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City Government

City Council Declares Local Emergency

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Peachtree Corners Coronavirus Emergency

During a special-called meeting on Saturday, March 21, the Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to pass an emergency ordinance declaring a local emergency due to the coronavirus 2019 global pandemic.

The Mayor and Council passed the emergency ordinance following the health guidelines from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Gwinnett County Health Department (GCHD).

The City’s charter empowers the Mayor and City Council to establish procedures for determining and proclaiming that an emergency situation exists and to make and carry out all reasonable provisions deemed necessary to deal with or meet such an emergency for the protection, safety, health and well-being of its citizens.

“The ordinance recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is a public emergency affecting and threatening our citizens,” said Mayor Mike Mason. The ordinance is intended to prevent or minimize the further spread of the virus to all those who live or work in our community. We continue working closely with county, state and federal leaders during this unprecedented time in our nation’s history and are prepared to take additional steps should the need arise.”

The emergency ordinance provides:

1. Emergency Authority: The City Manager, with the Mayor’s approval, has the authority to take such actions as necessary or appropriate for the public health and safety of Peachtree Corners residents and stakeholders.

2. Bidding on Contracts: The ordinance suspends the bidding of contracts and competitive purchasing policy and authorizes the City Manager to use the single-source authority. The City Manager is required to provide written justification of each procurement.

3. Public Hearings: To minimize delays that require a public hearing before a city-affiliated board, such as the Planning Commission, the Downtown Development Authority or the Zoning Board of Appeals and a hearing cannot be timely scheduled due to the COVID-19, city staff will work directly with applicants to ensure that financial impact and/or disruptions to business function is kept to a minimum until a public meeting can be scheduled.

4. Conducting Meetings by Teleconference: The City Council and all other city boards, commissions, authorities and agencies may conduct meetings and take votes by teleconference, so long as notice is given and simultaneous access is provided to the public to the teleconference meeting.

5. Alcohol Take-Away Permitting: While the city’s emergency ordinance is in effect, businesses that possess a city-issued alcohol license to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption, are authorized to sell unopened bottles, or appropriately sealed containers, of alcohol for take-away consumption off-premises.

In addition to the above-enumerated provisions. The city urges all citizens to review and comply with the CDC coronavirus guidelines; the state’s DPH and the county’s health department.

The emergency ordinance went into effect on Saturday after the council’s vote of approval and will remain in effect for thirty (30) days from the date it was approved. The ordinance does provide that the ordinance may be renewed for one (1) or more additional periods of thirty (30) days (or repealed) at a meeting called by the mayor or three councilmembers.

View the actual ordinance here.

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City Government

Southwest Gwinnett Mayors Share Visions for the Future

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The Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce hosted mayors from Berkeley Lake, Norcross and Peachtree Corners at a panel discussion on July 12.
(left to right), Bobby Cobb, Mayor Mike Mason, Mayor Lois Salter and Mayor Craig Newton // Photos courtesy of George Hunter

In what has now become tradition, the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce hosted mayors from Berkeley Lake, Norcross and Peachtree Corners at a panel discussion on July 12 at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast.

The conversation centered around strategies for revitalizing and expanding metro Atlanta cities, with a focus on redevelopment, zoning ordinance reform, pedestrian and bicycle safety and investing in local schools and affordable housing initiatives.

Zoning changes

“We are beginning a really big project in our city. We have had ordinances that we’ve been working on ever since the city was incorporated in the 1950s,” said Berkeley Lake Mayor Lois Salter.

“We feel that we need to overhaul the whole zoning ordinance system and hire a consultant to come and elicit understanding and opinions from our citizens. We want them to be a part of that. We have some folks that resist any kind of regulation. They just want us to regulate their neighbors,” she added.

Norcross Mayor Craig Newton agreed that evolving needs are an important reason to change the zoning, and planning for what lies ahead is paramount. He pointed out that all Georgia cities must implement a comprehensive plan to maintain their qualified local government certifications and remain eligible for selected state funding.

Land development

“We intend to focus on improving pedestrian bicycle safety downtown and establish a sidewalk activity improvement,” he said. “We’re also looking at approving parking in our town center and constructing the Norcross Greenway, which will bring a much-welcomed park, green space and a trail,” he added.

The county announced earlier this year that the project involves redeveloping the existing property into a park that will span almost two acres. It will offer various community spaces, including a multi-use trail, playground, covered picnic area, restroom building and a 41-space parking lot.

In addition to its amenities, a 12-foot-wide concrete trail segment will wind through the park and utility corridor, connecting Singleton Road to Dickens Road.

The trail is part of the 2018 Gwinnett Trails Countywide Trails Master Plan‘s Norcross to Lilburn Trail with an internal loop trail connecting to the neighborhood.

Commercial use

Peachtree Corners has had several “community-friendly” projects come online in the past year, but the effects of the pandemic continue to linger. 

“When you think about the future, you’re thinking about the landmass and buildings and commerce. Probably the most significant issue facing a lot of us in the near term is modern office space,” said Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason. “There’s a lot of space. The question is, are people going to come back?”

He said that the central retail area has shifted with the revitalization of The Forum and that’s making city leaders rethink city planning.

“We’re having a look at our code and things like that. But from another point of view that will drive the decision about what communities are going to look like,” he said. “For example, there are people coming into the city that say some buildings are technologically obsolete.”

Public safety

Even though Berkeley Lake is the smallest of the three cities and has the highest average home values, all the mayors agreed that public safety is a growing concern.

“Living in Norcross offers residents a dense suburban feel that’s somewhat rural compared to the city of Atlanta,” said Newton. “But some of our public safety initiatives are increasing police presence in high crime areas.”

As the only one of the three cities with a full police department, Norcross is seeking creative ways to implement effective community policing strategies to build trust and communication between law enforcement and the residents.

Newton mentioned programs such as Neighborhood Watch, youth outreach programs and educational initiatives along with enhancing emergency response capabilities with training for the local fire department and EMS services.

“Our response time goal is for an officer to be on-site in an emergency within 30 minutes,” he said. “But that doesn’t happen.”

Extended-stay hotels tend to attract crime, so Newton said the city has worked with owners to improve lighting in the public spaces to deter criminal activity.

“We’ve partnered with nonprofit businesses and local stakeholders to support social services employment opportunities for at-risk individuals,” he said. “By working together with various organizations and entities were able to address the complex challenge of public safety.”

Community accountability

With no police force, Berkeley Lake relies heavily on cameras and old-fashioned “knowing your neighbors,” said Salter.

“Some of our individual HOAs are buying and furnishing and paying for cameras to safeguard their neighborhoods,” she said.

Although there may be pockets of criminal behavior around the city, Salter said a police officer once described Berkeley Lake as a “black hole” of crime because there’s so little crime data.

“One of the reasons for that we feel is that historically we’ve been a very neighborly people,” she said. “There is an amazing system of community cohesiveness.”

The Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce hosted mayors from Berkeley Lake, Norcross and Peachtree Corners at a panel discussion on July 12.

Peachtree Corners is taking its own approach.

“We’ve recently added a Marshal Service and as Lois mentioned we’re also leaning on technology,” said Mason.

The marshal department doesn’t take the place of the services provided by Gwinnett County Police, it primarily enforces city code and aids Gwinnett PD when necessary.

“We’re utilizing as much technology as we can,” said Mason.

Gwinnett PD is instructing where to locate cameras and the city keeps adding them. There have been several instances in the last year or so where coordination among agencies and the use of technology have thwarted or caught criminals.

At the end of the day, the three mayors said the cities all rely on each other. Being so close means that economic development, enhanced entertainment and other desirable amenities are boons for them all.

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City Government

Planning and Development is Changing in Peachtree Corners

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The most important thing this moratorium does is allow the city to consider what will work best for Peachtree Corners.
Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason

From Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason’s monthly column.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, the city noticed a development trend that focused on the importance of social interaction. It began seeing development applications for indoor pickleball, virtual racing, garden clubs, car clubs and other recreational uses.

When our city was established in 2012, it adopted Gwinnett County’s codes and ordinances to maintain consistency and these new social interaction-focused uses were not initially considered in the city’s current Comp Plan or zoning code.

Working from home is another market trend having a big impact on local office parks. This economic engine is driven by office parks such as Technology Park and there’s always been a priority placed on preserving office stock.

Even though the commercial office market is waning right now, that pendulum is still trying to figure out where it will settle in. Most of these new socially focused uses find the best home in an office setting.

Due to the increasing number of these applications and the evolving market trends, the city has imposed a six-month moratorium on projects in the Central Business District character area. The moratorium came into effect on May 3 and will end on November 3.

This halt will allow the city six months to pause rezoning applications, special use permits and variances applications for residential or mixed-use development. It will help the city maintain the status quo, stop new applications from coming in and allow for officials to consult with experts and delve deeper into the code and comprehensive plans.

The city plans to conduct extensive research, analysis and strategic planning during this period to help determine if any changes should be made to the comprehensive plan and zoning regulations.

For instance, it might be beneficial to designate downtown as a distinct character area separate from the central business district. Implementing new zoning regulations to transform it into an entertainment district or a unique downtown character area could be a viable option. Many cities have already adopted this type of zoning.

Office parks and businesses throughout the city provide a balance of jobs and residents that allow the city to be the second largest in the state with a zero-millage rate or no city property tax.

Therefore, as part of this process the city will research ways it can preserve, stabilize and enhance the economic engine through the activation of underutilized spaces within office parks.

This proactive approach will help maintain the job-to-resident balance that allows the zero-millage rate while positioning the city for success as the office market pendulum settles.

The most important thing this moratorium does is allow the city to consider what will work best for Peachtree Corners. Furthermore, it communicates to developers that the city requires a pause because current zoning regulations and comprehensive plan do not adequately address future goals.

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City Government

Peachtree Corners Welcomes New Community Development Director

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Shaun Adams // Photos by Tracey Rice

With community development director Diana Wheeler stepping down to pursue a consulting career, Peachtree Corners city leadership turned a challenge into an opportunity. 

In January, Shaun Adams was hired as the assistant city attorney to oversee compliance for land use and economic development-related matters and help with legal issues. 

His background in public and private sector development made him the ideal replacement.

As luck would have it, Adams moved to Georgia in 2005, selling real estate while attending law school. 

“I actually started working down at the capital a lot, lobbying on various policies right out of law school,” he said. “I was the legal counsel for the Senate Judiciary, and that exposed me to ACCG, which is the State County Association, which represents all staff and elected officials for counties across the state.”

With the motto, Advancing Georgia’s Counties, ACCG helps with the policy aspect of things like training and education.

“While I was a lobbyist for them, I focused on economic development, infrastructure-related issues and whatever policies went into place,” Adams said. “We also went around the state and trained our commissioners and their staff on some of those policies and put their new processes in place.”

Local government possibilities 

“After a handful of years, I got lured away into the private sector,” he said.

Working on land use and government relations matters from the other side of the table, Adams represented developers and investors.

“Sometimes [investors would] come to me with a property that they bought, and they’d say, ‘Hey, we bought this on investment. We’d like to see how we can make the highest and best use of it. Help us create a vision,’” he said. “So, I helped put a team together to determine what we thought could go on the site based off of local government zoning.”

His job entailed working with architects and engineers to design the site and help the client take it to market. Ultimately, the contract purchaser would come in and seek needed entitlements.

“I would help with that,” Adams said. “Those were the fun ones because you got to start on the ground.”

Adams got to know many different local government jurisdictions and worked extensively around metro Atlanta on various matters. On a busy week, he may work with five different jurisdictions across the state.

As a family man with a wife and two sons, he began looking for something that would keep him closer to home.

A perfect fit

City Manager Brian Johnson says it was serendipitous that Adams was looking for a position at a time when the city needed someone like him.

“It’s actually a hard position to fill, and I just happened to catch him,” said Johnson. “We were familiar with each other because he’s represented a number of clients coming before the city.”

Johnson said that Adams was legal counsel for some of the most significant developments in the last few years: North American Properties purchasing and revitalizing The Forum, housing development Waterside, and Intuitive Surgical moving its headquarters from the West Coast.

“He was on the other side of the table as we worked together to make these projects ultimately better for the city and better than they were upon their initial submittal,” Johnson said. 

“And I knew then that he was a really knowledgeable guy that really knows how to deal with people. He’s a problem solver. He’s always looking for ways to figure out how to resolve conflict and navigate minefields as it relates to land use and all the laws and zoning that apply to it,” he added.

Changes to the job

Although Wheeler is no longer a staffer, she’s still doing work for the city. 

With Adams’ legal background, the events planning team will be transitioning out from under community development.

“By taking that off my plate, it’ll allow me to do more with the legal side of things that the position didn’t do previously,” he said. 

There will also be a shift with code enforcement duties moving under Chief Marshal Edward Restrepo.

“I moved code enforcement underneath the city marshal’s office because code enforcement and law enforcement are almost like fraternal twins — they both do very similar things,” said Johnson. “Each of them is enforcing a different level of law. Code enforcement is municipal code, and law enforcement is state code, but they work hand in hand.”

The events planning through the end of the year has already been moved from the community development director’s department. As a consultant, Wheeler will work with other contractors to manage the happenings at the Town Center. Director of Communications Louis Svehla has already moved into managing premier events, Johnson said adding that the city may use more consultants in the future under Svehla’s management.

“He has really shown his ability to manage special events very adeptly. He really showed me that skill set when we had last year’s Criterium bike race,” said Johnson. “I decided to take advantage of some opportunities, including our partnership with Audi, which we were going to announce to the whole vulnerable road user thing.”

With only three months to prepare, Svehla pulled off the event without a hitch. 

“He did an outstanding job and so he is capable of taking the management of our community events,  our concerts and stuff,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the city is still utilizing consultants for some aspects of special events, but if consultant fees become more expensive than hiring someone full-time to assist Svehla, he’ll make that call.

“All those moves have happened, and I’ll sum it up by just saying that I’m just playing to the strengths of these people and utilizing a great team that I have, and it’s working out really well,” Johnson said.

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