Thursday, September 28, 2017

Q and A with Post 4 Candidates

The seat for Peachtree Corners City Council Post 4 is on the ballot in November.  This is an At Large seat meaning all residents of Peachtree Corners should vote.  There are three candidates competing for the seat:  Incumbent Jeanne Aulbach, Luke Crawford, and Joe Sawyer.  We asked each candidate to respond to a set of written questions about our city and its direction.  The questions and unedited answers are posted below.

1.  In 2011, the idea of a City of Peachtree Corners was sold to residents as a three- service, $700,000 per year “city-lite”. In the five years since incorporation, the city has grown to include a DDA, a PFA, a Public Works department, has bought and tried to develop a mixed- use development, bought a city hall building and the annual budget is now over $16 Million. Do you believe this is in keeping with the spirit of a ‘city- lite’? If so, how? If not, what would you do differently?

AULBACH : First, as a city, we are responsible for ensuring all services are provided to our citizens. We provide three directly; Community Development (as defined by the county’s Service Delivery Strategy), Code Compliance and Trash Pickup. All other services are provided through Intergovernmental Agreements (IGA’s), including Public Works. We initially contracted with the county for Public Works. We are currently contracting through Johns Creek to provide that service.
Our annual budget reflects our revenue streams: Franchise Fees, Business and Occupation Licenses, Permitting Fees and SPLOST dollars. Except for small increases in your electrical and land line franchise fees, all of these revenues were previously collected by the county and spent outside of Peachtree Corners. Your county taxes are less than what you paid prior to incorporation, there is no city property tax and there is significant savings on your trash collection fees. Overall, it is less expensive to live in Peachtree Corners than it is to live in unincorporated Gwinnett County. And our services are tailored specifically for this community.
We purchased the land across from the Forum to prevent apartments from being built there. After many years of planning, work is now underway on our Town Center. We were able to pay off the debt used to acquire the land and all funding for the portions the city will retain will come from reserves we set aside for this project. The DDA was required to hold the land. It is not a service or power.
Buying City Hall makes sense when you look at the numbers. Our lease on our current City hall would be $15,800 a month or $189,600 a year. Does it make sense to keep paying the out indefinitely or do we invest in a building that we will own free and clear in less than 15 years?

CRAWFORD: The main reason our budget so drastically increased is due to the influx of SPLOST dollars, I think the spirit of “city-lite” was in some ways lost due to that large increase in revenue.  If elected, my goal would be to keep the city government as small as possible.  I do not foresee the need for growth within the government as I think one of our main problems, nationwide, is the growth of government. I support the idea of limited government.

SAWYER: I believe that the City that City is staying with city lite because most of the other services provided are being outsourced

2: In 2018, the City of Peachtree Corners will begin charging/ collecting stormwater service fees and will be responsible for maintaining the existing stormwater drainage system (until now a county function).  Do you believe that charging a fee and providing a new service should have been voted on by residents per the city’s charter?

CRAWFORD: I do not think a vote was necessary. The stormwater service fees will not change from what residents have been paying, the city simply switched from using Gwinnett County to Johns Creek to maintain the stormwater system.  The benefit of the situation is that we will have more control over how storm water issues are handled, as we will be dealing with the smaller and Johns Creek water authority.  As a proponent of a small and limited government, I think it is very important for us to consider the dollars our city spends on everything, including elections.    

SAWYER: That fee is not a new fee ,it was being charged by the county 10-11 years ago  and when Peachtree Corners was created they kept the fee in place

AULBACH: Again, the city has been responsible for ensuring that service is provided since we incorporated. It was provided by the county through an IGA. The only difference now will be change in the service provider. It will be provided through an IGA with Johns Creek. You are already billed for stormwater fees by the county. Those fees will not change but will come back to the city to support the service. We are already responsible for ensuring compliance with storm water regulations. And our Public Works crew has been dealing with many storm water issues, like ensuring drains are kept clear, etc.

3: During your term (if elected) the city’s IGA with Gwinnett County for police services will expire. Do you believe that Peachtree Corners should have its own police department?  If so, why? If not, why not?

SAWYER: No ,I think that the agreement should be kept with the police because it saves the city moneyI

AULBACH: I do not anticipate any need to provide police services directly. These services are covered are covered by the Service Delivery Strategy agreement that was negotiated between the county and the cities, not through an IGA. Other cities have police services provided by the county, so there are economies of scale. It is much less expensive to have this paid through our county property taxes than it would be to provide the service directly. Unless there is an overwhelming desire by city residents to have a referendum on this issue, there is no need to provide police services directly.

CRAWFORD: I do not, Gwinnett County Police Department does an exceptional job in handling our issues from everything I have seen and we do not need this additional growth in our government.  I would like to see GPD step up their patrols in certain areas, but I do not feel the need to replace them with a PTC department.  I will insist upon and hold Gwinnett County responsible to serve our city as best they can.

4: The city is in the process of building approximately 11 miles of trails for walking, jogging and biking. How do you propose to provide security for the users of these trails?

CRAWFORD: The truth is that no trail will ever be perfectly safe.  The continued collaboration with Gwinnett Counties police department coupled with citizens actively reporting suspicious activity will go a long way in keeping our trails safe.  Lighting and call boxes would certainly be worth considering, but I could not confidently advocate for them until further researching the cost vs. benefit.  We are already succeeding in developing a stable community and environment, the better job we do developing a stable community the safer our city will be.

SAWYER: I think with all the technology out there we should be able to provide things like cameras , lighting  and other security options.

AULBACH: We are still working on the plans for the trails. Part of these plans will include security. I am certain we will be looking for guidance from other trail systems on this issue.

5: How do you see the city using the powers of the Public Facilities Authority (PFA)?

AULBACH: The PFA was never activated. If we did activate, it would have no “powers” that City Council did not already have. All funding would have to come from the city by a vote of City Council on the budget. If it had been activated in time to purchase City hall, it would have allowed us to have a better funding mechanism and saved us a significant amount of fees.

CRAWFORD: I could see the PFA being used in a variety of ways, but the most important implementation of the PFA should be working to reduce city costs.  This could be done through longer lease agreements.

SAWYER: I can’t think of any use of it at this time

6: Given public opinion on “the bridge”, do you think it should be built? If so, why? If not, why not? And do you believe it should be voted on by residents?

SAWYER: If the bridge is built I believe it should be a simple bridge because it’s always about the safety of the citizens

AULBACH: I have to make my decision on the bridge based on what is in the best interest of the city. Once Town Center is complete, there will be significant foot traffic between Town Center and the Forum, particularly when we have events on our Town Green. We need to be able to allow people to cross 141 safely.

CRAWFORD: At this time I would vote no on a bridge. While not ruling the idea out completely, it is too early in the planning stages for me to make a solid decision. I would support the bridge being voted on by residents if its proposed costs are accurate.

7: There are several parcels of land adjacent to the new town center project that are still owned by others (and not part of the town center project). What would you like to see happen to those parcels and what, if anything, should the city do regarding them?

CRAWFORD: The property owners should be allowed to do whatever they wish with the property, as long as it fits within their zoning allowances.  If developed, I would like to see the property utilized for multi-level mixed-use space as it is proven to raise property values and generally rates very high in its value per acre. I would also love to see the property turned into green space, but do not currently see a viable way to make that happen.

SAWYER: I think more retail would be good and more trails

AULBACH: The decision of what to do with those properties is up to the property owner(s). It would be nice to see them developed in a way that would be consistent with our Town center.

8: The new town center relies greatly on small retail businesses and restaurants. Given the rise of the internet economy and the demise of many ‘brick and mortar’ retail outlets, and the competitive nature of the restaurant business, what, if anything, should the city do to ensure the long term success of the town center?

AULBACH: The city has no role in ensuring the long-term success of any enterprise. Our role is to ensure we continue to attract employers and residents to the city by being both business and resident friendly. It is those employees and residents who will shop and dine, not only in Town Center, but also other establishments all over the city.

CRAWFORD: I think the primary way the city can help the growth of Town Center would be to work closely with small business owners to make sure that the process of starting a business in Peachtree Corners is easy and inexpensive.  The better job we can do in encouraging small business owners over large chains, the more successful I think the town center will be.

SAWYER: That would be up to the private sector and   how well the business does at Town Center . And the City should concentrate on traffic around Town Center

9: Do you believe the city should be providing more services than it currently does? If so, what  service(s)  would you like to see added?  

SAWYER: I think the services that city provides now are good and I would like to improve on what we have but not add

AULBACH: The city is already ensuring that all services needed for our residents are provided.

CRAWFORD: I do not; necessary services are currently well taken care of by various agreements with other cities, counties and business’s.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

City Council Post 2 Candidates Answer PCBC Questions

The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee submitted questions to the candidates for city council post 2 - Stephen Peet and Eric Christ.  The unedited responses to each question are
Stephen Peet
listed below exactly as the candidates submitted them.  The election is Tuesday May 24th.  Those that live in Post 2 must go to city hall to vote for the Post 2 candidate.  If you are uncertain what post you live in, check the
map here.  Post 2 is highlighted in yellow.
Eric Christ

1. City officials now admit there is no such thing as a 'city lite' even though they sold that very idea to voters back in 2011. What do you think the city can/ should do to try and live up to the spirit of that idea?

Peet - According to Georgia law every city must provide a full set of services. A ‘city-lite’ must directly provide a minimum of 3 services with all other services provided by some government entity. Peachtree Corners directly provides only 3 services: 1) planning and zoning, 2) code enforcement, and 3) solid waste management. The other services are provided by inter-governmental agreements (IGAs) with other government entities. The service of public works is provided by Johns Creek and the remaining services are provided by Gwinnett County. Peachtree Corners is ‘city-lite’ and directly provides services that allow the residents to have the greatest local control (planning and zoning) while keeping costs low by taking advantage of existing county services.
The detailed background for those interested: Georgia has only one type of city according to Georgia law. The law also allows a county to provide services like a city. Since Gwinnett County was (and is) providing services, such as zoning, planning, solid waste management, police, and fire, this created a conflict with all Gwinnett cities that also provide those services. A three year court case culminated with a decision in February 2012 followed by negotiations between the county and each city. The court decision resolved what could be used as income for the county versus a city. It also created Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) areas which allow cities to contract with the county to provide some of these services, such as police and fire, while receiving a reduction of the property tax millage rate for services provided directly by the city.

Christ - My understanding of the "City Lite" concept at the time of the vote to become a City was that, while every city in Georgia is required to provide the same sixteen services (fire/safety, parks, public works, etc.), the charter would limit Peachtree Corners to directly providing just three of those services (land use planning and zoning; code enforcement; and waste management). The other 13 services are provided indirectly through inter-governmental agreements with other city or county governments. Before the City could start providing any of those other 13 services directly, city residents would need to approve that through a referendum. For example, we currently receive police services from Gwinnett County. Before the City could directly provide police, that would need to be approved via a referendum. As a member of the City Council, I will consider carefully any proposal to provide additional direct services and respect the outcome of any referenda.

2. What is your position on the pedestrian bridge over 141?

Christ - While my opponent has stated that if a vote were held today on the bridge, he would vote yes, I am not ready to vote on a bridge, tunnel, or other connector across 141. Before I consider a vote, we need to have more community input. After knocking on 350 doors across the district, it is clear that there are many residents who feel that they have not yet been heard on this important issue. Also, while not the only reason for a connection, the Town Center development would be a key driver of potential usage of any connection. That development needs to get underway before I would be ready to vote. And finally, before voting, I would need the final cost of the connection on a prioritized list of other transportation projects. When I listened to residents on the west side of the side of the City, they ask when something will be done on the Holcomb Bridge corridor to improve traffic and increase walkability. Other residents ask about improving the intersection of Peachtree Corners Circle and Medlock Bridge, street paving within their neighborhood, or the proposed walking trail system. Building a bridge or tunnel creates an opportunity cost that takes funds away from these other worthwhile projects.

Peet - I believe more communications from the city to the community, and feedback from the community back to the city needs to happen. There seems to be too much misinformation circulating in the community about this issue. I have seen polls for and against the bridge. I need to know not just what the community in general wants but what do Post 2 residents want.  I hear the community asking about more information on a tunnel instead of a bridge.  I’ve heard requests for a referendum vote.  Furthermore, we need to move the discussion of the pedestrian bridge into the context of the plan for walkability and pedestrian connectivity. It is not just a way to cross the street from the Forum to the new town center, it is part of the larger multi-use trail system for all of Peachtree Corners.

3. Do you think that the city has handled the 'roll-out' of the bridge proposal well? If so, how? If not, how?

Peet - I think the city made a good faith attempt to communicate the bridge proposal to the residents through the January UPCCA meeting. However, I think that the size of the response after the UPCCA meeting and the emotion involved was unanticipated. The second meeting in March was another attempt to get information from the community, but there were complaints about the format and the questions. I have heard that the city plans to have additional meetings for community input, but do not see anything planned on the city calendar. At this point, the city should publish the dates for these additional meetings and reviews.

Christ - I don't think the City has done as good a job as it could have of gathering input on on the proposed bridge. Many residents feel that it has been presented as a "done deal." As a member of the City Council, I would advocate for more town halls and opportunities for community input on this major project. Neither the City Council nor the City Staff has a monopoly on good ideas and I would welcome additional feedback from residents.

4. Recent town halls have revealed a strong sentiment among residents that the city is not doing a good job communicating with them. What would you do, or do differently, to address these concerns?

Christ - I applaud the City's recent initiatives to communicate more on Facebook, Next Door Neighbor, and other social media venues. Additional initiatives I would propose as a member of the City Council are:
1. Livestreaming City Council meetings so that all residents can see the council in action.
2. Creating a document repository on the City web site where all studies, surveys, meeting minutes, and other material related to a Council agenda item can be easily accessed by residents.
3. Requiring all applicants for rezoning to hold two community meetings, with at least one in the district where the property is located, before they can submit an application to the Planning Commission for its review. This would provide five opportunities for resident input on any rezoning - two community meetings, a Planning Commission hearing, and two City Council meetings - before a vote is held.

Peet - The city has a number of ways they communicate: through the website, the printed and e-newsletter, press releases, and city council minutes. But we need to utilize these communication channels in a better way. I will promote to folks in Post 2 to take advantage of these.  Alex Wright has a monthly e-mail on Post 3, and I plan to do this in Post 2.  Some of the council members have had town hall meetings, and I’ve attended one recently in Post 2, and in Post 3.  I think we should do more town hall meetings especially in neighborhoods that are interested in having one.  I’ve recently been reading the more than 400 posts on just one topic on Nextdoor, as well as posts on other topics.  I’ve responded to many resident questions thru Nextdoor and will continue to utilize social media as a communication tool.

5. The city has more than $20 million in cash on hand due to accumulation of franchise, permit, business license, and other fees and fines. What do you think is the best use of these dollars?

Peet - The city should have a reserve and/or a minimum level of cash on hand for unexpected expenses, litigation, and emergencies, just like individuals. Once our reserves have been reached the next area of focus should be the studies and projects. When they are prioritized I will work with my fellow council members to allocate funding and ensure their successful and efficient implementation.

Christ - As of March, the City has $23.9 million in cash reserves. Of this total, $9.4 million is in our SPLOST account and is restricted to transportation initiatives. (When the City negotiated the SPLOST sharing agreement with the county, we stipulated that our SPLOST allocation would be spent on transportation.) There is also $1.4 million in our Solid Waste Management Services account. That leaves $13 million in our general reserve account.
The best use of the SPLOST funds is as stipulated - transportation initiatives that improve and maintain our City roads and sidewalks. Projects should be prioritized based their impact on all residents. For the remaining $13 million, I support a conservative budgeting and appropriations process that keeps expenses below revenue, supports our low property tax, and maintains a significant "rainy day" fund.

Post 2 residents vote for one of these candidates on Tuesday May 24th at City Hall.

State House Candidates Hilton and Lowe Answer the PCBC's Questions

The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee submitted questions to the candidates for state
Jay Lowe
Scott Hilton
house district 95 Scott Hilton and Jay Lowe.  The unedited responses to each question are listed below exactly as the candidates submitted them.  The election is Tuesday May 24th.

1. What is your position on Campus Carry laws?

Hilton - When elected, I will support the campus carry bill passed this past session. I do not believe that our Constitutional rights end once you step foot on a college campus. The legislation which passed last session addressed many concerns that opponents had of the bill.  Only those who were over 21 years old with a weapons carry permit would be allowed to carry on campus, and firearms would be banned from fraternities and sororities, dorms, sporting events, etc. I would join with legislative leaders and the Governor in reaching a compromise that would keep students safe on campus and maintain our Constitutional rights.

Lowe - I support it. I am disappointed in Governor Deal's veto and he is wrong. Our students have 2nd amendment rights just as any of us and it should not end on campus. Students (over 21) who have concealed weapons permits should be allowed to protect themselves and others.  As a father I feel my children should have that right.

2. What is your position on Religious Freedom laws (i.e., the Christian baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, etc)

Lowe - I do not believe the government should be used as a tool to discriminate against people of faith. 

Hilton - My position has been consistent since the beginning of this race - I would have supported the religious liberty legislation passed by the General Assembly this year. I believe religious liberties must be protected while ensuring that absolutely no one is a victim of discrimination. I would be supportive of taking up the Pastor Protection legislation that was originally proposed that would prevent pastors and religious organizations from being forced to perform services and religious ceremonies when it compromises their faith. This piece of legislation enjoyed wide public support and likely would receive the Governor’s signature.  While religious liberty is a very important issue.  My focus as your State Representative will be on growing our economy, improving education and addressing transportation.

3. What is your position on transgender bathroom laws?

Hilton - First, the recent mandate from the Obama Administration is an example of federal overreach at its worst. The federal government has no place in this issue and should not be forcing our schools to allow members of the opposite sex to use a bathroom or locker room if they claim to be transgender.  Second, as a public servant my role would be to create an environment that enhances the safety of all Georgians.  This is a common sense public safety issue. The world is dangerous enough for our children already, and the government should not be creating yet another way to put our children at risk.

Lowe - The government should not force any private company or organization to change its bathrooms to fit its policy.  It is the duty of the government to provide safe public bathrooms for boys and girls.

4. What should the State of Georgia's response be to recent threats from the Federal govt to withhold education funds from states that refuse to allow transgender students in 'opposite' gender bathrooms, locker rooms and showers?

Lowe - It is none of the Federal Governments business and they should stay out of it.

Hilton - The state needs to stand firm against federal overreach and exercise our 10th Amendment right.  The Federal Government possesses only those powers delegated to it by the United States Constitution.   All remaining powers are reserved for the states or the people.  We need to join with other states in drawing a hard-line on this issue. 

5. What should the role of State Government be in our current political climate?

Hilton - My vision for State Government is that we collaborate with other states on policies that have enjoyed success in communities across the U.S.  We should then implement those policies in an effort to make Georgia the #1 state for families and business. In this process, I believe that the role of our state government should absolutely be limited and adhere to its Constitutional functions—education, transportation and public safety.  Additionally, the state should continue to stand up to federal overreach and radical policies coming out of D.C.; it is the state’s role to hold the federal government accountable. The state must also continue to find ways to reduce taxes and regulations to encourage business to flourish in Georgia.

Lowe - Simply put to actually get things done.  I am an entrepreneur that has started, owned and operated numerous companies locally.  Knowing how to make decisions and how to handle mistakes is paramount to running a company.

6. What issues should the State House take up in the coming session?

Lowe - The Georgia Fair Tax. I believe it is time we fix our state tax code and let working families keep more of their money. 

Hilton - After knocking on over a thousand doors across our community, I have a clear understanding of the issues on the minds of voters.  I have presented a vision for our District that will address three important issues which include:
1.) Growing the Economy - I will use my experience in the private sector working with small businesses owners to push free-market reforms to encourage innovation and attract jobs to our District. 
2.) Education - we are blessed to have excellent schools and educational options in our community. From a statewide standpoint, I believe we need to remove testing and bureaucracy from the classrooms and allow teachers to teach.  Spending more money is not the answer to improving educational opportunities.  Any education reform package should include school choice where parents are allowed to choose the educational path that is best for their child whether it is a public school, a charter school, home school, private school or a virtual school.
3.)   Transportation - I believe we need a conservative transportation plan that considers all options from traditional roads to other alternatives, including rail.  As a fiscal conservative, transportation plans should not place an additional tax burden on Georgians.

7. What should the State government stop doing or cease to be involved in that it is involved in now?

Hilton - In the State House, I would support legislation that was passed a few years ago that would set up a Sunset Review Committee that would be responsible for reviewing every function and budget item in state government and identify programs to eliminate. This would allow us to identify duplicate or unneeded programs to reduce the size of government and further cut wasteful spending.

Lowe - We as state need to learn to be independent.  Our state depends on the federal government financially – This needs to stop.

8. What actions will you take as a State representative that will directly impact the welfare of District 95 residents?

Lowe - I will work to bring jobs to the community and help Georgians save money by passing the Georgia Fair Tax.  I will also work to rid ourselves of the Ad Valorem tax.

Hilton - Our District has all the tools and resources we need to be one of the central job hubs in Georgia.  My vision for District 95 is to bring high-paying, quality jobs to our area – truly creating a live, work, play community.  This is accomplished through supporting Mayor Mason’s Business Incubator for Peachtree Corners.  In Norcross and Duluth we have wonderful small business districts in downtown areas.  We should remove regulations, red-tape, and lower taxes, allowing those businesses the opportunity to succeed.  In Berkeley Lake and Johns Creek we have dozens of entrepreneurs who live in those communities and take advantage of all that Georgia has to offer from the Atlanta airport, technical colleges, and coastal ports.  Better jobs translate to improved educational opportunities at home – a true win-win.

The election will be held Tuesday May 24th.  Go to your regular polling place to vote!

Friday, May 6, 2016

To Bridge or Not to Bridge? That is the Question

Survey Results for the Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee Survey on the City's Proposed Pedestrian Bridge to Span 141.

The city is considering a large, meandering pedestrian bridge connecting the Forum to the shops on the other side of 141.  City officials refer to the bridge as "innovative and remarkable".   It is to be an iconic structure to rival the Eiffel Tower or Washington Monument.   After an open house at city hall regarding the bridge provided no chance for residents to voice their concerns and opposition, citizens took to social media sites including Nextdoor and Facebook to vent their frustrations and opinions on the city's plans.   The Ballot Committee constructed a survey with the help of a survey and marketing professional who volunteers with the group.  Our goal was to aggregate resident opinions on the bridge and the city's adherence to their promise of "city-lite".  The plan is to share the results with city officials to ensure citizens are heard.

The Results

As of Monday May 2, 2016 more than 500 people had taken the survey.   96% of respondents indicated that they live in the city limits of Peachtree Corners.  Here is how those residents responded:

Did you vote in favor of forming the city?

 Of those that answered "yes" to the question above, we asked: Do you believe the city is living up to the promise of city-lite?

We asked that same group of original "yes" to forming a city voters:  Knowing what you know now, would you vote for the city today?

Then to all residents, we asked a few questions about the proposed bridge versus other options for crossing 141.

To walk across highway 141 at the Forum shopping center in Peachtree Corners to stores and the new development being built across the street , which would you prefer?

Assuming the bridge were built and the restaurants, shopping outlets, townhomes etc, were in the new development across from the Forum, how many times per month(round trips) might you use the bridge:

  We also asked Peachtree Corners residents what post do you reside in:

We have a few take-away observations from the data collected here:

1.  It is not just the "no city" voters that are opposed to this bridge or who are critical of the city.

2. Most of the "yes city" voters believe that the city is failing in their promise of city-lite and as a result, a quarter of them would not vote for the city again if the vote were held today.

3. The majority - 64% - do not want any kind of bridge. 

4. Most people have no idea what post they live in.  With an election for a city council rep for Post 2 just weeks away, voter turnout will be very low if this is not remedied in a hurry.  Given the current state of knowledge, we predict that there will be more respondents to this survey than there will be votes for the winning candidate for the Post 2 seat.

We appreciate everyone that responded to this survey.  We will send a copy of this report to all the city council representatives.  We wonder if they will listen to it or dismiss it as they have other feedback.  We hope they adhere to the ideals originally expressed about local control and a real voice in government rather than continue to go their own way without regard to how their constituents feel about the bridge and the drift from city-lite.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Peachtree Corners Bridge Survey

The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee is hosting a survey on the Bridge.  Please take the survey here and tell your friends and neighbors to take it. We will publish the responses on Facebook, on our blog, and share them with the city council. The more people we get to respond, the better.

Click Here to take the survey or paste the link below into your browser

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Bridge from Citylite to Big Government

It was barely four years ago Mike Mason was the president of the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association on the campaign trail to sell us all on a new concept in local government that he branded "city-lite".   As the story went, this was a brand new form of government.  A city chartered for only 3 services - trash collection, code enforcement, and planning and zoning.  He touted a financial study that said the whole thing could be run for $750,000.   It was all very simple.  He promised local control of whether and where apartments would be built and cheaper trash.  That was the mission and the cost of the proposed city of Peachtree Corners a mere four years ago.

Here we are four years later.  Mason is now Mayor.  The city has a budget nearing $10 million dollars, debt nearing $20 million*, a cash slush-fund of $22 million, and a series of residential zoning approvals that include hundreds of new apartments.  The city owns two large tracts of land including the property across from the Forum and a stake* in the old Simpsonwood retreat.   And now they are planning a monstrosity of a pedestrian bridge to span 141 and connect the Forum to the strip mall across the street. 

City employees give lofty presentations that this bridge will be an everlasting, iconic structure to rival the Eiffel Tower and Washington Monument.  It will reflect Peachtree Corners mission to be "innovative and remarkable".   It will last the ages.  It will bring businesses and jobs.  It will inspire your twenty-something kid to get out of your basement and into their own apartment.  I would not be surprised if it solved world hunger and made Iran really and truly America's friend.   It is a wonderful, magical bridge... that connects Sprouts to Belk over a busy four-lane highway.

Gone is all the talk of a small, un-ambitious, fiscally minuscule, little city government.  No one utters the word city-lite anymore.  No one refers to or remembers the city charter with its three little services.  The talk of a $750,000 budget was abandoned before the last vote for the first city council was counted.   The cost of this magical bridge between two shopping malls has yet to be disclosed.  The city represents that it will be funded by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax - SPLOST.  They intimate that this funding mechanism somehow means it is free and that SPLOST is a permanent endless supply of dollars rather than a tax that must be approved by tax-payer vote.

The idea of city-lite was a great sales pitch to convince a citizenry skeptical of politicians and sick to death of big government to vote it into existence.  It turns out this was just marketing.  After all, who wants to be mayor of a city known for cheap trash pickup and not much else.  Now the city is to be "innovative and remarkable."  We should accept that apartments are not really apartments if they are labeled "millennial housing".  And that a giant, meandering pedestrian bridge spanning a busy highway is some magical conduit to higher property values and better paying jobs. 

So is this a bridge to some glorious future or just another tribute to government expansion and political ego?   Is the marketing of the bridge as a necessary feature real or just a way for six-figure salaried city employees to justify their existence?  Is there any way to bring back city-lite and the lofty promise of something so small and unobtrusive?  Or are we doomed to watch the government grow ever-larger and ever more deaf to the desires of the citizens that brought it into existence? 

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* Update 4-12-16 of clarifying points: The city's debt is currently about $12 million.  This is a result of the purchase of the land across from the Forum.  The council voted late last year "By a 5-2 vote the Council voted to authorize $15.25M in bonds for the DDA to use for projects related to the Town Center project."  This is authorization to issue debt, but is not yet actual debt.  Additionally, although an AJC article referenced here led us to believe the city purchased a stake in Simpsonwood, members of city hall have informed us the $2 million was a "gift" to the church to make the deal with the county happen.  No ownership interest was purchased for those dollars.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Conceptual rendering submitted by Fuqua.
Last Tuesday evening Post 1 city councilman Phil Sadd hosted a townhall meeting at Winters Chapel UMC. The agenda included such topics as the new trash plan, code enforcement and the upcoming votes on SPLOST renewal and Redevelopment Powers. But the most contentious subject was the inclusion of apartments in the proposed 'town center' development across from the Forum, and the mayor's apparent reversal on the subject. Several residents angrily pointed out that after opposing apartments earlier this year, he now claims to be open to the idea "if it is in the best interest of the city".
      The city recently selected Fuqua Development as their choice to develop the former 'Robert's property'. Fuqua's selection was based in part on their conceptual rendering of the property and their ability to complete a project of this size. At issue is the part of their proposal that includes 356 apartments, in light of the fact that the main reason cited by the city for originally buying the land was to prevent the construction of 267 apartments by Lennar Corp. The city has been quick to point out that a final development plan has not been approved. According to city officials there will be some 'negotiations' with Fuqua prior to the sale of the property, and that the planning commission and city council will have to approve final site plans before any construction permits are issued.
      This is where things get interesting. When the city bought the 20.6 acre tract earlier this year it was zoned RM-13 (residential multi-family at a density of 13 units per acre) allowing for a total of 267 apartments. After the city bought the property, they quickly and with much fanfare changed the zoning to mixed -use (MUD). What wasn't publicized is that mixed use zoning allows apartments at a density of 32 units per acre. This means that as many as 659 apartments could be built on this property.  (see zoning defs here:
      Recall last January when the city was trying to buy this property from Lennar. In an editorial in the Patch, Mayor Mason defended the city's actions by saying that the idea "that the apartment plans will have to be reviewed by the Planning Commission and will ultimately need the City Council’s approval to proceed... is just not true. If the plans meet the building and zoning code requirements, the city will be obligated to issue a development permit.  We don’t have the ability to reject a permit application if all the codes have been met."
      Here is where the mayor's comment about 'the best interest of the city' becomes important. Once Fuqua owns the land, they can build up to 659 apartments and still be within the building and zoning code requirements. The explanation we will hear will be that it is in the best interest of the city to not deny construction permits and be dragged into a lawsuit that we cannot win.
      If you don't want to see apartments on this property, in any quantity or regardless of other development there, let your mayor and council know. Send the mayor an email and copy all the councilmembers even if they aren't from your district. Their email addresses are as follows:
      Instead of trying to create a town center out of thin air, do it somewhere that already has some elements present. Technology Park already has office space and a job base, a couple of hotels, some condos and multiple access points from Peachtree Industrial Blvd, 141 and Spalding Drive that can handle the traffic. Let the city buy one of the buildings near one of the lakes and tear it down to make a 'town green' space. Change the zoning to allow some of the empty buildings to be re-purposed for retail, or even unique living spaces. After all, wasn't keeping Norcross from annexing Technology Park one of the main reasons for incorporating a few years ago?
      As for the Robert's property, turn it into a passive park. Walking/ jogging trails, bike trails, green space, maybe some picnic ball fields or dog parks, just a peaceful oasis in the middle of town. Use the expected windfall from the SPLOST to pay for it. This city is already running a surplus, the council doesn't need a $20 million slush fund. 

Originally published in the Peachtree Corners Patch on 10-27-2013