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City Government

With the City Manager: The Forum sale and its impact, plus what is PadSplit?

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The Forum Shopping Center could be under new ownership soon, but the city of Peachtree Corners is determined to not let it become just another failing shopping mall.

City manager Brian Johnson said if the 500,000-square-foot mall does get a new owner, the city would like to work with them when it comes to any revitalization plan.

The Forum is currently managed by Bayer Properties, a commercial real estate firm based in Birmingham, Ala., which was granted third-party management rights in 2019. Its retailers include a Barnes & Noble, Trader Joe’s, Old Navy, Home Goods and Pottery Barn, but there are plenty of suites open for new businesses, Johnson said.

“The Forum finds itself in a position where I think a new owner is going to do something beyond just becoming a new owner and just work hard to fill lease space,” he said.

“Someone is going to buy this thing. When you add up all the lease revenue, it has to exceed their operating cost and the note they have on the property. To a degree, they are chasing numbers and they’re not married to the community like us, and they’ll fill space with tenants you just don’t want to see at something like this. That’s the first sign of a terminal illness.”

The challenge will be coming up with ideas to make The Forum a place that is more attractive to young people, and the best way to do that is to utilize its 500,000-square footage and create a public gathering area that can be used as a venue for more events, Johnson said. He added that several proposals have already been made to do just that, including the construction of a two-story parking garage that will allow the current parking between facing stores to be converted into a large gathering space.

“Once you show there is a reason for people to hang out, there’s something to do and space to do that, I think you’re going to start seeing space get filled by tenants who cater to a younger crowd because now there’s a reason for them to do it,” he said.

“I think we can reinvent The Forum in such a way that we don’t have such density that the parking is an issue and such density that the public space, there won’t be such a crush of people that people will enjoy going there.”

Another improvement Johnson wants to see is to make the Forum more accessible to nearby residents.

“On-site residential creates a stable customer base for the mix of uses that are there,” he said. “If there’s a boutique pet store that’s within walking distance of where I live, I will shop there even if it’s more expensive versus getting into my car to go some bigger pet place like PetSmart. The Forum doesn’t have that.”

With the success of the Peachtree Corners Town Center shopping mall on the other side of Peachtree Parkway, Johnson said the two shopping centers are the heart of the city, and he is determined to see both thrive.

“The Forum is an integral part of this community,” he said. “It can’t fail, and the city will not let it.”

PadSplit ‘problematic on a number of fronts.’

An Atlanta-based start-up that provides affordable housing has been running into legal battles as they’ve tried to expand.

PadSplit, founded in 2017 by CEO Atticus LeBlanc, has made its way into Peachtree Corners. The company allows landlords and property owners to rent out individual rooms within their homes to tenants, which means owners can rent out single-family homes to four or five (and in some cases as many as 10) tenants at a time, while each tenant pays a low weekly rent rate for a furnished room.

PadSplit does not own any of the properties listed on its website but is responsible for making sure all rooms are furnished. While the company’s website states PadSplit conducts background checks on all its tenants and advertises high standards in terms of maintenance and furnishing, the company has run into legal trouble and backlash.

Last year, WSB-TV in Atlanta interviewed former PadSplit tenants as part of a seven-month investigation, and many of them complained about unsafe living conditions and violations of code enforcement. Johnson has concerns about those same issues arising in Peachtree Corners.

In Peachtree Corners, the city code prohibits short-term rentals of less than 31 days. Any property that provides less than 31 days of renting is considered a hotel and is subject to hotel code standards, Johnson said. Peachtree Corners residents cannot turn any property they own into an Airbnb for the same reason.

“We had a situation uncovered here in a neighborhood in which a property owner used a company called PadSplit,” Johnson said. “It was brought to our attention that an owner there had been advertising for as many as 10 rooms in one house.

“There are those within the community who may have heard about this and are wondering what our stance is. We absolutely do not allow this kind of stuff to happen. We do not want our neighborhoods to end up getting into a situation where people are coming in and they’re running some of these properties as investment properties.”

City code also prevents more than six vehicles from being parked at a residence, and no parking on grass or dirt is allowed.

“It’s problematic on a number of fronts,” Johnson said. “Everything from, you know, where do you park all those cars?”

Johnson said the homeowner trying to advertise his home on PadSplit has already sparked action within city government.

“We’re going to make our public code a little bit clearer so that if there is a homeowner digging into it saying, ‘Hey, can I do this?’ it will be clear,” he said.

The article is in part based on a recent podcast episode of Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager.

Freelance journalist and content marketer, author and aspiring Screenwriter. Nathan has written for Savannah Morning News, The Brunswick News and the Bayonet and Saber.

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City Government

Community forum to address crime, safety issues in Peachtree Corners

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UPCCA hosts annual COPS program to allow face-to-face dialogue among residents, stakeholders and law enforcement.

Overnight car break-ins and vandalism, ruffians blocking key intersections and putting lives in danger with reckless stunts, bullying and name-calling at schools escalating to terrorist threats and violence – none of those scenarios are what Peachtree Corners residents want to see in their community. To inform residents and stakeholders of law enforcement actions to curb and eliminate this type of lawlessness, United Peachtree Corners Civic Association invites everyone to its annual C.O.P.S. Program. Set for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 26 at Christ The King Lutheran Church, 5575 Peachtree Parkway government officials and police agencies will discuss crime prevention and present local Peachtree Corners crime statistics.

Among invited presenters are Mayor Mike Mason, the new Gwinnett County Chief of Police J.D. McClure, Major Edward Restrepo, commander of the West Gwinnett Precinct, MPO Andres Camacho, District 1 Community Oriented Police Service, a Gwinnett County Schools resource officer and other community leaders who will be available for questions and answers.

“With all that’s going on in the world now, we are thankful to have our lovely pocket of relative peace here in Peachtree Corners,” said Matt Lombardi, president of UPCCA. “But there’s a perception that it’s gotten worse for crime in the last few years.”

Like many suburban areas of the country, Peachtree Corners has been victim of so called “takeovers” where groups of teens and young adults converge on a usually busy intersection and  show off stunt driving like doing “donuts” and “drifting.” With no regard to traffic or vehicular safety, there are often fireworks and sometimes weapons discharged as well as kids hanging recklessly out of cars.

Recently, a combined effort from several local law enforcement agencies took down one weekend gathering, but with school out and summer almost in full swing, it’s inevitable that more will come.

That’s one of the major topics that will be discussed at the meeting, said Lombardi, along with a look at license plate readers, the effects of crime on property values and other issues.

One topic that has been on the minds of some, said Lombardi, is the question of whether it’s time for Peachtree Corners to have its own police force. As it is now, Gwinnett County police provide protection as well as the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s office.

Instead of leaving the question lingering, this is an opportunity for residents to speak their minds.

“UPCCA is one of the few organizations in metro Atlanta that brings people to face-to-face with the law enforcement community,” said Lombardi. “It’s important to know who’s protecting you and your property and how it’s being handled.”

Information: upcca.org

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Business

Peachtree Corners Partners With Israeli Startup To Advance Smart City Technology

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Peachtree Corners and Israeli Startup ACiiST

ACiiST will help the city with a connected infrastructure without tearing up roads or investing in miles of cables.

As one of the country’s first smart cities powered by real-world connected infrastructure, Peachtree Corners recently announced a partnership with Israeli startup ACiiST – Smart Networks, the manufacturer of SD-LAN network solutions optimized for connecting outdoor cameras and sensors through a robust networking system. This partnership provides Peachtree Corners with connected infrastructure network solutions via fiber that allow various mobility technologies on Peachtree Corners’ smart city streets to communicate with minimal digging, saving the city and residents time and money.

Peachtree Corners and Israeli Startup ACiiST

Installed in Technology Parkway earlier this year, ACiiST’s technology spans across a half-mile of Peachtree Corners’ “city street of the future,” allowing deployed technologies and smart infrastructure with cameras, wireless links and other communication equipment, to be streamed directly to the Curiosity Lab’s IoT Control Room, the first of its kind to be implemented in a city in the United States. Communication between the smart infrastructure and the IoT Control Room is possible via self-managed ACiiST Polarity units that create a low latency, high performance and fully manageable network.

“Working with ACiiST to demonstrate their technologies at Curiosity Lab is another great example of how international companies are showing great interest in the most unique real-world smart city ecosystem in the country,” said Brandon Branham, Peachtree Corners Assistant City Manager and CTO. “We are able to demonstrate to other cities across the country the unique network connectivity, redundancy and monitoring capabilities of ACiiST’s technology through this implementation on public infrastructure. This is a true testament of how the partnership between Israel and Curiosity Lab offers startups a one-of-a-kind experience to bring their products to the North American market.”

ACiiST’s network solutions allow Peachtree Corners to have a more secure smart city environment and make informed decisions based on data, such as traffic management. This solution also makes it easier for new edge devices such as cameras, radar sensors, digital signs, V2I access points and more, to be deployed and installed as smart infrastructure across the city street of the future, supporting the Curiosity Lab and Peachtree Corners’ position as one of the leading smart cities in the United States.

“It was clear from the very first time we met with the Peachtree Corners management team that we are talking with leaders who want to promote positive change – with smart roads and streets as a platform to better manage their public spaces. They are open-minded to the implementation of new technologies, and we are happy to have our network solutions in action at the most unique smart city environment in the USA,” said Sagi Gurfinkel, ACiiST Co-Founder and CEO. “The ACiiST network is already installed as the connectivity platform for multiple cities in Israel, Africa and the European Union, and we are excited to now add the United States to this list.”

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City Government

Bourdeaux Brings Big Check To Peachtree Corners Mobility Hub

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CuriosityLab---Mobile-Hub-Grant-2022
City manager Brian Johnson, Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Mayor Mike Mason (Photos by Bruce Johnson)

Federal funds will help further establish the city a leader in the smart city space.

There aren’t many of us who can write a check for nearly half a million dollars, but Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux came to Peachtree Corners Curiosity Lab on May 3 to do just that. Even though it wasn’t from her personal bank account, she worked hard for more than a year to ensure that the people in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District got the funding to continue developing the smart technology that has put it on the map.

Rendering of the planned Mobility Hub (photo by staff)

In spring of 2021, Bourdeaux submitted 10 funding requests for important community projects to the House Appropriations Committee. The recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 includes funding for all 10 of her community projects, including $495,000 for Peachtree Corners’ Curiosity Lab Mobility Hub. This funding will allow the tech companies housed there to continue their work on improving community transit options to better accommodate autonomous vehicles, drones and other clean-energy vehicles.

“I am honored to be able to present Peachtree Corners’ Curiosity Lab with almost half a million dollars to improve this mobility hub that they are developing. We want to do this because we really need to innovate around transportation. And we need to innovate in ways that promote the green economy,” she said. “And it’s important that our community be on the forefront of this.”

Bourdeaux pointed out that this funding will be used for sitework and furniture furnishings, as well as providing docking and refueling stations for solar electric power and other alternative energy vehicles. With these federal dollars, the innovators at Curiosity Lab will help accommodate mass transportation while integrating bicycle and pedestrian access.

The technology isn’t just cool space-age gadgetry. It’s a solution for cost-effective last mile connectivity for low-income individuals who may need to ride public transit and have been paying a higher rate than others. It can be an equalizer for the have-nots to become closer on par with the haves.

Peachtree Corners City Manager Brian Johnson agreed that federal support is paramount in this type of undertaking.

“These kinds of things only happen when you do have the support all the way up to the federal government,” he said. “Some of this stuff like autonomous vehicles, which are regulated by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and drones, which are regulated by the FAA, fall under the U.S. Transportation Secretary.”

Johnson added that at the insistence of Bourdeaux, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg personally visited the Peachtree Corners facility to gain first-hand knowledge of what’s possible.

“There is a rendering of a property that again is only a couple 100 yards up the road on our track and it is going to create an electric vehicle multimodal facility,” Johnson said. “So, all things electric vehicle are going to come together at this one location thanks to these resources that the congresswoman helped us get.”

What was once only a dream — and a prototype — is already functioning here. Everything from electric buses and autonomous vehicles fast electric vehicle charging stations to electric bikes and scooters are all coming together at one location to help with mobility in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly way.

Bourdeaux is proud of what’s happening locally, not only for what it’s doing to further the community, but also for how it can affect the entire world.

“Just this morning, my sister texted me that in India and Pakistan there are parts of those countries that are 120 degrees. Right now. That’s not survivable for human beings over a long period of time; we really do face this threat of climate change,” she said. “So, we need to get out there and innovate in these kinds of ways that promote that green technology. And by doing that, by doing good things like that, our economy will also flourish.”

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