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