Road bridge over 400 that is adjacent to downtown and the Cricket Lane extension, a road that is in the downtown district.

And second, there is the recent discussion at Planning Commission about creating a Design Review Committee within the Design Review Committee to review strictly downtown district architectural guidelines that will, in the words of the Director of Community Development, “expedite things”.  The proposed creation of such a layer is an explicit throw of attention, time and energy at downtown above and beyond anything else.  It was voted down by the Planning Commission, who said it was essentially an insult to the rest of the Design Review Committee because it fails to use  the various strengths of each member of the larger Committee who have heretofore done an excellent job and that the current system is not broken, so why try and fix it?  Of course – this item will still go to City Council for a vote, so you will want to hear that discussion.

It is ironic that so much attention is being thrown to downtown architectural guidelines, because Cheri Morris, of Mid-City Realtors, the developers of the City Center private out-parcels, has made it clear that their vision for the City Center space is all about looking like other things and other places.  The view toward City Hall is like Bull Street in Savannah.  The apartment buildings have the look of a village in England.  If current day Alpharetta is guilty of anything, it is guilty of failing to commend and replicate the simplicity of historical Alpharetta.  Simple was the architecture of downtown.  Simple were the farmhouses and brick ranches.  And simple can be easily done with quality materials.  The “look of…..” often cheats with sub-par stuff.

And may we just say:  a few statues here and there is art; too many statues is really big kitsch.

Again, the Mayor should be commended for being the driving force behind so many improvements to downtown, but if that focus neglects other improvements to Alpharetta, improvements on the east side, in Crabapple, south of downtown, and to roadways and traffic congestion, his focus will have been for nothing, for Alpharetta is one 21.4 square mile city.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have done the public any service, it is due to my patient thought.” Patience is commendable in civic duty and personal projects must never supersede other needs and priorities.

5 Replies to “It Would Be a Mistake for Mayor BelleIsle to Think Only of Downtown”

  1. I’m surprised at how car-centric this city still is despite being new in development. Windward and Old Milton traffic is a mess. It’s shocking how developments less than 20 years old still haven’t addressed traffic or match the healthy and active lifestyle of today’s young families. The Mayor used to live down our street and we used to see his family biking around town, so it’s strange that a Mayor so young and interested in the outdoors and fitness hasn’t had a vision for a “healthy” city where people can get around town without their cars. I took a civil engineering course/urban planning course as an elective in college (many years ago) and Atlanta and its suburbs is literally a textbook case of disastrous development and nothing has improved even in newer suburbs like Alpharetta. Where is the progress, the creativity? Much like the election (where it feels like the 1980s, where there’s a battle between capitalism and socialism), suburban development is still very stuck in the 80s and I’m bored.

    1. I’m surprised to read your observations – but only because Alpharetta’s “downtown” is supposedly exactly the things you are longing for: healthy living with sidewalks and bike paths, walkable and not at all typical suburban development. I’ll give the Mayor credit where credit is due for these things. But if you are referring to everything besides downtown Alpharetta then I see your point.

  2. The City is committed to improving bicycle and pedestrian opportunities For instance, we are working closely with Bike Alpharetta to complete a system of interconnected bike routes (see for a map. Also, you will find that our newer road corridor projects such as planned improvements to Rucker and Kimball Bridge Roads place an emphasis on bike lanes and wide sidewalks (for an example see—typical-cross-section.pdf?sfvrsn=6). Finally, the City has included $6 million in the bonds on the May 24 ballot to fund sidewalk construction, which will largely complete our goal of having sidewalks along at least one side of every street in Alpharetta excluding those within neighborhoods (see—location-map.pdf?sfvrsn=2 for a map of the segments proposed for construction).

    Like most suburban communities, Alpharetta’s development history reflects the car culture that has influenced our country since the 1950’s. We are, however, working to change that and provide opportunities for residents and visitors to explore this great community without the need of a car.

  3. Sandra, I wholeheartedly agree with you that Alpharetta can and should focus more on travel throughout the city without cars. However I think it would be difficult for the mayor to put too much of an emphasis on this because, unfortunately it does not seem as though most of the residents are for this. To get a true walkable/bikeable city a certain level of density would be required and that seems to be against what most residents want for the city.

  4. For those who are capable of walking to work, walking to downtown, well that would be much more enjoyable if you didn’t feel like you were taking your life in your hands trying to cross anywhere. My daughter has almost been hit several times crossing from Academy to Milton Avenue on the north side by cars turning right from Academy and ignoring not only that she has a pedestrian right of way, but even that she is trying to actually walk there. The problem isn’t making Alpharetta more walkable, it’s making it less attractive to drivers. Whatever happened to the proposal by the Letchus adminstration to reroute Highway 9 via Westside Pkwy? If you want to keep the problematic traffic out of the downtown streets, you don’t widen them – you narrow them up – then you post signs all around that this is for “downtown traffic only”. I live 1.3 miles from the city center, and during rush hour it takes me as long to drive there as it would to walk there. The vehicle noise pollution is a turnoff for trying to walk around and “enjoy” the town, if indeed trying to see some skyline over the top of all the new condos can be considered “enjoyable”. (Although at night you can really “enjoy” the emblazoned name of the city at the top of the new building on Canton St. at School Dr, as if people need to see that to know they are actually in the new Condo City of the South.) The numbers of accidents at the Mayfield Rd/Hwy 9 intersection is unbelievable. Everyone from all directions think they can beat that light and all at the same time, too. Horns blaring, tires squealing, sounds of cars slamming into each other, and the resulting sirens that seem to be constant these days = not enjoyable at all.

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