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What does the French American Chamber, 5G, and the Secretary of Transportation have in Common?

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Peachtree Corners and Curiosity Lab continues to draw attention nationally (with a recent visit by Secretary of Transporation Pete Buttigieg) and internationally (from France, the Swiss Consul General, and others.) Find out how this impacts our community, business, and where we go from here. With your host Rico Figliolini and City Manager Brian Johnson on Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager.

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:01:15] – The Swiss Ambassador Visit
[00:03:12] – French American Chamber of Commerce
[00:09:50] – A Visit from the Secretary of Transportation
[00:15:34] – Local Events and Updates
[00:28:56] – New Building Developments
[00:31:43] – Closing

“It’s kind of cool sometimes for the city to say, yeah, maybe we were part of the evolution of that particular technology. And so the secretary and others wanted to see some of the things that are happening here because they’re interested in how close or far away it is and what they can do to help.”

Brian Johnson

Podcast transcript

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi, this is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life and today, Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager, Brian Johnson who I’m going to bring on shortly. But I just want to let you know what we’re going to be talking about today. Basically, we’re going to be talking about even with COVID we have an environment where things are moving and shaking, things are happening in the city. That not only affects this city, but some of it’s like the first time ever or things that are happening here, not really happening anywhere else. Like the 5G accelerator program. Having the secretary of transportation visit us, small city like ours, to discuss transportation. The French American chamber of commerce coming and moving into Peachtree Corners plus a whole lot more. So let’s get right into it with Brian. Hey, Brian. How are you?

[00:01:14] Brian: Good Rico, how are you?

[00:01:15] Rico: Good. So let’s talk a little bit about the Swiss ambassador and the council general coming for a visit from Washington to visit our little town of Peachtree Corners. What does that mean? And what can that mean? When we have dignitaries like that visiting us.

[00:01:28] Brian: Well, So this isn’t the first time that we have had some international dignitaries. Most of the time, it’s either the console general him or herself out of the Atlanta consulate. Sometimes we have some trade ambassadors, but this time the council general of Switzerland was joined by the Swiss ambassador himself. And they came here for the purposes of taking a look at Curiosity Lab, taking a look at the technology and the different sectors that we have here. And to do so for the purposes of them maybe seeing if there are some opportunities for Swiss companies to potentially come in and use the facility on a ongoing or temporary basis. See if there’s not some synergy between Curiosity Lab and some Swiss tech companies. And they were very impressed. There was a lot of ideas thrown out. There’s a lot of action items we have afterwards. But it is no secret, nor is it by chance, that a lot of the international companies that we have here are a result of us having put ourselves in a position where somebody whose job from another country is to keep their eyes and ears watching ways for them to further their countries’ companies. That they hear and see, and they’re like, we want to come out there. And they do and as a result, we have a lot of international activity here. We just had a Portuguese company that moved into the innovation center. That’s what the Swiss were here to do. And I have high hopes that we’re going to get some activity from them and maybe we’ll get some chocolate, watches, all the other generalized things that come from Switzerland.

[00:03:12] Rico: Well, let’s move on then to the French American chamber of commerce that is actually going to move their offices to the Curiosity Lab. So how’d that come about and what does that mean also for technology here and for companies from France, maybe moving here?

[00:03:25] Brian: Well, if there was, yeah, no easier segue than from one international, one to the other. As we’re talking about becoming more known on the international stage. The French American chamber of commerce, which exists here, obviously like other chambers of commerce, is to provide a social, a civic link between companies from a particular country and ours. We have relationships with others like the Israel American chamber and others like that. But in this case, the French American chamber was doing its thing. And we got on their radar screen, specifically in this case, we actually have a gentleman who was a board member of it. His name is Bertrand Lapoire. He lives here in Peachtree corners. His kids go to school here. Very rooted in the community. And he reached out, very interested in what we were doing here, both personally and from his vantage point of being a board member. And we just started talking. And introduced to each other, started getting included in the French American chamber. We started doing things with them and they started getting more interested in what we have going on. Fast forward, I don’t know, a year or so. And the French government created a program called La French Tech and to paraphrase and boil it down, the program was essentially to pick, I believe it was six locations in the US for the French government to choose as a targeted landing spot for French tech companies to come into the US so there was kind of a competitive process. They threw this out to cities throughout the US and said, Hey, we want to do this. We want to establish a more formal pipeline. And we threw our hat in the ring. And of course, I say Peachtree Corners, oftentimes these things are result of us having to educate people on the offerings and the benefits of being in Metro Atlanta. Obviously if Peachtree Corners by itself was just by itself. We couldn’t be handling some of this stuff. We’re punching outside of our weight class as it is. But the Metro Atlanta economic development ecosystem, that’s here. From the Metro Atlanta chamber to the state’s department of economic development to Gwinnett County’s chamber, Partnership Gwinnett, and lots of other, a ton of other organizations that help. We leverage that by reminding them that we are also a part of Metro Atlanta and there’s a lot of all these offerings. Anyway, we threw our hat in the ring. And along with a city in Silicon valley, one up in research triangle, I believe, New York city. Let’s see, I think Austin, Texas. Of the locations we were one of the six. And so we are one of the six. And the exact landing location within Metro Atlanta is the Curiosity Lab innovation center. And of course, once they get there that opens the door for other things and they can move around. And obviously we have relationships with Georgia Tech, ATDC, and others. But their exact landing spot is here. And so the French American Chamber felt like it was in their best interest to further their mission of trying to help perpetuate, help expand and facilitate French tech companies doing various things in the U S that they would be best served to be physically located at the same location where these companies are coming in. So they moved their offices out of the French consulate and into our innovation center. And so this Thursday, we’ve got a big grand opening event where we’re going to celebrate having a permanent French presence inside the innovation center for the purposes of facilitating technology companies and research and testing here, Curiosity Lab from France.

[00:07:45] Rico: If anything proves that technology opens boarders, this is one of them. I mean, internet has shown that you can be anywhere and order anything and be delivered within a day even. Within the day, within hours, almost. So technology, 5G, autonomous vehicles, all that stuff. It’s just, to see that all happening here. And I appreciate what you were saying before. Punching, you know, in your weight class. Because the intuitive surgical company that announced some weeks ago that they were going to bring 1200 new jobs to Peachtree Corners couldn’t have happened without the state also helping, right? Incentives from the city, from the county, I think as well. All that, we don’t live in a small little cylinder here. So we’re taking the city through leadership, political leadership, as well as leadership on your end. And I think advantage of where we can to bring economic impact into the city. It’s a cool thing to be able to have and talk about this and bring jobs over a period of time. And that doorway with the French American chamber, it was like you said, another place that once they hear that can bring more work, more companies coming out here.

[00:08:52] Brian: Yeah. You just never know these portals sometimes open possibilities that you would never have. And vice versa, there could be some American companies that find that there’s this back and forth. It’s not a one-way street. They may end up finding a market in France or a partner as a French company to help scale up their product that they wouldn’t have without it. So it’s not always a one way street. We, like to stress that. Obviously we like to see the activity here, but if we’re that conduit going the other way, that means that people will talk and we’ll get other companies here. Very little investment to do this other than creating relationships, ensuring that the city continues to maintain a testing environment, this living laboratory that is very easy, inexpensive, but yet secure to use. And words getting out and activities happening, and sky’s the limit right now.

[00:09:50] Rico: It seems to be. And the world’s changing, COVID and all that. We’re seeing more of a move at least through the Biden administration of away from petrol. Trying to move away from petrol towards more sustainable energy and possibly electric or alternative vehicles. So I mean, the future’s out there. Forbes magazine even covered or highlighted a bit of what we were doing here, I think. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about that as well?

[00:10:14] Brian: We got on Forbes radar screen about some of the electric vehicle activity that we have here. Specifically the fact that we are both getting ready to have our, if you want to call it kickoff. And I’ll save some of this for the event, but four autonomous shuttles from two different manufacturers, two different OEMs. Coincidentally, one of the two original equipment manufacturers, what OEM stands for, one of the two is actually a French company. But they were talking about that as well as the electric vehicle research we have here to help facilitate what, like you said, might be a greater demand on the use or the need for batteries than we’ve ever seen. If President Biden’s initiative and a lot of this infrastructure legislation is passed, there is a huge amount of pressure to get off the internal combustion engine and get into electric vehicles. That’s not as simple as some people think. You still have a lot of battery charging, battery swapping, battery disposal, things that you’ve got to talk about. And a lot of that’s being done here. And so Forbes took notice and did an article on us. So I get surprised everyday myself sometimes. My CTO and I were talking about another article and we pull it up and sure enough, right there, Forbes comes up and we’re like, wow, we just got on Forbes. So it’s, a wild ride right now.

[00:11:45] Rico: Yeah, I would think. It’s great to have national attention like that. Local companies, local publications, like the Atlanta business Chronicle, featuring a story about Peachtree Corners, experience a real Renaissance by attracting business. And that was a nice article that they wrote just the beginning of this month that they put out that talked a bit about, a recap of the jobs coming here. Of companies that were going to leave, but decided they were going to stay instead. We’re not talking about small amounts here. We’re talking about tens of thousands of, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space, even during this COVID environment.

[00:12:20] Brian: And Rico, you and I are both residents here. So if we put on our resident hat, if we didn’t know what was going on, we would be like, okay, what’s the big deal with this? What’s in it for me? Why does the Swiss ambassador or the French American chamber, why do I care about any of it? And you just hit the nail on the head. And that is what’s happening is our local economy is benefiting from it immensely. Whether it’s companies that were going to leave and did not. Hapag-Lloyd right at the corner of Spalding and Peachtree Parkway, they were looking to leave. And we were able to not only convince them not to leave, but then they closed another location and moved in here. And so they expanded by a couple hundred employees in that space. We have retained business. We have helped business expand by hundreds of employees. I mean, CarMax, liked their first experience here just expanded. Soliant liked their experience here. They hadn’t been here a long time but they not only liked their experience, but they liked the fact that we’ve got a lot of energy and synergy around economic development and other emerging companies, innovative companies, and they want to be a part of it. And then of course you go to the ones that’s always the, it gets the most press and that’s the recruitment. And we get some new companies here, but obviously Intuitive being the big one recently. Just think about this, aside from permanent jobs, aside from that, which means we have stable home values and healthy community and all that kind of stuff. Intuitive’s business model, their campus they’re creating here, which will have all of the training for all the surgeons that are working in hospitals on the Eastern seaboard are going to come here to get trained. And so part of the investment commitment Intuitive made to Georgia and pastry Corners, they’re going to generate at least 16,000 overnight hotel room stays per year or more. Just that. So Intuitive deciding to expand here, build their east coast headquarters here, create 1200 plus jobs exceeding $130,000 salary average. That’s all great. Don’t get me wrong. But then you want to talk about local economy and how it will help all of us as residences. That’s a lot of hotel rooms by a lot of visiting surgeons. So these aren’t like ones that are, at least they shouldn’t be paupers and not have a lot of disposable income. But they’re staying in a hotel here at least a week, sometimes a month or longer, depending on how much training they’re getting at once. And they’re needing to do something. And so that’s restaurants, that’s hotels, that’s shopping, that’s all sorts of things that feed our local economy. So this stuff does matter, even though it may be an international story. That’s how you generate excitement, generate interest, generate just awareness. And then we go from there.

[00:15:34] Rico: Yeah, it’s amazing how it just builds on itself. And you’re right. The economic impact is way beyond just the jobs and the visits and stuff. Especially in this, in a city like Peachtree Corners that is still growing and finding its way over the past decade. The Peachtree Corners Festival coming up in September with all local events that are coming and even new ones that we don’t even know are going to be coming this way. Obviously there is that event I think happening in October also was that conference.

[00:16:03] Brian: Oh, the V2X conference.

[00:16:04] Rico: The V2X conference, right.

[00:16:06] Brian: If COVID doesn’t. Yeah, I mean.

[00:16:08] Rico: Well right. If it doesn’t do it to us.

[00:16:12] Brian: But Rico, if it doesn’t happen because of COVID, it will be postponed. It will not be canceled.

[00:16:18] Rico: I’m sure and there’s events that are happening. We’re a co-sponsor of Japan Fest, which is supposed to be happening at Gas Out, but that was postponed just this week. They decided to postpone that. There’s events that are going to be postponed. Then you’ve got Shaky Knees in Atlanta, the concerts that are going to happen. They’re out in the open and they’re still going it seems. So and they’re starting up in two weeks or something. So we’re still here and there’s even more. Like the secretary of transportation came to visit a couple of weeks ago to talk a bit about, to see what we were doing with the TV stations and what we’re doing with the Curiosity Lab. So tell us about what that visit does for the Peachtree Corners City. Having someone like that show up.

[00:16:58] Brian: So we just got done talking a little bit about on the international front, how it benefits us. But domestically we also stand to benefit by getting on certain people’s radar screen. That started actually before Secretary Buttigieg was here with our representative to the US house. That is Carolyn Bourdeaux. She was elected, what has it been almost a year ago? I guess it was January when she came in, but she is very interested in technology. Things that she can do in the suburbs to help with transportation, transit. Things that sometimes we think are only scalable in an urban area, she’s really taken an interest. And up in DC it appears that she had done, I’m not sure what all she did. But she elevated Curiosity Lab to a point where Secretary Buttigieg had, what was essentially an advanced team, come out to our location and asked if they could come out and essentially put me on notice that look, we’re here to see if this location is worth the secretary coming out. And at the end of that hour of me talking to them and showing them some things, they were like, oh yeah, he’s coming here. I don’t know, two weeks later, he ultimately came here with Representative Bourdeaux and with the Commissioner of Transportation for Georgia, Russell McMurry. And as well as a number of other, local leaders from our county commission chair to other state representative state centers. Anyway, the main benefit here are twofold. One is there are a number of agencies that regulate the activity that is going on right here. Two of them that we deal with a lot because of the companies that are wanting to test here is NITSA and FAA. Of course, we all know Federal Aviation Administration, they regulate everything that’s in the air. So when it comes to drones, we’re dealing with them a lot. These companies are dealing with them a lot. And the other one’s NITSA. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. They’re the ones who regulate what happens on our roadways or essentially what is, or is not a vehicle. And so they’re the ones regulating our autonomous vehicle activity here. Both those agencies work for the Secretary of Transportation. And so when secretary Buttigieg was here, one of the things he asked me when I was presenting is what challenges am I seeing? And I did tell him, I said, one of the things we’re seeing is we’ve got some, not just cutting edge, bleeding edge technology that’s happening here. And your regulatory agencies are oftentimes trying to play catch up to try to write regulations, to regulate some of this stuff that’s just emerging. And I said, one of our challenges is that it’s holding some of the evolution of this technology back. They’re ready to go, but they can’t because they’re being held back because of these agencies. And the whole time, the only time I saw him take out a little note pad thing from his coat and write down something was when I said that. You know, we got some follow on action items, but I would love to see them maybe have a more active presence here to help facilitate some of this. But so that’s one. And then the second one is that sometimes the city likes to oftentimes step up and be a part of the evolution of technology ourselves. And so it’s nice for there to be things like the solar roadway that we’ve got out here that we’re doing first in the world, testing on it, being on a public street. Attached to an active working electric vehicle charging station that’s not pulling off the grid, if it runs out of power. I mean, these are some things that we’re doing. So it’s kind of cool sometimes for the city to say, yeah, maybe we were part of the evolution of that particular technology. And so secretary and others wanted to see some of the things that are happening here because they’re interested in how close or far away it is and what they can do to help. So it helps us on a number of fronts. But yeah, right now we’ve got things humming pretty well on both the domestic and the international front. We’ve got some people who have a little bit of rank, so to speak that are coming around. Kicking the tires, seeing what’s going on. So it’s kinda cool. It also can be fatiguing because they come with a lot of advanced parties, whether it’s to detail secret service advance, so there’s a lot of that. I’ve had to hone up on my protocol skills just to know which side of the table to sit on with some of these people, but it’s a cool problem to have.

[00:21:50] Rico: I would think. Exciting problem to have and good friends to have. I mean, Carolyn Bourdeaux being able to bring down secretary of transportation. These are all good things for the city to have. Political strength there, an interest from the federal government and the state. And the city, like you said, is doing a lot of things too. The EV charging stations, I think the city is providing administration of funds on for businesses as well as local people that want to be able to have their own EV charging stations. So that’s an application process, I believe that has to go into the city. So I mean, the city’s promoting stuff like that. So if someone wants to get in, if some business wants to put five EV stations at their business location, they could go to the city to talk about that. So there’s all that going on. You could consider that almost national stuff. Interesting things. But then we have local things going on. So let’s cut a little bit into that as well and let people know what’s going on a little bit. There’s new restaurants coming in. I know that the city approved several licenses. Liquor licenses that were approved, like for Fly Chef restaurant, Crabs ‘R’ Us is coming. So there’s a bunch of that going on. So the city, even though, people talk about going out, restaurants and stuff, there are restaurants opening in the city. Still hard to find employees, right? I’m still seeing signs all over the place. Anywhere from $10 to $15 an hour. I don’t know what the city can do with that, but certainly there is a demand out there for more employees, more jobs out there it seems. At least on a service level that we’re talking about.

[00:23:21] Brian: There are. I mean, we have job fairs both for restaurant and hospitality. Because the hotels are hurting as well. But yeah, we certainly are seeing, we’ve got a number of restaurants that can’t even, aren’t even open all day for the normal times that they would, because there’s not a lot of waitstaff.

[00:23:41] Rico: And I saw Salada also has limited their hours. It’s funny because I put a dinner order on their app and it got to the end, it says they’re closed. And they’re only limited from 11 to 4:00 PM is what they’re doing. So yeah, there is work out there or at least a certain type of work. Part time and stuff. But, those rates, those hourly rates aren’t going up. They just have to find their way there. Also the Grace Korean church, they got approved right? For their special use permit. And Summit gas station, they were looking for some buffer reductions and actually the city didn’t go with that. That was denied, that special use. That would really cut down the buffer on those areas. But the city looked at that.

[00:24:21] Brian: Yeah. Mayor and council, did look at that and said, look, were it not for you wanting to build a gas station, which requires a bigger footprint than a normal, like a different commercial one, because you’ve got to have the pump separate from the building and you’ve got certain distances. So it takes a bigger footprint. So council felt like look, there was no hardship because the owner could build plenty of things on there. Plenty of uses. He had just wanted to do a gas station and it just takes too much. And it’s not to say that they thought it was a bad location. Had it not been for the fact that there was existing residential with a buffer that would have been removed and it would have affected their quality of life.

[00:25:08] Rico: And I’m surprised that they didn’t look at that to begin with. I think they bought that property knowing what it was there and they should have asked those questions ahead of time to see if there was any interest in allowing them to do that.

[00:25:21] Brian: You’d be surprised what people buy with the assumption that they’re going to get a rezone, Rico. It’s sad, and then they get all worked up and threaten lawsuit. Do your due diligence.

[00:25:31] Rico: At this point, I’m not surprised. There are people out there that will buy stuff and not even do the due diligence and just expect to get what they want. Which is like ridiculous. Anything else going on in the city? Coming up that we should know about? That we should share?

[00:25:45] Brian: I mean, you know, fall festival. So that’s coming in just under two weeks that’s of course a huge deal. We are looking to do a decathlon. That’s our next podcast, we can talk about it. It’ll be sometime in mid November. A decathlon around, a unique one around the fitness stations in our fitness trail by the town green.

[00:26:10] Rico: I spoke with City Councilman Alex Wright about that. And he actually shared the logo on it, which looks really cool. And they’re adding, you guys are adding, and this is like a city sponsored event versus an event that the city allows happening in a play. So the city is actually putting this event on. And you’re adding 10 more pieces of equipment, I guess, to that.

[00:26:30] Brian: Well, no. We’re adding three more to get to ten.

[00:26:33] Rico: I’m sorry. Three more, that’s what I mean.

[00:26:35] Brian: We’ll have 10 individual stations that people will rotate through to see. They’ll have to do certain things a certain amount of time and the quicker you can do it the more time you have to rest. And it’ll be five minute increments before you have to move to the next one. So yeah, we can talk about that. Another thing that gets activity to the town center. Another event that’s unique to the area that offers a certain segment of the population something to do. So we’re looking forward to that. But no, we’ve always got, we talked about some of these, more high-profile things. But we still have potholes to patch and you’ve got other things going on that are not as sexy but no less important. And of course, like to remind everybody we’re doing all of this stuff without property tax. So still trying to keep costs of living in the city very low.

[00:27:29] Rico: It’s amazing that the city can do all it’s doing without property tax. Because you see other cities, every other city around here has a property tax. So the fact that our city doesn’t is really good.

[00:27:41] Brian: It’s our local economy. We’ve got to make sure that’s strong and if it’s generating sales tax and good business license, and we can do this. It’s when we take our foot off the gas is where we’re going to get into trouble. So we have no intention of doing that.

[00:27:54] Rico: And you were talking about events and stuff like the festival and the decathlon. Even the corn hole, the corn hole games. I didn’t realize they attract almost, they had I think almost 200 registrants for the league here in Peachtree Corners alone. And they operate these things all over Atlanta. So even the little things like that.

[00:28:13] Brian: Yeah, or the Georgia Clemson game. I mean that one out at the town green was very well attended because people were like, oh, look, I can watch these games at home. Obviously I could go to it. But then I also have a unique experience and I could leave the house. I can be outside and watch it on a big screen. Great weather. Do it with friends. Have a libation and have a great experience. And nothing makes an experience, a Georgia football game, any better than when we beat a top five team.

[00:28:47] Rico: That’s for sure.

[00:28:50] Brian: That’s exactly right. That made it even better. Little things add up. Quality of life is why people live where they do.

[00:28:56] Rico: That’s true. Even this weekend coming up for those that might hear this before this weekend September 11th is another concert night, music on the town green. Sundogs is going to be performing. So you know, all these things really provide a good atmosphere for everyone. I did have a question for you too. I’ve noticed, probably should have asked you this before we started the podcast, but it just came to mind. Earth moving behind Chase Bank. That property is the Robert’s property. And I don’t know if that’s Earth moving or them just putting out trucks over there and stuff. But anything new going on there?

[00:29:29] Brian: No, the behind Chase Bank, not right now. You have two things that are going on in the area. The old black Walnut building was renovated. What’s the name of the steakhouse? H&W?

[00:29:42] Rico: Yeah, H&W I think.

[00:29:46] Brian: So they did some renovation in the back, so it could have been that. And then of course our multi-use trail is going in along the Creek there that separates the Lazy Dog and the parking deck from the other side. And it’s got a trail that is both elevated, up on stilts, if you will. And it also has one that is going to go down into the Creek itself. And so there’s some construction going on with that. So they could have been pre-staging on one side because it just made it easier to get in then trying to go through the town center. But those are the only things happening.

[00:30:24] Rico: Okay. And anything new on the multi-use development that was approved? With that reuse of the four story, five story office building, and those one story condos?

[00:30:33] Brian: 5720 Peachtree Parkway, right? So right now they are working on the official architectural construction documents and the final engineering of the plat. They will take, these developers will take a project only so far before they have the rezoning. Because if they spend too much money and they don’t get it, then all that work was flushed down the toilet. So they are doing that. And I’ve been told that they’re hoping to break ground on that before the end of the calendar year.

[00:31:07] Rico: Alright. Cool. Okay. And I guess the other, the one last thing is the Jimmy Carter Boulevard where the old Upton’s shopping center I guess. It used to be Upton’s department store in there, or one of the gyms were in there after that I think. LA fitness, right? Anything new? I know they sold at one point, I think it was only a 40% occupancy or something like that. I’m just curious if there was anything new going on there that you hear.

[00:31:35] Brian: There is. They have a new owner. That’s considering some options, including some discussions with our redevelopment authority.

[00:31:43] Rico: Excellent. Okay, cool. Good. So maybe we’ll get more news on that. I know that’s an area that’s ripe for development. That whole side of Jimmy Carter. But this was great. I appreciate giving us a zoom call, so to speak on this.

[00:31:59] Brian: Rico as always, thanks for the opportunity and the vehicle for the city to allow some of this stuff to get out. It’s important. And the more educated and knowledgeable our citizenry is, the better. So I appreciate that opportunity for those who watch to be a little bit more informed than they were before the show started.

[00:32:20] Rico: I’m glad to hear that. And Peachtree Corners magazine we’re working on the next issue for the October, November. Putting that together. We’ll have that by the end of this month, we’ll have that all in place. So keep checking us on social media guys. If you like this podcast, certainly share it with your friends. Also give a review on Apple or Spotify or any of those where we’re on. This way we’ll be more searchable as well. And check out our sister podcast, which is starting up with three new episodes in the next few weeks, the Capitalist Sage. We’ll be talking to local business people. One of the leaders of ASHRAE in fact, will be on the podcast soon. Talking about things going on here in the Metro area business-wise and what we can learn from them. So check that out. Go to LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com and learn more about this city. Thank you.

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City Government

Planning and Development is Changing in Peachtree Corners

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

From Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason’s monthly column.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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City Government

Peachtree Corners Welcomes New Community Development Director

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Shaun Adams // Photos by Tracey Rice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local government possibilities 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A perfect fit

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

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

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

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

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

Changes to the job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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