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Peachtree Corners pedestrian bridge, budget and town center, with City Manager Brian Johnson [Podcast]

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Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager

Join Rico Figliolini and Brian Johnson on this episode of Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager to hear about all of the exciting things coming to Peachtree Corners. Get updates on the Pedestrian Bridge, new businesses, and how the city is celebrating the High School Seniors of 2020.

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:02:21] – New Adjustments
[00:05:43] – Summer Events and Reopening
[00:07:59] – Pedestrian Bridge
[00:12:29] – New Construction and Projects
[00:16:25] – Businesses Coming In
[00:17:21] – E-Scooter
[00:20:23] – Road Repairs
[00:24:54] – Online City Council
[00:31:25] – Celebrating the 2020 Seniors
[00:36:22] – Closing

“That trail got used a lot by a lot of people who use Town Green to exercise. So we went and put a bunch of exercise stations in that stretch of trail for people who were doing it. So if you want to do pull ups, push ups, sit ups, you know, dip bars… So if you haven’t been out there, and especially if you like to exercise, I would challenge you to go out there and look at some of those. It’s a pretty cool little area now. We’ll keep going. We’ll keep improving it as people tell us some things that we can do to improve.”

Brian Johnson

Podcast Transcription:

Rico: [00:00:30] Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini of Peachtree Corners Life podcast. Thanks for joining us. It’s been a while, but this is the Prime Lunchtime with City Manager, Brian Johnson. Hey Brian.

Brian: [00:00:40] Hey Rico.

Rico: [00:00:41] Good to see you. Different background, love it. Some people are getting back to work, cities opening up a little bit. We’ve got a lot to talk about. So in this 30 minutes, we’re going to be talking a bit about the pedestrian bridge coming online. The class of 2020 video that the city inspired. Well, that is being done to celebrate the high school class of 2020 here in the city of Peachtree Corners, plus a bunch of other things dealing with the 2021 budget. The trails, town center, lots of stuff to go pack in 30 minutes. Stay with us. I just want to talk about our leading sponsor that makes all this possible, Peachtree Corners Magazine, the podcasts, and that is Hargray Fiber. I want to thank the for being a sponsor of these podcasts. They are a company located in the South here in Georgia. And every community they go into, they are part of that community being a significant portion of what goes on there. They do innovative solutions for small businesses as well as large businesses provide enterprise solutions for companies. And they, especially for companies that are working remotely, they actually provide free tools to be able to work remotely and collaborate online. So check them out HargrayFiber.com/business or HargrayFiber.com, and that’ll get you to where you’re going. Now, back to Brian. Brian, thanks for being with us here. So how has your COVID-19 since the last time we spoke, how has things been going with you and the city, your family in the room?

Brian: [00:02:21] Well, you know, family is no different than yours and others out there. We’re, you know, getting, getting along. You know, people in different phases of life have different, unique things happening at home. Well, you know, mine, I’ve got, you know, elementary and middle schoolers. And so there was that homeschooling component that mommy and daddy were, you know, having to supervise and that, that was unique. But that’s done, it’s summertime now. Right? And you know, now it’s really trying to transition, like a lot of parents are with trying to find things for their kids to do over the summer when there’s a shortage of, you know, camps. You know, there’s not as many camps that are going on and so there are going to be weeks in which there’s not anything to do. And you know, I know parents are struggling with how to keep the kids out of the house, off of technology, you know, out doing some things. So we’re no different than anybody else. We’re getting through it. City we think is, is doing well where, you know, with the exception of, like, the theaters which are still not authorized to be open. And you know, so Cinebistro is not, you know, and things like that. Pretty much all the businesses that made it through that shelter in place part are open to some degree. But it is taking a toll. Tuesday Morning nationally declared a chapter 11 bankruptcy yesterday. And the initial list of stores that they’re looking to close, and it could change, but initially it looks like the one in Peachtree Corners could be one that closes. So, you know, we, as a city, you’re already getting our team looking at maybe if that is going to be the case, to backfill it with something. So we’re already reaching out to types of businesses that we think are a good fit for that location, that
store footprint, all that kind of stuff. So, but overall, I mean, I think, you know, we’re coming out relatively unscathed, at least right now compared to a lot of other cities.

Rico: [00:04:38] True. The more I’ve been out there driving around and shopping, even at like Ingles, and even though I’ve been doing a lot of online shopping, Instacart is really good, especially when you get the little free delivery coupon. But businesses are doing things, there’s a lot of businesses that are creating new ways of doing certain things. I mean, you got Nobel Fin giving away, you know, a hundred pounds of Rosemary dough to make your own focaccias or pizzas. And you’ve got other companies like Taqueria Del Mar I think was doing, you know, pay as you go or pay what you can. So there’s, there’s a lot of creativity going on. Even in the, even in the summer camp world, we put out a call to see what summer camps are going to be opening so that there will be a list in Peachtree Corners Magazine about that. About summer camps that are opening with certain restrictions and some of them that are doing like these virtual summer camps, like coding camps and stuff like that. But yeah. Yeah, it is challenging and changing.

Brian: [00:05:43] It’s going to be a different summer you know, in Peachtree Corners. Cause like for instance, if you have kids that are at the swimming, you know age, there’s not going to be, you know, swim season is not happening this summer. Camps, the typical camps are not happening this summer. Pools are opening a little bit late, you know, I know fields club not opening until June 1. So, you know, there was that Memorial day week is usually the weekend where most of these pools open, you know. And even the city, you know, we made a decision in abundance of caution to not have any events before July 4th until the July 10th weekend.

Rico: [00:06:27] July 10th weekend

Brian: [00:06:29] Right. So July 4th there will not be any city organized events. We’ve canceled all of the ones that were scheduled prior to that, but July 10th is when we’re looking at re-engage, reactivating the Town Green with organized city sponsored events. I actually think the very first event is going to be July 10th is a Friday. That Friday night is going to be, as it stands now, the introduction of our night farmer’s market, our night market. So you know, we feel like that’s an event that we can kind of start easing in and making sure that it’s not, you know, an unmanageable amount of people per se. And you know, at that point, we’ll take a look at things and we’re looking to still have some, you know, things like concerts and stuff out at the town green this summer.

Rico: [00:07:37] And it’s big enough actually, even if you sort of spread people out a little bit, it’s probably big enough to be able to do that. And I know for example, the Peachtree Corners festival has been postponed too, that’s going to go to the Fall, like we discussed earlier.

Brian: [00:07:51] Light Up the Corners has been pushed back to August 15th.

Rico: [00:07:59] And they haven’t, that’s not even finalized yet. They have plenty of time to wait and then finalize. The same way we have a list of Peachtree Corners events on town center that we’re going to print in the magazine, but with the caveat that, you know, you have to check with the city to make sure this is actually going to happen because things are changing. You don’t, we don’t know what’s going to happen over the next four to six weeks. But it’ll be good to have that, so we will have some of that info in the upcoming issue. That’ll be the beginning of June, that will be mailed. There are, there’s the bridge that span is actually going up you said this weekend, right?

Brian: [00:08:40] No, actually I was, it’s next weekend.

Rico: [00:08:42] Next weekend.

Brian: [00:08:43] So June 5th, 6th and 7th. So we’re going to close 141 underneath the bridge sometime the evening of June 5th, like 10:00 PM type of thing. You know where there’s no rush hour traffic, there’s no, you know, that kind of stuff. We’re going to close it that evening, that night, and keep it closed until like Sunday morning at like 3:00 AM I think is it’s going to be reopened. And so then the detour would be Peachtree Corners Circle to Medlocke, Medlocke back to 141. So it’s a short detour there. And the traffic or the, you know, roundabout that we put in there, you know to use to get.

Rico: [00:09:31] That’s phase one at this point?

Brian: [00:09:33] That, that’s correct.

Rico: [00:09:34] And then phase two is June 12th?

Brian: [00:09:38] That’s correct. That’s correct. And so the reason, and June 12th will only be one day, I believe. But the reason that we have to do that is because, so the next weekend, they’ve got to set the span in. It’s three sections. Two sections that attached to the two towers and then a middle section. And when you put the sections of steel together, I want to say it’s 72 massive bolts attach the two steel sections together, and then they got to pour the concrete in the span once it’s in. So that’s why next weekend it’s the full weekend. And then after that the span will be in, the concrete will have been poured and everything, but then they’ve got to go up and we’ve got to set the rails on the sides and they’re actual panels. So you can’t have a, Georgia DOT requires a fence of at least eight feet. That doesn’t allow you to throw objects off that essentially are bigger than the gap in a chain link fence. We didn’t want to put a chain link fence cause that wouldn’t look good. So what we did is we did some research and we kind of used the philosophy behind the screen, like you would see on a screen door, if you get up close to it, you can see all the little squares in it. But then when you get farther back, you can actually see through it. You know, it’s not quite as clear if it wasn’t there, but you can see through it.

Rico: [00:11:27] Right, right.

Brian: [00:11:28] So what we did is instead of putting chain link or a solid panel we took, it’s some sort of a fabricated, like thin aluminum sheet. You know that’s solid, but, and then we cut lots of holes in it. Up walking the span, the holes are all really close together. You can see out. But what it does when you’re driving on the road and looking from afar is it actually makes the holes make a pattern that shows the leaf from the tree on our logo.

Rico: [00:12:11] That’s cool.

Brian: [00:12:12] That’s what’s gotta be placed in the span the second weekend, and you have to hang it from the outside so they don’t want any cars underneath when they’re doing it.

Rico: [00:12:20] Right. And it’s going to say Peachtree Corners on it.

Brian: [00:12:22] And then there will be letters, channel letters in the middle. That’ll say Peachtree Corners on each side.

Rico: [00:12:29] All right, cool. So that’s happening soon. That’s happening June 4th starting off. So we’re gonna see the surprise. I suppose some of the spans actually sitting. Massive. Since we’re talking about town center has, is the work continuing on the, do you know, on the Uncle Jack’s?

Brian: [00:12:50] Yes.

Rico: [00:12:51] That’s continuing on there, right?

Brian: [00:12:53] Uncle Jack’s is you know, going until they’re done. I want to say, I’ve heard that, cause there’s a lot of interior stuff with commercial grade hoods and everything. That August is when they’re looking to be done.

Rico: [00:13:09] That sounds almost right. Cause originally I think it was like end of June, beginning of July, but with all this COVID-19 and everything going on, that makes sense.

Brian: [00:13:18] That’s close. The exterior with the exception of doors and windows and everything is starting to get close to where you’re like, okay, that’s, you know, most of the point you’re going to see, but that’s still going on. And then we made a bunch of improvements and used this period of time as an opportunity to make some upgrades ourselves without interfering with things. So, for instance, the stage at the town green. We had been, we had heard from the residents that attend events that it wasn’t high enough. And so after the first concert, we started having to rent a stage so that we could elevate it. So what we did is we went ahead and we built a permanent elevated stage out of some really nice stained wood. And so now we won’t have to rent anything and it’s permanently elevated from right over top of the poured concrete one that was part of the original. And then actually we made it a little bit bigger. So the, whoever’s
performing can be a little bit out side of the covering if they want. It looks great if you haven’t seen it. We also stained all of the deck underneath the, you know, covered areas by the restaurants. We have a second playground structure that has just been installed and is out there. And then the trail that we initially cut, just solely for the purposes of people walking from the town green through the woods towards DaVinci core and Peachtre Corners circle where they were parking. That trail got used a lot by a lot of people who use Town Green to exercise. So we went and put a bunch of exercise stations in that stretch of trail for people who were doing it. So if you want to do pull ups, push ups, sit ups, you know, dip bars. We’ve got monkey bars to practice things. We’ve got a climbing wall for you to have to run up and get over. In other words, it’s got a lot of obstacle course type of stuff. People who want to use it for to either get in shape or maybe to practice some of the things that you see in some of those races like Spartan race and Tough Mudder and things like that. So if you haven’t been out there, and especially if you like to exercise, I would challenge you to go out there and look at some of those. It’s a pretty cool little area now. And, you know, we’ll keep going. We’ll keep improving it as people tell us some things that we can do to improve. Oh, and the last thing is new lights out there. You know at night on the sidewalk, that rings the town green, had lighting over it. When we do the night market, farmer’s market at night, it’ll be lit inside the town green, much brighter than it was last year.

Rico: [00:16:25] A lot of stuff going on at town center. That’s amazing. And more businesses opening, I saw… Will be open soon if it’s not already.

Brian: [00:16:34] It’s not quite, but it’s like within the next couple of weeks.

Rico: [00:16:37] Right. So there’s things going on there. Across the way, even though Tuesday Morning may close a Lidl Market open.

Brian: [00:16:46] Lidl has filled the former Earthfare space. So Lidl is in, it’s open. And so I, you know, encourage somebody to go out. It’s a boutique grocery store. It’s unique. So it’s not, you know, so I don’t want somebody to think like, Oh, well it’s the same as all of them. No, it has its own unique type of thing. And so, you know, I mean, grocery store shopping is a very personal thing, as we all know. So I leave it up to individuals, but we’re excited that the space got filled.

Rico: [00:17:21] Yeah, it’s, there’s a lot more, even office spaces that are being filled. I’ve noticed I’ve been getting more releases about commercial space that are filling in like through a Summit Parkway. Some businesses went in there. There’s a bunch of places that are actually beginning to fill in a little bit. So it’s good to see that businesses are coming back. Atlanta Tech Park is reopened, so we’re seeing more of that going on. We are seeing, I don’t want to miss like the E-Scooter sort of soft opening of that launch where people can go now at Technology Park, pick up an E-Scooter. If you have an app and ride around within Technology Park. Maybe go up to Anderbees maybe go visit a business, maybe go up to the hotel area and then leave it there and it drives back, right?

Brian: [00:18:12] Yep, that’s correct. And not just drives back. It can drive to the docking station where it can get disinfected too. And so, you know, it’s just, I’m glad you brought that up. It’s just, again, another example of what Curiosity Lab is doing. This was the world’s first unveiling and offering to the public of a teleoperated E-Scooter and so, you know, little old Peachtree Corners was able to get the first teleoperated E-Scooter deployment. A hundred scooters that can be moved around, including being summoned like an Uber from teleoperators that are in Mexico City, Mexico.

Rico: [00:19:00] Now this is free of charge? Or are there charges?

Brian: [00:19:03] Now, you know, you have to download an app. It’s just like Lime and you know, all the other scooters. However, for first time users, I want to say they give you a $10 initial credit to get on there. And then afterwards it’s like if you’re doing it by, you know, by time versus by, I think you can do it half a day, a full day, unlimited or by the minute. I think it’s 25 cents a minute. After you go through the initial. So again, I just challenged somebody to do it even if it’s just for, you know, just curiosity’s sake, just to come out here and get on it and try it out. Look at the technology. This may be how E-Scooters are redeployed, you know, in other cities around the world in the near future.

Rico: [00:19:56] No, things are changing, it’s amazing. Olie is not running anymore?

Brian: [00:20:01] Not right now. Yeah, they’ve got a 2.0 that they’re considering bringing back, but their initial version, they got all the testing that they needed to do here. And so they went, you know, had it go back and they, but they have come up with a version 2.0 and you know, there’s talk about bringing it out here and seeing how it works on in the real world also.

Rico: [00:20:23] Alright, cool. The other part of what you guys are doing, what the city’s doing is because of this, because COVID-19 had lots of people off the road. Everyone knows gas pricing is down to what, a 1.69 a gallon depending where you go. People are not driving around as much, although it’s, it is beginning to pick up now where it was 30 minutes to go Downtown or Midtown that’s taking like 40, 45 minutes. So traffic is starting to do, getting back to normal. No, we would talk about new normal. I was hoping wouldn’t be as normal. So, but you guys have been able to take advantage of being able to move up the schedule and some things like street resurfacing.

Brian: [00:21:09] So our budget is set to get approved at our June meeting because our fiscal year starts July 1. And a couple of highlights might be, one, our overall general fund. Just out of an abundance of caution, we went ahead and cut 11 in, almost 12% of our budget because we just, there were some revenue streams that we just were not confident would come in. Just because we don’t know enough. We don’t know what it’s going to do. This, you know, Coronavirus, this pandemic is going to do over the course of the next 12 months. So we cut our revenue estimates down 12%.

Rico: [00:21:52] Because the, the city operates on a, think of it as a cash flow right? You can’t go in debt necessarily.

Brian: [00:22:00] Right. Cities, counties, and the state, and have to operate on a balanced budget, annual balance budget. So we cut our revenue projections by 12%, which means our expenditures have to meet or fall below the revenue. We cut our budget already. You know, our hope is, is it doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t come in any worse. And so we’ve already prepared for it. But there’s also some aspects of our budget we took advantage of. You just mentioned gas prices. Well, asphalt is a petroleum based product. It is not only that, but then there are some paving companies that are hungrier right now than maybe they normally would be. Even though in Metro Atlanta, a lot of the paving companies are tied up in the Georgia 400-285 interchange, there’s a massive amount of concrete asphalt going in there. But we are taking advantage of some pricing. So we increased our annual allocation to resurfacing from 1.5 to 2 million and it’s currently out to bid for us to do that. So we’re going to re be resurfacing a few more streets than we normally would. And of course the way we do it is we have a condition assessment done on all of the streets in the city, and we bid it out by listing usually 10 sections of streets that are the 10 worst sections that need it. And then we have a company, you know, the winning bidder just starts paving until they run out of the money that we allocated and they work down the list. So sometimes depending on pricing, you could be, you know, number eight on the list and you get done. Sometimes other years, the cost is such that it doesn’t get to say number eight or number six or whatever. So we’ll see. But anyway, those are some of the highlights. The only other one of significant note would be we also were able to move up the trail system and section of trail system, our 11 mile interconnected trail system. We are moving up the section that connects to the pedestrian bridge on the town center side. And we’re going to put all of the trails that are down along or down in the Creek that’s between, you know, the old black Walnut restaurant and… And so we’re going to do that starting late this summer. So we’re going to, as soon as that pedestrian bridge is open, they’re going to immediately be connecting, constructing and connecting additional trail so you can walk down along it and down in it.

Rico: [00:24:54] That’s cool. So you know, obviously the city has been able to take advantage of certain things. But other things you had to reinvent sort of. Cisco WebEx, are you guys using Cisco WebEx? So I missed the last city council meeting this past Tuesday. You guys finished earlier than I than I thought. I was trying to log on. But so citizens are going to be able or have been able to actually watch city council sessions, being able to see the documentation being put up. I think or them being able to download them, and also to be able to put our questions even, even though they may be ahead of the meeting.

Brian: [00:25:34] No, we actually we’re able to do it to where you can either submit a question in writing right there by tapping in kind of the chat section. We would read it out loud so that everybody knew what it was and then I or somebody would verbally answer it or we offered those who were, had logged in. They could just say, yes, they want to make a comment and we could then bring their camera and microphone up. They could actually virtually address council, and so yes, we were able to do that. I mean, you know, it looks easy. It does take a lot of
moving parts to get it done. Yes, we’ve, we’ve had to learn how to do, just like everybody else, what we’re doing right now virtually because we can’t do it in person right now.

Rico: [00:26:31] Well, and the good part is that I think it democratizes it better, right? Government that maybe I can’t leave my place, maybe I’m wheelchair bound, or maybe I just can’t leave to be able to make that meeting and sit there for three hours and it gives me the opportunity to watch it. Well, maybe I’m doing some work or streaming something. We’ll be able to make comments, like you said, public comments. Is actually open to more people probably than it might otherwise not have been. Do you think, now lots of cities have been sort of getting there slowly. I know from a reporter I was speaking to recently that Sandy Springs, who’s holding back did not want to do it, but finally had to do it because of COVID-19 and they will probably continue doing it. Do you see the city of Peachtree Corners doing that? Like even after we get past this. This bit of stuff that we’re going on. Do you still think that it will be live streamed even if you hold the meetings in the chamber?

Brian: [00:27:27] Well, potentially. I mean the chamber is a different setup. I mean, so now when it comes to, you know, being able to interact and post things remotely, it’s a much bigger room. I mean, cause so remember when we did this, council wasn’t even at city hall.

Rico: [00:27:46] Right, right. That’s right. That’s right.

Brian: [00:27:48] The few of us that were in the main conference room here, which where we do our work sessions. But it’s a smaller room and there were, you know, council wasn’t there. And so we are looking at it, but it’s just, it’s not current. It’s not set up right this second to be able to provide all of the stuff that we did when we have been having these meetings remotely, just because council will be physically at the building and will be, need to be in a much bigger room. Got people sitting. Even then you’re going to potentially have seats blocked off in such a way that you’re, you know, space different. And so people will be spaced out even more. And you know, it’s, so, it’s the logistics behind it are harder. But we are certainly looking to see if we can, you know, continue some aspect of this. In some way.

Rico: [00:28:41] I don’t see that it could be as integrated as if doing a zoom meeting, which is what Cisco WebEx is like, right? But certainly streaming live, even if the people can’t see the documentation, I mean. They could always download from a link. I mean, you know, you can’t be perfect.

Brian: [00:28:59] Yeah, that’s true. Now again, the difference is streaming live versus taping it and making it available. The only thing you gain if you, if it’s streamed live, is the ability to maybe make a comment in real time on something that’s going on. What you lose is the ability to watch it at your convenience. And so that’s why oftentimes we tape it, and then if you can turn it around quickly. Like 24 hours later, it’s up. Then for days or weeks, somebody can watch the meeting at their convenience versus having to reserve a Tuesday night at 7:00 PM Oh I can’t do
something because council meetings coming on and it’s streamed live. That’s the only thing you know.

Rico: [00:29:54] I get that there’s pros and cons. It’s funny, the way for, I mean, and it is a larger, it’s a chamber. It’s a whole different ball game, there’s different, variables you have to deal with. I know that when we do our podcasts and with Facebook live streaming, it’s livestreamed and then it stays on Facebook. The way that we do it, the way that I do it with lower, with all the graphics on it, I mean, I can become more interactive with the graphics and actually. You know, we could have shown video, we could’ve shown pictures of town center. You know, if I had planned it out and had the budget to do that, like a big TV, I could be able to show those slides and stuff. But you know, in time things will happen, I guess. You know, I don’t want people to forget also that the, especially with businesses, every business knows this. I guess July 1st is, is now the due date for business license fees, which was postponed from April or March, I think.

Brian: [00:30:51] March.

Rico: [00:30:52] March. So it’s been a while. So that’s part of your cash flow and that’s going to be coming back at some point too, it’s after, you know, by July 1st that’ll be coming back.

Brian: [00:31:00] And we’re still, I don’t want to sit here and say that we’re on a case by case basis. There may still be some exceptions if somebody can lay out a case, make a case for themselves, you know? So you know, in general, that’s when everybody is due. But there are, there could be extenuating circumstances where on a case by case basis, we change from that too.

Rico: [00:31:25] Sure. And before we end I just wanted to say that the city has gotten behind this whole big thing, class of 2020. It’s a sad thing obviously, to have kids that was supposed to graduate, have holiday parties, have graduation parties. None of that is happening, or at least not virtually. I mean, not in real life, not in real, it’s happening virtually, that people are doing zoom parties and the graduation parade by using cars as a parade and stuff, which is kind of neat. A little different, certainly not the same way that everyone else has been doing it prior to this, but the city is helping, producing a video, why don’t you tell us a little bit about that.

Brian: [00:32:11] So, you know, like you just said, we have all of these Peachtree Corners residents going to a lot of different schools around here. And we oftentimes think of, you know, the ones that come to mind immediately, like Norcross high and West Leanne, and, you know, some Duluth high and, you know, GAC. And, you know, Saint Pius, I mean, schools that are kind of within reach. But we’ve got a lot of seniors, high school seniors that live in Peachtree Corners that, like you said, aren’t going to have the proverbial graduation. So a long time resident of Peachtree Corners named Nancy Minor. Thought you know what? Maybe there’s something we could do to make our seniors in Peachtree Corners feel special. So she reached out to Mayor Mason and said, Hey, do you think that there’s some kind of a video thing that the city could do? And you know, really didn’t necessarily know what it would be, but just said, you
know, is there? So the mayor, you know, reached out to me and said, Hey, do you think we could do something special? And you know, we talked to the rest of council. They were hugely supportive of it. So I reached out to Titan pictures. He does some of the content for us. Jim Stone said, sure, we can do it. And, you know, let’s try to create a video that we at least give every graduating senior that wants an opportunity to show their picture and a little bit of, you know, pertinent information about them. Maybe we make it a little bit more interesting than just doing that by having some videos, some photos, some aerials of the city and some other special interest stories. And so we sent out, we contacted all the schools that have Peachtree Corners residents going there. And again, some of these schools are out there. I can’t even imagine the commute some of these students had to do to get there. But, and you know said, Hey, send us, you know, reach out to the parents that live in Peachtree Corners, tell them we’re doing this. And then they would get on our website and they could download a one page form with just some biographical information. Send us a picture. And then, you know, Judy Putnam, my communications director then kind of helped Jim organize it. They put it together and Jim put a really good, I mean, Titan pictures did a really good job of putting this together. We are going to go live with it at three o’clock this afternoon, which is, you know, Thursday. And, we’ll also have it playing on the big screen on the town green over the weekend. It’s 20 minutes long. So if you don’t have a senior, that’s a little bit, but it is interesting though to watch because it is interspersed with a lot of great scenery of Peachtree Corners and some pretty cool special interest stories of some of these students that are doing some pretty cool stuff. So I would encourage some people to at least watch it for a little while or watch part of it cause it’s pretty cool. And then Rico, you’ve been part of it too and are going to do your part through your magazine. That’ll recognize them too. So between our video, your, you know, magazine. I think we’ve, you know, we’ve done what we can to try to make these seniors feel special. Not all of the seniors participated. We didn’t get every senior to do this.

Rico: [00:35:52] No, but there was over 140.

Brian: [00:35:55] So, yeah. You know, we’re pleased. So we always appreciate residents both at like Nancy Minor, come up with ideas like this as people like you who support it. And then we got a lot of good people around to help us. And of course, Mayor and council being supportive of this kind of stuff is what, what happened. So I’m proud to say we did it and hopefully the seniors feel a little bit more special than they would without them.

Rico: [00:36:22] Yeah, that was a great video. I saw a first draft of it and I just got the link of the one that’s coming up at 3:00. Jim, Titan Pictures did a great job on it and just super job. I think people enjoy it. A lot of individual interviews also with some of the kids, so it was, he pulled it together really well, loved the music. He did the voiceover too, I believe on it, which was super, he has a great voice for that. I kept thinking, Disney, movie or something for some reason, like Disneyland or Disney World, a feature like that. But he did a good job. So I’m looking forward to seeing the final version. We’re at the end of our time. I think we covered quite a bit. You’re always very good about giving good information and putting out stuff that the city residents need to know. So I appreciate you doing that, spending that time with me once a month to be able to
do this. So for anyone that wants to find out more, you know, feel free to follow us on Instagram, Peachtree Corners Life. Pick up the magazine, you should be getting it in the mailbox the first or second week, first eight days in June. Every household in the city gets it so, should be, you should be having about 19,000 homes. And follow us on Facebook you get these live feeds, share this with your friends. If you’re listening to the podcast, just review it on Apple podcasts. We’ve had a bit of reviews there. So good stuff helps us bring us up in the search. And again, Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager is always good Brian.

Brian: [00:38:02] Thanks for giving us a venue to get information out to our citizens.

Rico: [00:38:08] The rest of you guys have a great weekend. Enjoy.

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City Government

City’s First Employee Steps Down

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At a City Council meeting on April 23, Diana Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.
Diana Wheeler on stage at Town Center // Photos by Tracey Rice

Diana Wheeler starts her own consulting business

When a city is established, there’s a lot to do to get it going. One of the most important decisions is hiring effective staff. Diana Wheeler was one of those qualified employees who helped turn Peachtree Corners into the community it is today. She’s also credited with being the city’s first hire.

“I worked in Alpharetta for about 20 years as a community development director, and I decided that it was time to try something new and different, something I hadn’t done before. I was going to start up my own consulting business,” said Wheeler.

She was only a few days into her new career when the city of Peachtree Corners called.

“They said, ‘Hey, we’d like you to come and help us out. We’re starting up a new city, and we don’t really have any planners. We need a community development department,” said Wheeler.

So, she went back into city government work and put off starting her business.

Years of service

“I was the only employee for a while,” she said. “There were a lot of interesting times, and there were opportunities I’ve never had before, like setting up all of their programs and systems at the beginning.”

At a City Council meeting on April 23, Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.

“A lot of things were accomplished, and after 12 years, I thought, well, you know, I still want that one last sort of professional challenge that I hadn’t ever done before, which was to go out on my own and take advantage of the connections that I’ve made over the years and work on projects that were of interest to me,” she said.

She let the city leadership know that it was time for that change and that she’d be making that change at the end of April.

“Diana’s daily presence was profoundly valued by her colleagues, who benefitted from her expertise, leadership, and perhaps most importantly, her composure in the face of the numerous challenges that the Peachtree Corners city government has encountered during her tenure,” read a statement from the city.

Don’t call it a retirement

As the community development director, Wheeler wore a lot of hats, metaphorically speaking.

“When I was community development director, I had four divisions: the building department, which issues permits and performs inspections; code enforcement, which basically enforces the city’s regulations in commercial and residential areas; planning and zoning, which does all the public hearings and all the zoning research work, and when we added the Town Center, we added special events,” she said. “It’s just a lot of different things. And the city has a very limited number of employees. So, everybody does multiple tasks.”

But she hasn’t entirely left the city. Through the end of the year, she’ll be coordinating the special events at the Town Center.

“We’ve got an incredible lineup. We have all sorts of really cool concerts …  and we’re also introducing a night market, which is like a farmer’s market,” she said.

The market will take place on the second Saturday of the month and will have about 14 different vendors selling produce, homemade products, and other items.

“We’re going to have a talent competition this year,” she said. “It’s called Peachtree Corners Has Talent, and we’re asking people to submit YouTube videos, and there are prizes for winners.”

Additionally, there’s a children’s festival and one for the canines in the new dog park.

“On December 4, we’re going to have the huge holiday glow event, which is our big holiday gala at the town center with a concert and Santa and all sorts of stuff for kids to do and a sing-along and lots of free hot chocolate and cookies and things like that,” she said.

Wheeler is unsure if she’ll continue working as a consultant with the city beyond December, but she’s excited about her next chapter. Her consulting business is focused on special projects.

A new journey as a consultant

“In communities where they have a limited staff but would like to take on a project, for example, the city of Jasper and the city of Milton have two different areas where they have projects that they would like to take on, but they don’t have the staff resources,” she said.

That’s where she’ll come in.

“They hire people sort of as a side project to work just on that project. And those are the sort of things that I would do,” she said. “I get to focus on a specific project and don’t deal with the day-to-day things.”

Wheeler said she likes that she gets to choose what she wants to work on and use her skills and experience to the fullest.

Highlights of Wheeler’s career with the city of Peachtree Corners:

  • She laid the groundwork for the establishment of Peachtree Corners’ inaugural City Hall.
  • She was instrumental in the development of the Holcomb Bridge Corridor Urban Redevelopment Plan, Livable Centers Initiative, Innovation Hub Master Plan, Winters Chapel Road Corridor Study and conceptual planning for the Multi-Use Trail network.
  • She established and nurtured the Arts Council, created the Arts & Culture Master Plan, and promoted other public art initiatives, bringing the residents enriching cultural experiences, artistic expression and a sense of community pride.
  • She played a pivotal role in the establishment and ongoing support of the Peachtree Corners Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Downtown Development Authority, Redevelopment Authority, Arts Council, and Green Committee.
  • She played a crucial role in securing the city’s Green Community Certification and its Tree City USA recognition.
  • She spearheaded the implementation of the city’s initial zoning laws and led the Code Enforcement, Building and Permitting and Planning and Zoning Departments.
  • She pioneered the city’s first Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
  • She played a key role in launching Special Service Districts, contributing significantly to their initiation and success.
  • She Diana guided Town Green and Town Center initiatives.
  • She organized and managed Peachtree Corners’ special events.

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City Government

Why Vote in the Upcoming Gwinnett County Elections? [May 21]

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On Tuesday, May 21, there will be county-wide elections to choose new judges, school board representatives and party primaries.

On Tuesday, May 21, there will be county-wide elections to choose new judges, school board representatives and party primaries.

For the first time since 1996, the school board District 3 seat (which includes most of Peachtree Corners) is open as Dr. Mary Kay Murphy is not seeking re-election after serving seven terms. Five candidates are running to succeed Dr. Murphy.

There are several open county judicial seats with multiple candidates running. There are also seats open for the Georgia Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Since no Republican candidates qualified for the Gwinnett District Attorney race, the winner of the Democratic Primary on May 21, will become the next District Attorney (DA). If the incumbent Patsy Austin-Gatson wins, she will continue as DA for the next four years.

If one of the other two Democratic candidates wins, they will be unopposed in November and will replace Ms. Austin-Gatson in January 2025. Any voter wishing to participate in the Gwinnett DA race would have to vote in the May 21 primary and request a Democratic ballot. If you’re ready for a new DA, waiting until November will be too late.

Where and when to vote

Voting precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21. Confirm your registration status and voting location at mvp.sos.ga.gov. You must go to your assigned home precinct to vote on Election Day.

Gwinnett offers in-person early voting every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Friday, May 17 at 11 locations around the county. The closest location to Peachtree Corners is at the Pinckneyville Community Recreation Center.

The full list of locations is here. Voters can go to any early voting location, regardless of their home precinct.

Absentee ballots can be requested here and must arrive at the Board of Elections office by 7 p.m. on May 21 to be counted. The ballots can be mailed or put in an official drop box.

Due to changes by the State Legislature, counties are now limited to one drop box per 100,000 registered voters. Consequently, Gwinnett has only six drop boxes for the 2024 elections (as opposed to 23 boxes in 2020). Also drop boxes are not available 24/7, but only during early voting hours. The closest drop box to Peachtree Corners is at the Pinckneyville Community Recreation Center. The full list of drop box locations is here.

Primary Voting is a bit different from voting in the general election in November. You must select one of three ballots:

  • Non-Partisan Ballot: only includes the property tax referenda,  judicial candidates and the District 3 school board candidates.
  • Democratic Party Ballot: includes Democratic candidates for federal, state, and county positions, and the property tax referenda, judicial and school board candidates.
  • Republican Party Ballot: includes Republican candidates for federal, state, and county positions, property tax referenda, and the judicial and school board candidates.

Georgia has open primaries and voters do not register by party. You can select either the Democratic or Republican ballot for this primary election, regardless of how you voted in 2022 or prior years. For some races, like Gwinnett District Attorney there are only candidates from one party, so the winner of the primary will be unopposed in November.

View a sample ballot at My Voter Page.

Here are some of the local contested races on which voters in Peachtree Corners can weigh in by voting in the primary. (Many races on both sides of the aisle have only one person running, and are not listed here).

Referenda

Both of the referenda on the May 21 ballot relate to the Homestead Exemption, the reduction in assessed value on a property that serves as the primary residence for the taxpayer. For example, if the assessed value on a residential property in Gwinnett is $200,000 and you claim it as your primary residence, the assessed value is currently reduced by $4,000 to $196,000 for the purposes of calculating your property taxes. The lower assessed value is then multiplied by the millage rate to determine the amount of tax owed.

  • Referendum 1: Increase the existing Homestead Exemption from Gwinnett School Taxes from $4,000 to $8,000
    • If approved, residential property owners in Gwinnett would see a reduction in school taxes charged on their primary residence of $76.80 per year (based on the current school tax millage rate).
    • If rejected, the exemption would remain at $4,000.
  • Referendum 2: Create an additional Homestead Exemption from Gwinnett School Taxes of $2,000 just for Public Service Employees
    • If approved, “public service employees” (defined as firefighters, paramedics, police officers, teachers and staff of Gwinnett Public Schools, staff of Gwinnett hospitals, and members of the Armed Forces) who reside in Gwinnett would see a reduction in school taxes charged on their primary residence of $38.40 per year (based on the current school tax millage rate).
    • If rejected, public service employees would not receive an additional exemption but would continue to receive the same exemption as all other residential property owners.

Note: neither referenda, if passed, would affect county government property taxes or city property taxes. The new exemptions would only apply to school taxes and only to the regular school taxes, not any school taxes related to the repayment of bonds issued by the school system.

Judicial races

  • For Superior Court, Kimberly Gallant has received bi-partisan support to succeed retiring Judge Batchelor. Gallant has served on the Municipal Court, Juvenile Court, and State Court.
  • Also for Superior Court, Regina Mathews and Tuwanda Rush Willams have received strong recommendations and bi-partisan endorsements to succeed Judge Beyers.
  • Incumbent State Court Judge Shawn Bratton has also received similar bi-partisan support in his re-election campaign.

School board

For School Board District 3 (to succeed retiring Dr. Mary Kay Murphy), there are five candidates. This almost guarantees that no one will get a majority in the first round and the top two will advance to a run-off.

The first of the two leading candidates are Yanin Cortes, a graduate of Georgia State, a former teacher at Shiloh High School and a successful entrepreneur for the past 15 years.

The second, is Shana White, a graduate of Wake Forest, Winthrop University and Kennesaw State. White is a third-generation teacher (Summerour MS, Peachtree Ridge HS, Sweetwater MS, Creekland MS, and Pace Academy) and a computer science instruction consultant.

White has earned the endorsement of the Gwinnett County Association of Educators, while Cortes has been endorsed by Dr. Mary Kay Murphy and Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason.

Key Republican primary races

  • For District Attorney, there are no Republicans running. The winner of the Democratic primary will be the next DA.
  • For County Commission Chair, there are two Republicans running, John Sabic and Justice Nwaigwe. Sabic ran in 2022 for Commission District 2, losing to incumbent Ben Ku. Sabic has been very visible in the community and is now running for Commission Chair. Nwaigwe is a first time candidate, but is also running a strong race.
  • For State Senate District 7 (which covers central and eastern Peachtree Corners), four Republican candidates are running: Fred Clayton, Gregory Howard, Louis Ligon, and Clara Richardson-Olguin.

    With four candidates, this race will likely go to a run-off between the top two contenders. Richardson-Olguin is running as a small business champion and has received several endorsements from state and local Republicans while Howard has focused his campaign on public safety and education.

The other local Republican races like Congressional District 4, State House Districts 48 and 97, State Senate District 40, and County Commission District 1 only have one Republican candidate each. Those candidates will automatically advance to the November general election.

Key Democratic primary races

  • For District Attorney (which prosecutes felony crimes in Gwinnett), career prosecutor Andrea Alabi has received bipartisan support as she seeks to oust Patsy Austin-Gatson. Alabi worked under former DA Danny Porter, has tried over 1,000 cases, and has never lost a single murder case. Alabi has been endorsed by eight mayors in Gwinnett, including Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason. The third candidate is Daryl Manns, a former Assistant District Attorney who worked for Ms. Austin-Gatson until resigning in 2023. With no Republican candidates in this race, the primary winner will be the next District Attorney.
  • For County Commission Chair, incumbent Nicole Love Hendrickson faces former state representative Donna McLeod. Hendrickson, first elected in 2020, has been endorsed by 12 Gwinnett mayors including Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason, Norcross Mayor Craig Newton, and Buford Mayor Phillip Beard. Dozens of state legislators have also endorsed Hendrickson.
  • For State Senate District 40 (which covers the western edge of Peachtree Corners), incumbent Senator Sally Harrell is opposed by David Lubin. Harrell has served in the Senate since 2018 and has been a strong supporter of the cities in her district, including Peachtree Corners.

The other local Democratic races like Congressional District 4, State House Districts 48 and 97, State Senate District 7, and County Commission District 1, only have one Democratic candidate each. Those candidates will automatically advance to the November general election.

This information was sourced from Peachtree Corners Councilman Eric Christ’s monthly digital newsletter. Sign up for his email list here.

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City Government

Crime and Safety Concerns Dominate Town Hall Meeting

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Eric Christ

Besides his monthly newsletter, Peachtree Corners City Councilman Eric Christ occasionally hosts town hall meetings to allow constituents to catch up on what’s going on and give him feedback on a variety of issues. 

On Sunday, March 24, several dozen residents and stakeholders gathered for updates at City Hall’s Community Chest room. Christ probably expected the gathering to last 90 minutes at the most, but the discussion lasted nearly three hours as he shared information about the Marshal program, development projects, the new dog park, deer and the May 21 primary election.

Cutting down on crime

Probably to nobody’s surprise, crime and public safety took up the bulk of the meeting. Christ wanted the audience to take away that crime in Peachtree Corners is down 25% from pre-pandemic times. He showed a chart with crime rates from 2019 through 2023 that showed a significant drop in crime overall.

  • Residential burglaries are down by 48%.
  • Thefts are down by 34%.
  • Robberies are down by 24%.

“Prior to the pandemic in 2017, 2018 and 2019 we were averaging about 100 total [part one crimes] every month, and that dropped almost by half during the pandemic. Then, in 2021, it went back up a little bit again,” said Christ. 

Even though the rate has increased year over year since 2020, it has not returned to pre-COVID levels. However, compared to the previous year, crime has increased by 23%. One solution may be the new City Marshal program that kicked off in November. 

Having a relatively small population, the most heinous crimes, such as homicide and aggravated assault, have stayed lower than in many other areas. However, auto thefts, car break-ins, robberies and other property crimes remain somewhat high.

The City Marshal’s involvement

Chief City Marshal Edward Restrepo gave anecdotal evidence that the marshal program is working and will continue to get better because it fills the gaps left between the Gwinnett Police Department and the city’s code enforcement department.

Edward Restrepo

“We had a jewelry store robbery, and about the time we came in, we had started building up the camera registry as well as the integration system of cameras all around the city,” said Restrepo. “With only three of us, we have to rely on technology as much as we can.”

Although the marshals didn’t apprehend the bad guys, their assistance helped other law enforcement officers do their jobs more effectively. Several residents asked if there were plans to increase the marshal force to provide 24-hour, 7-day-a-week service.

The initial cost was around $900,000, said Christ, and maintaining the three officers and an administrative assistant will require about $700,000. Although Peachtree Corners doesn’t levy a property tax, the city’s share of county taxes goes toward that type of expense.

“It’s up to the people of Peachtree Corners if they want to increase the program,” said Christ. “It will come at a price.”

Those in attendance indicated that they thought that would be money well spent. Several said they liked seeing marshals at city-sponsored events because it sent a message that Peachtree Corners is serious about keeping its residents and visitors safe.

Christ said he and the rest of the council would consider that, but he reminded everyone that they should still report crimes to the police.

“I’ve had people tell me that they left a message on the city’s answering machine on a Friday evening and hadn’t heard back,” he said. “I tell them the first step is always to call 911.”

Catch the episode of the UrbanEBB podcast featuring Edward Restrepo from this past January here:

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