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City Government

Information on Gwinnett Property Taxes

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As the county approaches the 2020 property tax season, Tax Commissioner Richard Steele is sharing information about what taxpayers can expect to see on their tax bills this year.

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners adopted its 2020 millage rates on August 18. The new property tax for economic development, a tax of 0.3 mills, was included in the resolution. According to the Board’s resolution, the new tax will “provide funds for financial assistance to the Development Authority of Gwinnett County for economic development purposes.”

Also, according to the BOC resolution, taxpayers in unincorporated Gwinnett, and those in cities that use Gwinnett police services, will see an increase of 1.3 mills on the police line of the tax bill. The resolution also calls for a 0.05 increase for recreation taxes. All other county tax rates will remain the same as last year.

With the County’s 0.259 mill rollback of the Maintenance and Operations rate, the total millage rate for unincorporated Gwinnett will increase to 14.71 mills, which is 1.391 mills higher than 2019.

The Tax Commissioner’s office was notified of the new economic development tax on August 17. Adding the new tax to the tax bills will require additional programming; therefore, the estimated mailing of the 2020 tax bills is now Oct. 1, with a Dec. 1 due date.

Any questions regarding county millage rates should be directed to the Board of Commissioners.

Gwinnett County Public Schools Taxes

Due to numerous emails and phone calls received by the Tax Commissioner’s office, Richard Steele is also reminding taxpayers that the Tax Commissioner has no authority over the amount of school taxes paid, and therefore can neither reduce nor refund any portion of school taxes due to the fact that schools are not open for in-person learning.

The Gwinnett Board of Education sets the millage rates for school taxes. This year, the school M&O millage rate is 19.70, and the school bond rate is 1.90, the same rates as in 2019.

Questions regarding the school millage rates should be directed to the Board of Education.

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City Government

V2X Mobility, Path to Fitness and Getting Back to Work, with Alex Wright

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In this episode of Peachtree Corners Life, Rico talks with Councilmember Alex Wright about new programs coming from Curiosity Lab, economic advancements in the city, plus the October V2X Conference, the expansion of the Path to Fitness trail, and additional improvements to Town Center.

Resources:

City Website: Alex Wright

Timestamp:
[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:01:12] – Coming back to work after COVID
[00:06:38] – Government Work Post COVID
[00:10:20] – V2X Conference
[00:13:22] – Autonomous Vehicle Usage
[00:21:14] – Fitness Trail Updates
[00:26:55] – Creating Anchors
[00:41:48] – Closing

“I think that (companies) realize they’re not going to be going back to what it was with everyone there five days a week, no exceptions. But I also think that, with some exceptions, that being remote, like all the time… maybe that’s not the best model either, because I think you do need the human contact on some level too…So I think there’ll be some kind of mix. Each company will figure out what works for them.”

Alex Wright

Podcast Transcript

Rico: [00:00:30] Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life. Glad that you’re able to join us. We have a special guest today. But before we get to Alex, I’m gonna just want to say thank you to our listeners for being out there. This is brought to you by Peachtree Corners Magazine and we are moving on to a full schedule where we should be posting every week a new podcast. Of different interviews with different people of different parts of the city. But today we have the city council member with us. We have Alex Wright of district three. Who’s been a city council member since 2012, actually. So let’s bring Alex on, let’s bring him right in here. Hey, Alex. How are you?

Alex: [00:01:10] I’m good. Good afternoon.

Rico: [00:01:12] Yeah. Good to have you here. So we’re recording this on a Wednesday afternoon. This is going to be simulcast live on Facebook and YouTube in a few days. So I’m glad that you’re going to be with us and we’re going to be talking over the next half hour about things going on in the city, things that are near and dear to your heart, and being able to be able to talk about experiences you’ve had and some new things going on in the city. So I’m glad to have you with us. So the first thing you know, I have to ask you because it’s been a long time since I’ve had you on and we’ve gone through COVID. I know you worked for a major corporation, a consumer corporation out there. You know, how has it been being able to transition now? Being that people are coming back to work to a degree. There’s some hybrid stuff going on. There’s still some remote stuff going on. Quite a bit of that, actually. And if I listened to the recruiters. It sounds like no one wants to go back to work and no one wants to, I should go back into the office to work. They all want to be remote. And so how are you finding it out there? Corporate and government wise working?

Alex: [00:02:18] I think our company, like probably most companies are kind of feeling their way about where they want to end up. I think that they realize they’re not going to be going back to what it was with everyone there five days a week, no exceptions. But I also think that with some exceptions that being remote, like all the time. And there’s exceptions to that that maybe that’s not the best model either, because I think you do need the human contact on some level to, you know, especially for if you’re bringing on new employees. You know, how do you integrate them into the culture of your company? How do you bond with them, which you can do it remotely. It’s just, I don’t think as effective. So I think we’re no different than pretty much any organization. Just trying to figure that out. There was an article recently, in the wall street journal about two of the big investment banks there. That were going back, you know, just like we were before. And the article was talking about how some of their competitors are looking at that as an opportunity to steal some of their workers away.

Rico: [00:03:24] Right.

Alex: [00:03:24] And I do think that I’ve recently hired someone a few months ago and probably like in their late twenties, early thirties, like one I interviewed was about that age. And that was a consistent question I got was what is going to be your new normal. And I do think that that will become something people will look at. When they’re, you know, they got the salary, they got the location and all the different things. That’ll be something that they’ll compare with. And I think if you’re a company that says we’re going be old school, you will probably have to pay some type of premium to get people to do that because it is a, I mean, my office is over in the Braves stadium when I used to have to commute over the top end every day. And that was a quality of life issue. And not having to do that, you get two hours of your day back that you can, maybe you’re not working those full two hours, but you’re definitely working some of that. So the company to a certain extent is getting more production and there’s plenty of evidence that shows that that’s the case. So I think there’ll be some kind of mix. Each company will figure out what works for them.

Rico: [00:04:33] That’s interesting. I was listening to that wall street journal podcast, actually, that article. And they were talking about, I think it was Chase and Morgan Stanley where they said, no, we want people in because even though they learn all this stuff in college, they really are reeducated when they get into that environment of trade investment and all that stuff, investment banking. I guess, because they want to teach them trade secrets you really can’t learn over Zoom. Because you don’t want people to recording those things, maybe, I don’t know. But it’s kind of interesting how they frame it. Like you said, that you have to, some jobs need to be done, I guess, to degree in person. But most jobs I think people are finding out just as easily doing it remotely and actually better. You know, you save two hours of transit. You’re probably more enthusiastic about your job then you would be a few traveled an hour to get and then leaving late or something.

Alex: [00:05:28] Yeah. When I did have to start going back a little bit in April, you know, I sit there. Because when I would go back, there was no one at the office. It was just a handful of people there. And I thought to myself, you know, spent this time getting ready in the morning, driving, you know, and then I’ll sit there in my office by myself to a certain extent. I’m thinking this  really doesn’t make any sense. It kind of brought home like the insanity of, you know, of doing that every day. But like I said, I do think that you need some, you know, some level of, I mean, just think about what we’re like in my job, you know, we go and visit different sites with people at factories and whatnot a few times a year. And one of the main reasons you’re doing it is just to kind of establish that, you know, that human bond with people. So I do think you need that. But like this whole collaboration idea where you’ve had offices, okay, we’re going to have this open concept and everyone’s going to sit together, do one of those offices. And then you find out that the studies say, well, actually people are less collaborative because they’re sitting there at these long desks with earbuds in and because everyone’s getting on each other’s nerves. So I do think there’s a balance there.

Rico: [00:06:38] Yeah, that makes sense. I agree with you. And obviously to come in during COVID that was never. It’s not even a good idea anymore, right? Being everyone out in the open like that. So yeah. And certain jobs like a judge Tracie Cason on my last podcast talked about how, as a judge, they did do video, a lot of video. But she said, really, you want to be able to see that person and interact with them in an in-person fashion because otherwise the other way around, it’s just too cold. And I’m sure the judgment day will be different by doing it that way. But so working with government though, because know, you have the private side and now you have the government side. How has that been, being able to do city council meeting work sessions? How has that worked out?

Alex: [00:07:30] Yeah, I would say in that case, so last night we had a work session and it was the first time we were back in the, I can’t remember the name of the room, but it’s you know, we’re real close together. Prior to that we had been either remote or in this big open space and you know sitting 20 feet apart. And I would say, because think about like with the council, there’s seven people. And especially at work sessions, it’s kind of a free flowing conversation. And I did find when we were remote or even when it was spread out, it’s much more, the conversation would just not go as well. It’s not like people were arguing, but it just didn’t have that natural flow to it because either you couldn’t see the person or maybe someone’s screen wasn’t working and, you know, sometimes it’s just that, you know, just the facial expressions. So I would say when you’ve got a situation where you’ve got to, think about even in a zoom call, normally you’ve got somebody leading the meeting and everyone’s just kind of listening. It’s not a, seven people talking potentially talking at the same time. So I think that for that particular scenario, it helps to be in person and close together. And that was the kind of feedback we were hearing last night that, you know, the mayor made several comments about how happy he was that we were all back together in that more intimate environment. And I would agree with that.

Rico: [00:08:54] Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I’ve been on zoom calls where there’s 12 or 10. 10 to 12 people, and it’s impossible to really get a sense of a room if you will, when you’re all in different rooms. And you can’t even read the room, if you will, of what’s going on and how to interact with people. Yeah. It’s, that’s a tough thing to be able to do that. I don’t know how the Congress has done that when they’ve done  those zoom meetings for like CSPAN meetings and stuff. It’s just, yeah, that’s a tough thing. So are you all glad that you’re back? I guess, are you all you know, I mean everyone’s either vaccinated or masked or whatever? I mean, actually I don’t, I don’t think the city buildings need to, I don’t think you guys need to have masks. That was removed.

Alex: [00:09:42] I believe that the policy is, if you have not been vaccinated that you’re encouraged to wear a mask, but it’s not mandatory. And that’s what I’ve seen. Or like in my regular job, same kind of thing. Like if you, same rules. It’s like, if you haven’t been vaccinated, you know, we’re encouraged to wear a mask, but otherwise you know, it’s kind of back to normal. And that’s what I think everyone on the council has been vaccinated. Maybe one person hasn’t, I can’t remember, we don’t really talk about it. But last night there was nobody, nobody on the council was wearing a mask. There was a few people in the audience but very much kind of back to normal.

Rico: [00:10:20] Cool. So let’s jump into some of the other things going on in the city. I know, you know, obviously Curiosity Lab has been gaining some more momentum now. I think there’s things going on there. So give us a little bit of background,  what’s been happening the last few months.

Alex: [00:10:35] So just to kind of give a little context because I was prepping for this call, you know, cause we got kind of a regular job and that kind of thing. And it was almost like, you know, when we created this thing a few years ago, and then the staff took the idea and breathed life into it and started doing a lot of really amazing things with it. It’s like an analogy might be, you’ve got this kid who lives at your house and then the kid leaves and goes off to college and then goes into their career. You kind of know what’s going on, but you don’t know, you don’t know all the particulars of all the details until they come home and visit you and say, Hey, this is what I’ve been doing. That’s almost like what’s going on. Where, so I’m just going to tell you some of the things I do know, and I suspect there’s a lot more out there that I’m just not tuned into. But a couple of big things and that you’re probably familiar with some of these. You know, there’s a conference coming up in October V2X, which is a really big deal. It’s going to be in three sites across the planet. Silicon valley, I can’t remember the exact city, Frankfurt Germany, and then Peachtree Corners. And it’s going to be, you know, headquartered out of Curiosity Lab, but obviously the two major hotels will be involved. And we’re going to be bringing in some autonomous vehicles actually before the conference. Because that’s kind of what the whole thing is about is you know, integrating vehicles, other types of technology where you’re able to move around autonomously. So obviously having those vehicles there will be a need. But I think as a minimum, the minimum goal, but they’re expecting at a minimum 500 out of town guests, maybe up to a thousand. And that will be the 19th to the 21st of October. So they just told us a few weeks ago about this, but it’s a pretty big deal to get picked. If you think about, you know, who the other two locations are, you know, to be in the same sentence with those two. I don’t know I mean, I’ve been to Frankfurt, Germany. I don’t know how big of a tech center it is in Europe, but it’s obviously a major city in Europe for no doubt, definitely from a financial standpoint. So that’s a really big deal. That’s the first time we’ve had a conference. Because if you  think about Curiosity Lab, we launched it September, 2019. And then four or five months later, bam, you know, the world stops. So the momentum we had going, you know, we had the Olli out there. Had to pull that because who’s gonna ride it?

Rico: [00:13:13] Right. And that was after I think the Smart City Expo also in September, I think, or June of that year.

Alex: [00:13:22] Yeah. So that’s the big thing on the horizon in three months. And I’ve made a couple of notes here. And one of the things that I think is going to be interesting about this conference is that, and some of this is kind of inside baseball, but, you know, normally you go to these things and you’ll have an initial big meeting and then they’ll have the breakout sessions. And then the breakout session ends and everyone just kind of trickles away. So we’re going to turn that model on its head, where they’re going to start out the day in these breakout sessions. And then they’re going to end the day at the Town Green, like with a big kind of get together. Which I think will be very conducive for, not lobbying, but just networking. And that’s a great venue for that. Because part of this is an economic development play, I mean Curiosity Lab was. And so to take it to, what I would argue is probably one of our two biggest achievements since we’ve become a city. You know, Curiosity Lab, and then the Town Center. You know, taking that, all those people are from out of town. They were just going to drop you off here, you know, 500, 1000 people. I thought that was a pretty good idea to switch, which set up. So you’ve already got them there and they’re just gonna hopefully stay and spend some money.

Rico: [00:14:39] Yeah. I mean that, that’s the whole idea of having conferences and conventions, right? Drawing economic, drawing money to the towns that are doing it. Yeah it makes a lot of sense.

Alex: [00:14:49] So yeah, last night at the work session. So we were talking a little bit about this, but they’re going to have two companies that are going to be coming in. And I think this is going to happen before the conference. Three different autonomous vehicles, similar to Olli, but two different companies that are going to be coming and testing. And then I think even during the conference, there’s going to be more than just three vehicles because you know what I had said all along was for people to be willing to get on one of these things and travel, it’s gotta be a viable option to getting in your car. Which means it’s gotta come by more often, every 10 minutes. Otherwise people would say, well, what’s the point? So I do think they’re going to try to have, I’ve heard as many as 8 to 10 running on the track. You know, so think about you get out of a breakout session at Curiosity Lab, Hey, let’s go to Andrew B or let’s go back to our hotel. And everything’s kind of right there, or Kettle Rock, which is on the other end. So that was some of the announcement last night. And another interesting announcement, and this is the part I’m really excited about was so we’re in the process or the staff’s in the process of negotiating an IGA. An Intergovernmental Agreement with the state DOT. Which would allow the autonomous vehicles to travel up to the Town Center from Curiosity Lab. Because the reason we’re able to do what we’re able to do now is the city controls that road. So we didn’t have to negotiate with anyone about rights to do that. But as soon as…

Rico: [00:16:28] Technology Parkway road?

Alex: [00:16:31] Yes, Technology that’s right. But you know, the minute you drive off the Technology Parkway, say out to Spalding, or 141, you’ve got to get permission. So what they’re talking about doing is using that very wide sidewalk along the 141 as a conduit to get down to the town center. Which, what a lot of people don’t know is the origins of the whole project. When we were initially this whole thing came up, it was really about a mobility initiative of, this was before the virus of course, we can’t control people driving through Peachtree Corners, but we can potentially make it easier to get around Peachtree Corners. And so that was kind of the initial idea is, you know, how do we, you know, do that? And I’m glad that they went the direction they did. Because one of the things I’d have been worried about is this thing would have turned into like the shuttle down in Atlanta where no one rides it and it’s like, okay, you’re wasting your money. So this turned out to be a much, you know, the staff made a much better decision to go this route. But you know, the goal, well one of the goals remains, you know, how do we make it easier to get around Peachtree Corners? How do we take people out of their cars if they want to of course and give them this other option to get around?

Rico: [00:17:53] So are you saying the DOT. So what Peachtree Parkway I think most people know it’s a state highway, state parkway. So it’s the state handles all that, the DOT. So you’re, the city is looking to get permission, not to drive on Peachtree Parkway but to have a mobility vehicle riding along that wide asphalt path. That’s like almost a wide sidewalk that goes along 141.

Alex: [00:18:18] That’s correct. So that’s still falls within the states right of way. So they ultimately control that as well. But I think, I’m just speculating here, but if I’m the DOT I’m thinking, okay, this was a good way to kind of test this concept out without getting an action on the road where something bad could happen.

Rico: [00:18:38] So does that, now I’m trying to figure out, trying to remember about, if that goes straight. I know that that goes past Wesleyan and continues on past  where Lidl is? The shopping center over there.

Alex: [00:18:50] You’re talking about the really wide sidewalk? I mean, it goes up you know, cause they just, they just finished connecting it and after they built the bridge. That was the, initially there was no sidewalk there. Well that now finished that out and then it’s just as wide. So you could, I mean, you, if this became more permanent, obviously you’d need to do something other than just have the sidewalk. I don’t know what that looks like. But just the fact that the DOT is willing to talk to us now. Like it’s that’s a really big deal.

Rico: [00:19:19] Wow. Okay. That would be, I mean, that would certainly extend the use of vehicles like that outside that, that area, that 1.4 mile track.

Alex: [00:19:30] Yeah. I mean, because ultimately, if you’re just, you know, you’re just going about your day to day, you know life people say, well, you spent all this money on  Curiosity Lab, what’s it doing for me? Or you know, I don’t see anything going on there. I mean, the reality is there’s a lot of testing going on that, none of us see. But I think it is important that we have vehicles out there. Because ultimately what people are interested in is, well, how am I benefiting from this? My, you know, my day-to-day existence. That’s just human nature. So when you, when you can put something out there where people are like, well, I might actually be able to use this and improve my day somehow. They get more supportive of it.

Rico: [00:20:11] Now I can see us getting to the point where we have 5g throughout the city. And having that throughout the city because we’re small enough that I think the city can do it as an infrastructure plan, right? To be able to build 5g technology. So then that’s what autonomous vehicles need right? The 5g to be able to speak to everything. To be able to do that means that these vehicles don’t have to be, then they could just be right on the road with the rest of us eventually. You know, maybe that’s 10 years from now, but I can see that happening. Yeah, that’s cool. I can’t wait for that.

Alex: [00:20:45] Like I said, that was news that we just got last night. And like I said, I’m particularly excited because that is part of the, like I said the origin story of the whole project. So to see that that’s still, we’re still pursuing that. Because I think ultimately the public would probably be more interested in that than all the kind of cool research that’s coming out because they’re like, well, that’s not, that’s not doing anything for me there. At least that’s tangible.

Rico: [00:21:14] Right. No, and I get that. Although, you know, part of that builds on, everything builds on itself. So, but I do get that. And I do, you know, as someone that lives here in the city and is active in the city also, I can’t wait for that part to be a daily part of people’s lives. You know where, you know, maybe there is a,  where we have our own transportation system within the city that people can just loop through to get to different areas of the city. To get to different retail parts, hotel, to retail, to restaurants. That’d be cool, right? Yeah. So now, if we’re talking about town center and getting there, there’s all sorts of things going on. Let’s touch upon that a little bit about town center. You know, there’s quite a few things coming there. Peachtree Corners Festival is going to be there this summer for the first time. Do you want to share, is there, you know, I know you’ve been active in the fitness trail. I think that we call it right. Getting that built out and I was there just the other day and I noticed a few, I think, one new. I don’t know, there’s a couple of new things. I hadn’t been there in a while. So then I saw that it expanded a little bit. It looked like. So maybe you want to tell us a little bit about that.

Alex: [00:22:22] Yeah. So I think the official name they came up with is a Path to Fitness, which is kind of a neat, you know, play on words. But for the people who are, I’m always kind of interested when. People email me or I’ll bump into them. Like, I didn’t even know it was there. You know, there was the Town Green, cause it’s kind of in the woods and you don’t necessarily notice it. But you know, for the listeners who aren’t that familiar, coming into the Town Green, you know, there’s a series of woods there. There’s actually a path through the woods that they had cut for the first few concerts for people to get from another parking lot. And then we you know, put some obstacles on there. It’s kinda like an obstacle course, really. So there’s 10 different obstacles on there. There’s monkey bars, wall climb, rope climb, all kind of stuff. And one of the things that I found interesting is a lot of times when I’m over there, you know, just kind of out for a walk, that when I say young people, I’m not talking just teenagers. But you’ll have like kids 8, 10. It’s like, they want to go play where the big people are. Like, it’s kind of got a cool factor to it if you will. So to your question about what’s coming next. So a couple of things. One, you know, there is a playground on the Green, not a full playground, but there’s a couple of things you can do. They’ve got the hill with a slide and they’ve got a couple of climbing devices. And what we’ve seen is that those are often just over swarming with kids, which is great. That’s what we want. But they need some more things to do. And so we’re actually going to build another playground kind of catty-corner to that. So if you’re facing the Cinebistro where the stage is, and you look to the left. We’re going to take some of that area in the woods and put some new things in there that’s still TBD. And actually the city manager and I are actually meeting Friday morning with a, I guess, a consultant for lack of better word, to help. I mean we kind of have an idea of what we want, but this person kind of helps you envision it. But what we’re hoping is that will start after the concerts in this fall and that maybe we’ll have it done by year end. So that will be an additional  playground area. In addition to that, on the actual, on the Path to Fitness, we’re going to be adding four new obstacles that hopefully will be in by September. So that’s going to be…

Rico: [00:24:52] So the fit, so the other part, the kids part though, I understood, that maybe it’s slightly older kids? Like middle school age. So it won’t be like small scale stuff it’ll be a little bit more challenging for like middle-schoolers.

Alex: [00:25:08] Yeah. So you’re not going to have like a two or three-year-old on it. But you know, I sit there and I was just telling you by the kind of the fitness trail, which is really designed for adults and how like little kids are going to get on it. So I suspect that you’ll have kids from, you know, six up. You know, but we want it to be kind of challenging enough where. You know, maybe some of the kids that are out on the fitness trail will also use that. Cause it really almost gets too crowded sometimes, there’s so many people. Which is a good, you know, that’s a good problem to have. So that’s why we wanted to put even more amenities in there. You know, cause you’ve always got, I mean, I have four kids. I don’t know how many times my wife tells me, you know, get off the computer, you know, go do something. So when you see all those kids out there, that’s a great thing, they’re running around exercising. We want to encourage that and add more things. So hopefully all that will be done later this year.

Rico: [00:25:58] Cool. And the four things that, because I interrupted you, sorry. The four things that you were saying to the Path of Fitness trail, what are the four other items you’re adding there?

Alex: [00:26:07] So one of them will be like think about like rings, you know, like you’re up in the air, like grabbing rings, you’re going from ring the ring. So there’ll be one of those. Two other kind of like what climbing, imagine like a wall that’s an inverse wall where you’re climbing like up like this. So a couple of different devices like that. So a lot of them…

Rico: [00:26:32] Like almost rock climbing type of thing?

Alex: [00:26:34] Yeah, a little bit like that. But like I said, it is more of an obstacle course type stuff. And I’ve been amazed like how much kids. Like, you’ll see kids climb on this rope, you know, it’s a 20 foot high rope and I never could climb a rope when I was, you know, 8 or 10. So that’s been, some people with some skills out there for sure.

Rico: [00:26:55] That’s true. Almost scary to see them do that. Cool. So there’s a lot of, that’s great that the city is looking to do that, to utilize that space. When I was out there just the other day. I think it was a few days ago, actually, I was walking out there early morning. And I’m seeing more of the town, the townhouses being built that surrounds there. I’m almost feeling like everything looks a little smaller. Almost felt like the veterans Memorial looked a little smaller than I remembered it from a year ago let’s say. And I guess part of that is because you’ve got the town houses closer in now.

Alex: [00:27:27] Yeah, no, I know what you’re talking about. Once they got right up on top of it’s the same kind of vibe. But you know, one of the things like from the beginning, what we wanted to create was kind of an intimate feeling, if you will. Like we went up to Suwanee to talk to them, to, you know, kind of lessons learned. And, you know, they’ve got a beautiful facility up there. But one of the things that’s a kind of a downside for them is they’ve got two major roads that borders their Town Green, and it’s pretty extensive. I think there’s is like seven acres, the green.

Rico: [00:28:07] It’s fairly big. It’s bigger than ours. Yeah.

Alex: [00:28:09] And ours is about two acres. And what we wanted, one of the things we wanted to do is be able to you know parents can come. They’ve got their little kids and not that a two or three-year-old old, can’t still run off. But you know, if you’re able to sit there and sit in one of those green rocking chairs and your kid’s just out there in the green, running around. It’s a lot easier to keep an eye on them, not worried about them getting run over because there’s literally, you’ve got to really work to get near a car.

Rico: [00:28:40] That’s for sure. Yeah. No, they would really have to get right off and a parent would not be paying attention at all for them to get lost then.

Alex: [00:28:48] Yeah. And speaking of the townhouses, that was one of the things that when we went to Suwannee, it was kind of, they had an interesting concept. They called it the beach concept and what they meant by that was, they said, build the beach first. And what they meant was build the town green first, that’s the beach. And then the people who want to live at the beach. You know, certain  people like living at the beach, some people don’t. They will then kind of know what they’re getting in for like, okay, we’re going to buy one of these townhomes it’s on the green. There’s going to be noise. And we want that. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping because you know, if you spend $700,000 and you get right there on the green. I’m hoping that those, whoever those people are don’t call us to say, Hey, there’s a lot of noise.

Rico: [00:29:35] You know, I asked someone about that that was looking to downsize. And I said, and they were about the same price range, I guess they were downsizing too if you will, from a big house to like a townhouse. And I said, why don’t you look at one of those that’s on the green? Because if you’re out on your porch, you can be sipping on a bourbon and watching the concert playing across the way.

Alex: [00:29:57] That’ right.

Rico: [00:29:58] And they were like, nah, that’d be too much noise. Now, of course, they’re looking to retire. They were like heading into their sixties and stuff. So everyone has a different feel about it, right? I wouldn’t mind that because, I mean, obviously the concert’s over by 10, 10:30, 11. Usually, I mean, that’s, it just depends on the individual, I guess.

Alex: [00:30:21] Yeah. I mean, it’s you know, yeah. They’re normally over by 10. Well, there’s 10 of them a year. Yeah, it just depends on the person, you know. It’s like, I wouldn’t want to be necessarily right on the green, but if you think about living in those townhomes, you can walk to restaurants, you can walk to a grocery store, you can walk over the bridge to a dentist office, to a doctor’s office. I don’t go to movies much, but if you wanted to go to a movie. I mean, literally just about anything you want, you could could walk to. So it’s, and you’re seeing this across the country. You’re seeing it across Gwinnett county where people wanna live in these kind of denser downtowns, if you will, that walkability. That’s really what we were trying to create.

Rico: [00:31:06] Yeah. It’s interesting how people can be lazy in a way. Because you know, the parking let’s say at the forum, the parking in the middle near the retail, everyone wants to go there. But parking away from it, that’s the last place you want to park because then you’ve got to walk, right? So like you’re saying I mean, if you live on the green, if you’re living in one of those townhouses, you can walk to anything within minutes. It’ll be interesting to see when that if Roberts, Charlie Roberts ends up putting up, I don’t think a hotel will go up because at this point, I mean, that’s one of those things that may not happen, right? But 160 apartment complex, seven stories overlooking town center. I don’t know if most people know it would be behind the Chase Bank. That open air that’s been knocked right out. But that could be interesting, 160 families you know, going out onto the town green getting to the movies, eating and stuff. Those are apartments, you know. I mean, it could be interesting. A lot more density, like you said. So are you also, you know, with all this trail stuff, and I know one of the things you were thinking about it was maybe,   you know, with Peachtree Corners Festival coming in September to the town green and outside the roads actually. Because I think part of the Peachtree Corner Circle road is going to be taken up by the festival if I understand correctly. So more events are going to be happening at town center and in this area. Bigger events like this. One of the things you were talking about you know, at one point before we started this was possibly a competition, maybe something similar to a decathlon or some sort of fitness competition that maybe could happen at town green, maybe backing up using that path of fitness. I mean, so there’s all sorts of things that the city can still draw upon, right? Events and such.

Alex: [00:32:53] Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, I kind of view, this is just a term I came up with, but, you know, creating anchors. What I mean by those, things that people want to live near. I mean, often you have natural anchors. People want to live near water, you know, whether it be a river or lake.  You know, so in the case of Peachtree Corners, that would be our anchors as the Chattahoochee river. Like I live right near Berkeley lake. That’s an anchor Wesleyan, my kids don’t go there, but I know there’s people who move here to be close to that school. Tech Park, you know, that’s an anchor. So anytime, and I would argue that Curiosity Lab is an anchor where we’ve had companies relocate just to be near it. And so the town center is a new anchor. I would argue that the green itself is more important than the town center. In that if you go to the town center, on a Sunday or a Saturday afternoon, there’s literally hundreds of people. They’re just hanging out loitering, relaxing. You go across the street to the forum. There’s no, you know, there’s nowhere to do that. I mean, people want to have that. And it was interesting when we were initially going through this with a developer, they had no interest in green space. Because, you know, they couldn’t quantify, they couldn’t monetize it. So they didn’t want to do it. And that’s one of the reasons why the city ended up owning a bunch of it, because that was the only way to make the numbers work. Where, you know, we weren’t worried about making money per se, off of the green. And I think what maybe the developers are starting to see is people will pay, you know, people are paying $700,000 to live on that green because they want to be near the action. And, you know, hopefully what we’ll see maybe across the street at the forum is that they’ll kind of pick up on that and say, we need something that will, you know, an activation area that people want to hang out. I mean, the forum’s a neat place. There’s just nowhere to hang out. Except looking at a parking lot.

Rico: [00:34:54] Yeah, no, I totally agree. I think I had this conversation  with Brian Johnson at one point where I, where my feeling is the way things are going, for example, there’s about 13 retail shops that are closed there. I counted that last weekend. And I think Pooch and Paws actually is closed now. So that’s, that was up there too. So that may make it 14 now that are closed retail locations in that shopping center that are closed. I can see some part of that property, whether it’s the office building that’s on the Northern side of that property, or maybe the Southern side where you know, a seven story apartment, condo complex, maybe an equity owned property would make sense versus an apartment complex. I can see them maybe tunneling out a little bit of the center part where the cars are and making a green space. This way, people can like a pocket park almost within that. You might lose some parking spaces, but you know what really? I mean, like you said, there’s no way to go there if you just wanted to hang out.

Alex: [00:35:56] And it’s pretty rare that there’s no parking there. You know, one of the things that we talked amongst ourselves at one point you know, cause we’ve talked about doing some type of art center. And you know, the Cinebistro location has come up before, you know, actually during the original plan, you know, we tried to get a kind of like right of first refusal to buy the property if it went under or maybe just had them lease it or whatever. And that never went anywhere because even before COVID, you know, the movie industry was already struggling. So we were worried about what becomes of that space, if it doesn’t work out. But anyway that you know, that hasn’t, there’s been some discussions there, but it was the numbers just don’t make any sense. But if you think about from an activation standpoint, look over at the forum. What if God forbid, you know, Belk’s closed or Barnes and Noble closed. Well, maybe you go into one of those spaces where, you know, maybe it’s a long-term lease or what. But you know, you might be able to change that particular building into some type of performing arts center. And then that becomes an anchor that becomes an activation point. So I’m not saying I want that to happen, but you know, there’s different options down the road for things to happen.

Rico: [00:37:20] Yeah. And I don’t disagree with you. You know, Belk’s has closed some national stores. Nationally they’ve closed stores. They haven’t closed this one, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. Barnes and Noble, a brick and mortar bookstore versus their online store or Amazon. I am still surprised, I forget how many square feet that is, but I’m still surprised that that is opened when other businesses with smaller footprints have closed their doors. So I wouldn’t be surprised if that, God forbid that happens.

Alex: [00:37:52] Yeah. Well I think, one of the things that helps Barnes and Noble is like I said, it’s got kind of a hangout vibe to it. You know, go in there and drink coffee and that kind of thing. And you know, people are, you know, they people like to hang out with their friends and just you know, talk. And there’s nowhere else in the forum that you can do that. I mean, if you go to a restaurant, you feel kind of bad taking a table up just for hours, right? You’re hurting the wait staff. There you can do that, no one’s, you’re not hurting anybody.

And there’s

Rico: [00:38:20] no coffee place there. Ever since, I think it was Caribou that was years ago closed. There’s really no coffee shop, but it’s said to say. Not even a Starbucks and they have to go up through, down the road to get to that.

Alex: [00:38:32] That’s right. That’s right.

Rico: [00:38:34] So, there’s still a lot of growth potential for different things, even when there’s a negative, right? So maybe if Belk’s goes out or maybe if Barnes and Noble, or if the developer decides that they want to adjust a few things and redevelop it a little differently, those are all good things now.

Alex: [00:38:53] Yeah. I think the biggest challenge there is with the forum is that it’s owned by a REIT. And you know, you’re, there’s a management company that, you know, you can interact with, but you know, they’re just the face. So, because there’s been various conversations with them about some kind of creative ideas and just to have not been that. Yeah, they haven’t gone anywhere. So, you know, it’s like that Jerry McGuire movie he was like, help me help you. Right?

Rico: [00:39:26] They say, no. Yeah, because they’re a REIT and 13 stores or 14 stores closed. It’s just a write off to them. So they don’t care. They don’t live here locally. They don’t really care. And hopefully, you know, and the, you know, the other side of that with apartments being very little occupancy. I’m surprised even corner center sold. I think that was sold for $45 million or $40 million that apartment complex. A lot of money, right? You were saying land is expensive. I mean, I just saw something listed the land under Lazydog, I believe, with the lease of Lazydog is selling. I think it’s the offering is four and a half million dollars for that property. Because that’s an our parcel. If I remember correctly. It’s a four and a half million for that piece of land, with Lazydogs on it. And it’s extended lease, I guess someone thinks it’s valuable enough to put it out. I mean, it’s expensive.

Alex: [00:40:18] Yeah. I mean, we’ve had people approach, you know, the city about, you know, the I guess five and a half acres of woods you know, that border the town green. We’ve had people approach us about, you know, buying that and putting stuff there. And I think, I mean nothing’s forever, but I think the consensus is that, you know, even though that’s money that’s, I mean, you could sell it and take the money and do something with it. But I think the view of the community is, you know, they like having the woods there and I think it would kind of hurt the vibe, if you will, that we’ve got there with that intimate part I’m talking about. If you took the woods away and then put a bunch of new buildings. So it just going to say, you know, that there’s not a lot of raw land around. And so that’s, there’s people definitely interested in that, but I’m pretty confident for the foreseeable future it’ll stay woods.

Rico: [00:41:15] Cool. Well, that’s good. I mean if anything, I was thinking, you know, arts center would be a great, that could be a great place for that, but yeah, I can’t see more apartments there.

Alex: [00:41:27] No. Well, I mean, we think about it. We’d bought that land specifically because we didn’t want, not just the land with the town center, but the land with the woods, it was the same thing. Apartments were going to go there. So didn’t really make sense to buy land to stop apartments and then put apartments.

Rico: [00:41:40] Right. Yeah, no, I totally agree. I’m with you there.

Alex: [00:41:43] Yeah. I mean, there’s definitely places to put apartments, but I don’t think that’s the place for them.

Rico: [00:41:48] Well, and there’s only, you know, how much density can you pile into a place? You know? I mean, kids have to go to school, they have to be infrastructured. I mean, there’s all sorts of things that, you know, people have to live. Other things that come with density, right? So, we’ve been talking with Alex Wright, city council member district three. And for those that don’t quite know what district three borders, can you tell us? So then people know.

Alex: [00:42:17] Yeah. I’m very visual person, so and I know everyone else isn’t, but you know. If it kinda, if you were looking at a map, to just give you some kind of natural boundary. So, you know, the city running north or running south to north, like post one is the south, post two is in the middle, and then post three is kind of the northern part. So boundaries would be Berkeley Lake you know the city of Berkeley Lake. That’s kind of our northern boundary. Runs all the way along the river down to about a little bit past Jones bridge park. Almost down to like where Simpson wood park is, if you know where like Peachtree Corners, like the North Manor neighborhood, that’s kind of the Southern part of post three. And then all along west Jones bridge up to about where the YMCA is. And then you’d take a left on Peachtree Corners circle all the way up until it dead ends to Medlocke and then a right on Medlocke and then all the way out to Norcross. So that’s post three.

Rico: [00:43:14] That’s fairly big too, so.

Alex: [00:43:16] Yeah. It’s probably about 15,000 people. You know, each post is about 15,000. And you know, for us, that’s like you know, who live around here, that doesn’t seem like a lot of people. But one of the things that’s interesting when you go to these you know, government, they have like a GMA convention every year in Savannah, where you get to interact with people from across the state. You realize that, okay, you know, Peachtree Corners is kind of the outlier, as far as, you know, cities across the state where, you know, you’re talking to the you’re in a class and the guy next to you as a mayor from a town with 2000 people in the whole city, right? And it kind of makes you realize, you know, it’s pretty big, I won’t say it’s top 10 or maybe it’s like in the top 15 biggest cities in the state, maybe. So it’s really relatively big.

Rico: [00:44:02] I think we have what? 44,000 odd people, I think in the second? I think I forget 80% of those that work in the city don’t live in the city. I mean, there’s all sorts of statistics like that that people would be surprised probably on. Cool. So if people want to get in touch with you,  Website, I guess they go to the city website and they can find your email address there?

Alex: [00:44:24] Yeah. They can. And I haven’t been real good about this lately, but I do still send out a newsletter every so often. And you know, if you want to get on that distro, you know, you can email me at the city and I can add you. But we’ve probably got about, gosh, six or 700 people on that list. And then, you know, the people forwarded on and it’s just like a way for me to share news. That’s, you know, like the people work for the city, they don’t have the luxury of kind of putting their own little opinion here and there, you know? It’s just straight news. And sometimes people do like to hear, you know, kind of like our conversation here. Like, you know, it’s a little more colorful, I guess, because you can get a little more behind the scenes what’s going on and people’s opinions.

Rico: [00:45:11] Yeah. And I’ve gotten your newsletters and I’m happy to get them because I do like the opinions that you share in there. So it gives me a little bit more rather than just state the facts, ma’am. It’s a little bit more editorializing, which is good. So, thank you, Alex. I appreciate you being on the show with us again. This is Alex Wright city council member of Peachtree Corners. If you need to reach out to him, check the city’s website. And if you have comments, put them in the comments below if this was on Facebook or YouTube, and I’ll try to get answers for you. Thank you again, Alex. Appreciate you being with us.

Alex: [00:45:42] Yeah. Thanks for the invite. You have a good afternoon.

Rico: [00:45:45] You too.

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City Government

Three city mayors discuss post-COVID-19 improvement plans

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Mayors Mike Mason of Peachtree Corners, Lois Salter of Berkeley Lake and Craig Newton of Norcross. Photos by Rico Figliolini

The mayors of Peachtree Corners, Norcross and Berkeley Lake shared their thoughts on improving the communities with American Rescue Plan money

A trio of Southwest Gwinnett County mayors talked about several aspects and impacts of the COVID crisis during a recent panel discussion, including how they were looking at spending money allocated to their cities as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

            They also focused on challenges and changes emerging from the pandemic.

            Mayors Mike Mason of Peachtree Corners, Craig Newton of Norcross and Lois Salter of Berkeley Lake fielded questions during a First Friday breakfast event hosted by the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber.

Plans for the cities

            Mason outlined how his city created a mechanism to support small businesses with grants after Gwinnett cities received federal money under the earlier CARES act. Each qualified applicant received an allocation. He noted that in addition to the grants, air filtration and other protective equipment were also tacked on at city hall.

            “With the ARPA money, we’ll do more of the same,” he said. Mason also said that plans are in the works to use some of the money to beef up broadband service in what are considered underserved areas of the city. He said some may doubt that a problem exists, but that it does.

            “We learned during the pandemic that kids couldn’t get schooling from home, because if someone was in the living room watching TV, there wasn’t enough broadcast left for the kid in his room. If we can fix that, we’re probably going to try to do that.”

            In contrast, Berkeley Lake Mayor Salter said that after spending considerable CARES money on sanitizing efforts and an air filtration system for city hall, they planned to go a different route under ARPA, using the federal funds mainly for stormwater infrastructure work. She said that with the city having no stormwater fee and with a preponderance of trees and hills, stormwater costs have been significant.

            Norcross Mayor Newton was less definitive than his counterparts, outlining that the city has created a 12-member advisory group to make recommendations to the mayor and council on how to allocate funds. “So, we took the easy route. We turned it over to the citizens to help us decide how to spend some of this money,” he said.

Post-pandemic issues to consider

            Addressing a related issue, Newton told the chamber audience that “we are not quite out of the woods yet on COVID,” contending that while declining case numbers and reopening businesses show that the vaccine is working, Georgia, as a state with a low vaccination rate, could be vulnerable to surges.

            All three mayors agreed that the pandemic has been a long-term game-changer.

            Several trends are important to consider in that regard, said Mason. He called for a show of hands and got a considerable response when he asked, “How many people are still working from home instead of going back to the office? That’s a trend.”

            Also, residents continue to order more goods online, in his view, and he spoke about challenges in the hospitality sector, noting that Peachtree Corners has more hotel rooms than any other city in the county.

            Mason said that with such mechanisms as Amazon readily available, people are reluctant to get into their cars unless a business is close by. To that end, he floated the idea of putting such residences as townhomes and apartments in closer proximity to commercial areas.

            Newton noted that while businesses are optimistic about the long run, labor shortages and supply chain issues remain challenges in the foreground. Salter took a tack similar to Mason’s, saying that “it’s online everything” with resulting changes in the retail landscape and with jumping on a plane at Hartsfield to go out of town is giving way to a plethora of Zoom meetings.

Attracting and keeping residents a concern

            The topics of affordable housing and of serving new residents while working to hang onto existing ones also came in for discussion. “As people begin to retire, you have to be ready to replace those retirees with a new generation,” said Newton. He added that recruiting qualified people leads to an expanded and better qualified workforce, which he said attracts more business and which, nowadays, is a more important factor than location.

            In one tactic, he said the city of Norcross has positioned itself to attract more younger residents by hiring an events coordinator to focus on new entertainment and event programming. He also said that the city has joined forces with a state-sponsored program called the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing. The group has come up with some potential affordable housing solutions for Norcross to be discussed in the near future, according to the mayor.

            Mason took Newton’s talk of replacing those leaving the work force with a new generation one step further, arguing for retaining retirees and their disposable income. “Do we really want to lose them to, say, Florida?” he asked. “No, you want to keep them in your city. And they want to stay. If you don’t keep retiring citizens in your city, you’re done for.”

            The Peachtree Corners mayor touted adaptive reuse of existing buildings as the best solution for providing more affordable housing overall, and said news of such a project may be on the horizon. Tearing down and replacing aging apartment complexes on the city’s south side has been talked about, but Mason indicated the numbers may not work for developers.

            Pointing out that her city is essentially built out, Salter said they have attracted a number of new residents nonetheless, with people tearing down existing bungalows and putting up larger residences. She said city efforts have centered around such events as July 4th programming and in providing a children’s park and other kids’ activities to bring residents together.

Leaders discuss cities’ goals

            She struck a similar tone when the mayors were queried about their goals. “My goal is to preserve the cohesiveness that I think has come under somewhat of a challenge this past year with what we’ve seen in our larger political culture,” said Salter. “People are seeming more cranky with each other, for lack of a better word. It’s made me sad and concerned.”

            She added that “it’s such a small town and we know each other well so I think the mayor has a little more ability to point people in a direction.”

            Mason put weight on continuing “sense of place” producing efforts in the young city. He also pushed improving amenities such as walking trails, which not only can improve residents’ health but add value to homes as well, he said. He added the city also needs to continue working on both economic development and redevelopment of aging structures and that a number of alternative redevelopment strategies are being weighed.

            “It’s not a simple question,” was Newton’s initial reply.

            He said he’s focused on increasing economic vitality and quality of life by protecting the city’s downtown and expanded city center, which would include redevelopment and expansion to the east across Buford Highway. He said two other goals involve increasing public safety through improved technology and maintaining the sustainability of parks, historic structures and natural resources.

            In considering all those initiatives, indicated his counterpart in Peachtree Corners, it’s important to remember that their impacts can easily stretch across city borders. “Craig and I say it to each other all the time,” said Mike Mason. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

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City Government

Intersection Improvement Virtual Open House for S.R. 140 at Spalding Dr.

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You are invited to a Transportation Project Virtual Public Information Open House. The Gwinnett County Department of Transportation along with the Georgia Department of Transportation, City of Sandy Springs, and the City of Peachtree Corners will hold a Virtual Public Information House for the S.R. 140/Holcomb Bridge Road at Spalding Drive.

Gwinnett County and Georgia DOT are seeking feedback about the improvement of the intersection of S.R. 140/Holcomb Bridge Road at Spalding Drive in Fulton and Gwinnett counties.

Comment Period ends August 7

This project is proposed to improve traffic flow, relieve congestion, and reduce delays at the intersection of S.R. 140/Holcomb Bridge Road and Spalding Drive.

S.R. 140/Holcomb Bridge Road serves as a major commercial corridor and the queuing associated with left turning vehicles is causing traffic delays in the area, with projected increase in traffic volume expected to increase the period of delay over time.

Project Details: 

The proposed project would consist of removing the dedicated left-turn lanes along Spalding Drive at the intersection of S.R. 140/Holcomb Bridge Road and would reroute those left turn movements to existing signalized intersections with S.R. 140/Holcomb Bridge Road along River Exchange Drive and Wetherburn Way.

This would require the modification of the following adjacent intersections in order to accommodate the rerouting of traffic:

  • Wetherburn Way and Holcomb Bridge Road,
  • Wetherburn Way and Spalding Drive,
  • River Exchange Drive and S.R. 140/Holcomb Bridge Road.

The modifications are generally limited to minor widening, milling and inlaying, concrete median installation, and signal adjustment. Existing right-of-way (ROW) varies between 60-140 feet. Proposed ROW will vary between 60-140 feet.

Use this link to provide your feedback.

Find additional details here.

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