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.
[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
[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.
The First Days of the City of Peachtree Corners
Peachtree Corners Community Development Director and first full-time city employee Diana Wheeler recount the early days.
Ten years ago, when I was offered the opportunity to become Peachtree Corners’ first employee, I eagerly accepted because I thought that with over 25 years of government experience, I could make a real contribution to this new city.
I didn’t realize until I visited the first City Hall building for the very first time that I would be contributing more than just my knowledge and experience. I would also be contributing my cell phone, car, laptop and credit card.
The fledgling city of Peachtree Corners had a framework for governance in place and several part-time consultants to manage operations, but there were no other permanent employees or much of anything else. The space that had been leased for City Hall was an old, empty building with glass walls and a poor ventilation system.
I had my pick of any empty office I wanted. With my architectural training and an understanding of the building’s orientation, I could tell immediately that I would have a choice of either being too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer. (I went with too cold in the winter and invested in a space heater.)
Setting, and resetting, priorities
I spent that first morning in August 2012 making a list of everything that needed to be done and then got to work on my list. The first item was a call to the cable company to sign up for internet service. There was only so much I could do on my phone. Without computers and internet, there would be no way to start up this start-up.
Next on my list was a trip to a used furniture store to see about buying desks, chairs, file cabinets and other essentials. There was no time to order new furniture and wait for delivery. I needed to buy things that were on-hand — or second hand. Fortunately, six matching office sets were found, and I told the salesperson that I would take them all.
I was feeling a great sense of accomplishment until he asked how I wanted to pay for them. I told him that the furniture was for the City of Peachtree Corners and asked if he could create an account for the city. He said he never heard of Peachtree Corners, but he could set up an account if it was tied to a credit card or a bank account.
Well, of course, Peachtree Corners had neither, so I contributed the use of my credit card and hoped that the purchase cleared. Luckily, it was the beginning of the month, so the transaction was approved — and I was off to my newly re-prioritized next destination: the bank.
All went well there, but I thought it might still be prudent to call my credit card company and see if they would raise my card limit. They did and that made me happy until I started to think about explaining the next month’s credit card bill to my husband.
Challenges and accomplishments
Over the next few weeks, I worked to secure office equipment, including copy machines, a plotter (for maps and plans) and AV equipment, as well as basic office supplies. Fortunately, my credit card with its increased spending limit was up to the challenge and carried us over until the bank issued the city a line of credit.
Meanwhile, without the benefit of coworkers, I often needed to find creative solutions to routine challenges. For example, when trash got dumped along Peachtree Corners Circle, I reached out to Gwinnett’s Sheriff Department and made arrangements for an inmate work crew to pick it all up. And when deliveries were made to City Hall that I couldn’t physically manage, a staffing agency sent folks with strong arms to assist.
I even put my family to work. Large tables and file cases with drawers were needed for building plan review and large format projects, so my husband Robert and son John assembled big IKEA dining room tables and cabinets that were later outfitted with glass tops. They worked hard interpreting Swedish instructional hieroglyphics over the course of a weekend, and I supplied a picnic lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, because a refrigerator hadn’t yet been purchased for the break room.
Celebration for the new city
One of the biggest challenges came at the beginning of December 2012 when the City Council announced that there would be a Grand Opening of City Hall with an open house in January — and the entire community would be invited.
It seemed like an impossible goal, but the City Council had just hired City Clerk Kym Chereck and that made all the difference. The two of us worked with a consultant, developed an action plan, delegated assignments — and everyone got very, very busy.
We worked up until the very last minute. A Boy Scout troop was even recruited to raise the flag at City Hall on opening day. It didn’t occur to me until the week before that the national anthem should be played when the flag is raised for the first time. It was too late to solicit a volunteer, so again, I pressed my good-natured, trumpet player son John into service. He did an admirable job and set the tone for a jubilant day.
The highlight of the Grand Opening came when Mayor Mike Mason unveiled the city name and logo on the wall of the new Council Chambers. The unveiling generated a standing ovation and marked the realization of a dream for all those involved and for a brand-new city. It was a truly remarkable achievement.
And 10 years later, we’re still living the dream. Happy Birthday, Peachtree Corners! ■
City of Peachtree Corners Finance Dept. Awarded Certificate of Achievement
The City of Peachtree Corners’ Finance Department has been awarded a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) for its 2021 financial year-end comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR).
The GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting, and its attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management. It is the city’s fourth year receiving the award and represents a significant accomplishment by the City’s Finance Department and its leadership.
“We are pleased to again receive this honor,” said City Manager Brian Johnson. “Our finance department, and Finance Director Cory Salley, are to be commended for this achievement as it is the highest form of recognition GOFA presents.”
The city’s Finance Department produces the CAFR each year and works with independent auditors to verify the city’s financial situation and standing. The CAFR is judged by an impartial panel to meet the high standards of the program, which includes demonstrating a constructive “spirit of full disclosure” to clearly communicate its financial story and motivate potential users and user groups to read the report.
“This is an important award that validates Peachtree Corners’ commitment to go beyond the minimum requirements to prepare comprehensive annual financial reports in the spirit of transparency and full disclosure,” said Assistant City Manager, Brandon Branham.
The Government Finance Officers Association, based in Chicago, is a non-profit professional association serving approximately 17,500 government finance professionals. With offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C., it serves the member organization by advancing uniform standards and procedures in financial management for governments and assisting with professional development for public finance managers.
Eric Christ on Upcoming Rezonings, Citizen Engagement, and the SPLOST November Vote
On this episode of Peachtree Corners Life, Rico is joined by City Councilman Eric Christ. Eric has been serving on the City Council for over six years and he actively shares his experience and knowledge about the city on his newsletter and social media to keep the public engaged in what’s going on. Together Eric and Rico discuss topics such as Rezoning issues, updates on the Forum, the upcoming SPLOST vote, and much more.Listen to “Eric Christ on Upcoming Rezonings, Citizen Engagement, and the SPLOST November Vote” on Spreaker.
[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:03:03] – Keeping Citizens Aware and Engaged in Rezoning
[00:07:28] – Enhancing the Rezoning Process
[00:12:18] – New Updates on the Forum
[00:23:04] – Thoughts on Housing Issues
[00:36:48] – The Upcoming SPLOST
[00:42:25] – Closing
“Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion about if a particular project is beneficial to the city. But I think it’s important that everybody has the facts… Just being on the City Council, we work on these things all day long, oftentimes. And we’re more familiar with the project than what somebody else has read on social media, or they were chatting with their neighbor as they were out walking their dogs. So, that’s why you see me active in those areas.”ERIC CHRIST
[00:00:30] Rico: Hi, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. This is a podcast that we do every so often. We try to do it at least once, if not, twice a month, to bring in people like our current guest and others that are specialists in the field that they’re in. Or represent us in the city. So Eric, I appreciate you being on the show with us.
[00:00:50] Eric: Yeah. Glad to be here, Rico. Looking forward to talking with you.
[00:00:53] Rico: Same here. Eric Christ is City Council Member, post two. Has been a City Council person actually for how long now?
[00:01:01] Eric: Yeah, so I was first elected, Rico might recall, at a special election back in 2016. One of our original city council members had resigned to seek state house office, since that opened up the seat. And we had a quick special election. So it’s been over six years now since I was elected.
[00:01:18] Rico: It’s gone by fast. We’re celebrating 10 years, this year, of the city being in existence. So I want to, before we get right into that, let me also say thank you, big thank you, to EV Remodeling, Inc. who’s a current sponsor of the podcast. And has been supporting us, not only advertising in our publications, but as a corporate sponsor. Helping us making sure that we have the facility to be able, if you will, to provide good journalism in this community. Being able to bring stories and curating the things that go on in our lives here, both through these podcasts, the magazine and our websites. So visit them, Eli is the owner and he lives here in Peachtree Corners, EV Remodeling, Inc. They’ve done great work out there and you certainly should check them out. So now having done that, let’s get into the meat of some of the stuff that’s going on. We haven’t had a podcast, you and I, in a while. So this is great to be able to do this. So the first thing I think that we want to, you’ve been active on Next Door every once in a while. I see you on there trying to explain things to people that sometimes post. And there are erroneous things out there sometimes, sometimes factual things. But because so many people are on Next Door talking about different developments and stuff like that, facts can be not always facts. Sometimes misinformation out there, but you’ve been able to go out there and keep things straight for us, and I appreciate that. But one of the things that you’re an advocate of, and I think it’s really important, is the ability of residents to be aware of and not just aware, but engaged in the rezoning process. Because there’s a lot of it going on. God knows in the last few years, certainly a lot more has been going on. So tell us a little bit Eric, about, you know, how you feel about that and what citizens can do to be aware and engaged in this process.
[00:03:03] Eric: Happy to do that. And you know, my personal philosophy is twofold. One, obviously everybody’s entitled to their own opinion about if a particular project is beneficial to the city. But I think it’s important that we’re all, everybody has the facts, you know? So if on Next Door, on Facebook, I see somebody commenting. I heard they’re tearing this down to build this. And setting aside whether what they’re building is good or bad, if that’s not accurate, that particular comment or the size of the comment or the number of units being developed, you know? Yeah, you’ll often see me chime in and provide the facts. And just being on the City Council and we work on these things all day long, oftentimes. And we’re more familiar with the project or than what somebody else has read on social media, or they were chatting with their neighbor as they were out walking their dogs. So, that’s why you see me active in those areas. But let’s talk about the current process and what I think we can do to improve the opportunities for residents to be aware and engage in this process. And this stems from comments. I think in like in my first year in office, I’d been talking to somebody and they’d say, I didn’t even know that was being voted on. And that always, you know, affected me to say, well, people need to, I want them to know things are being voted on. Because if they let’s say, if no one shows up for a public hearing. There’s two reasons, right? Potential reasons. One is, no one particularly cares about that particular development. Or they do care, but they didn’t know about the meeting. And one of the things I’d like to say is that we don’t have all the best ideas or all the ideas sitting up there on the Dias at council meetings. And hearing from the community members is an important part of the process. So we don’t have a monopoly on the good ideas. So here let’s talk about how it works today in Peachtree Corners. So somebody owns a piece of property and they want to apply for a change. And that can be either a change in the conditions that are on their property. So they don’t wanna change the zoning. Let’s say it’s zoned commercial, but there’s a condition that says no pet grooming establishments on this property, for some reason. Normally pet grooming is permitted, but this particular property says no pet grooming. So that’s a change in condition. And then the other one, which is perhaps more significant is a change in zoning, right? So from commercial to residential or from residential to commercial. And what we’re seeing a lot of right now in the city is requests to change from, generally various types of commercial zoning to what’s called mixed use development. And under our ordinance, mixed use requires three or more different kinds of uses, but it does include residential. So today in commercial zoning, like up and down Peachtree Parkway or on Holcomb Bridge. You can do lots of different types of uses, but you can’t live there. You can have a hotel, you can’t have permanent residency. And we’re seeing a lot of requests for residential developments. So the applicant makes that request, they submit it to the city staff. They have to submit an entire packet with a checklist, and staff goes back to them, says, you’re missing this thing. You haven’t done a traffic survey yet. But so once a full packet is accepted, then they get scheduled for a hearing before the planning commission. And then a hearing before the city council. And today in Peachtree Corners, while staff will often recommend that they also hold a community meeting before that, they’re not required to. So you always do have those two opportunities for a public hearing, right? And let’s talk quickly, what’s the Planning Commission versus the City Council. City Council obviously elected by the voters of Peachtree Corners. Seven of us, the mayor and six council members. The planning commission is appointed by the City Council and acts as an additional filter opportunity for public participation in the process. What the Planning Commission does is makes a recommendation. They don’t make binding decisions. So they will hear a request for rezoning, let’s say. They will hold a public hearing. They will ask some tough questions of the applicant, of the staff. Take the input that they get from the public, both in support or opposition. And then they’ll vote on a recommendation. So when it comes to us at the city council, the packet will say planning commission recommends approval or recommends denial. And then when it gets to the City Council, then we go through that process again. Hold a public hearing, staff presents their analysis, and then we vote. And that’s the final decision on that.
[00:07:28] Rico: There is a spot in there, when it comes to the City Council, there’s a first read at one meeting and then it goes to the next City Council meeting and that’s where the actual vote and public comments are allowed. Right?
[00:07:40] Eric: Correct. So because a rezoning. Is a zoning of each parcel in the city is defined as part of our ordinances, it’s actually part of our, the laws here in the city of Peachtree Corners. So a change in zoning is a change in those laws. And under our charter, as a city, a change in our laws requires that we announce it at one council meeting. That’s the first read. And then we wait until the next council meeting to vote on it. So it’s another opportunity for people to be informed is that they’re reading the City Council agenda. Like on Tuesday night coming up, we have a council meeting, you’ll see a section on the agenda for first reads. And really just, they read the title. We don’t vote, we don’t discuss it. There’s no public hearing. It’s just another alert. So one of the things I’ve been working on to enhance this process, making sure people are aware of it is, what we currently do is when there is a rezoning or a change in conditions on a parcel, the applicant has to post a big yellow sign on the property. You might have seen, it’s not big it’s like three foot tall by three foot wide or something like that. And it says, this parcel is subject to you know, hearings. And here’s the dates of the planning commission. And here’s the date of the City Council. Neighbors within a certain distance, so property owners who have bought that property within a distance of 500,000 feet are sent a letter in the mail. City staff also puts it on the website. But that’s about it. So one of the things I do particularly for people, you know, people who subscribe my newsletter is I promote those upcoming events. I want people to know about them. And one of the things I proposed in the past, I didn’t get a consensus from other council members, but planning to promote it again is to do something that they do in the city of Sandy Springs, which is to require a community meeting for every rezoning. So not everything that we vote on, as a city council, but every rezoning. So if you go see one of those yellow signs on a parcel in the city of Sandy Springs, it’ll have the Community Meeting date and the Planning Commission date and the City Council dates. They’re all together.
[00:09:49] Rico: So is that something the applicant would actually set up a public meeting versus let’s say, in Peachtree Corners usually United Peachtree Corners Civic Association is the host of a public meeting of that sort.
[00:10:02] Eric: Yeah. So the, the way they do it in Sandy Springs is they don’t specify how you do the community meeting. Like, do you wanna, you know, have the Peachtree Corners Civic Association at their meeting. You just have to have one, you have to capture an attendance sheet. And you have to take notes from the meeting. And Sandy Springs, they actually require two community meetings. One before planning commission, and one between planning commission and city council. And the other thing they say, and Sandy Springs is a little bit bigger than us, they’re fairly stretched out. One of the meetings has to be in the same council district as the project. And the second meeting could be somewhere else. That’s not as relevant to us here in Peachtree Corners. We’re a fairly compact 16 square miles. So that’s one of the things I’ll be working on, can we adopt some elements of what Sandy Springs does to make sure that there’s a community meeting component as well?
[00:10:53] Rico: Even with people that know, or feel they’re aware of things going on, are not always aware of things going on, right?
[00:10:59] Eric: Right.
[00:11:00] Rico: And so it’s a good thing that, you know, you have a newsletter. In fact, how can someone subscribe to that newsletter?
[00:11:06] Eric: Yeah, actually if you go to Facebook, Christ for City Council on Facebook. There’s a link there to subscribe to the newsletter. Drop me an email at, EChrist@PeachtreeCornersGA.gov, which you can find on the city website. Happy to add folks to that.
[00:11:21] Rico: Excellent. So if people do that, they’ll get the same newsletter I get, which is really informative. Even I, who publishes these magazines, don’t always know every single thing going on. And I’m like, wow. You know, I wish I knew that. So I love your newsletter. So keep it up. But what I find too, is that people are starving for stuff. The good thing about the web is that you can see the traction of certain types of stories. So as much as I like putting out stuff about restaurants and other things, the biggest hits, the very biggest hits that we get is on developments. And rezonings, and people wanna know what’s going on. I mean, the changes coming to Peachtree Corners with the Forum, that piece had legs. Not only when it first was put out a month ago, but when we started reposting it again on social media to let people be aware of it. It was the top read piece on the website, we got a decent amount of traffic.
[00:12:18] Eric: There’s an example of one. So like the Forum being so critical to the economic vitality of Peachtree Corners, that was one where not only did I point out in my newsletter or Hey, these public hearings are coming up. I actually, I attended the community meeting, you know, along with about 200 folks there. And I wrote up my notes when I heard the applicant saying and shared those in my newsletter and also on, Next Door. And yeah, I got, sort of got a lot of engagement about that. And once again, this was just my impression of what I heard this wasn’t Eric speaking, this was Eric’s notes from what North American Properties had said in terms of what exactly were they doing related to parking in the Forum and a hotel. And then of course the one that gets people’s ears most perked up is adding a residential component to the Forum, right?
[00:13:06] Rico: So the interesting part, I was at that meeting too, and I had a reporter there and we unashamedly took your map from your newsletter, by the way. That you posted on Next Door. Unashamedly. I redid the map a little bit. Because, you know, we just had to. But it had all the same information you had and it pointed out all the same information that you pointed out. And it just made things easier for people to understand where everything was going. And speaking about that, there’s gonna be a first read coming up at this City Council Meeting for the Forum mixed use, which is, it’s a request for rezoning. If I read the short part here, right? Request for rezoning 44 acres from C2, commercial two, retail to MUD, to mixed use development, to allow for this new mixed use, which is the parcel, which is the Forum.
[00:13:56] Eric: Right.
[00:13:57] Rico: And that will allow because of the mixed use structure, allow the apartments to be put there and the hotel. Which I think still could have been put there, but that probably would’ve required some adjustments.
[00:14:09] Eric: Yeah. Well, generally in C2, a hotel is permitted. But staff, when they researched it, discovered that when the Forum, the property was first rezoned to permit the development of the Forum it was zoned light industrial back in the day. So in the late nineties when it was converted into, from M1, light industrial, to C2, which is a mid-level commercial, they did include a condition that no hotels, so.
[00:14:36] Rico: Really? Okay.
[00:14:37] Eric: Right. So the north American properties, you’re right. So they’re now coming to the city. They’ve taken feedback from the community meeting. And they’ve requested two changes. One is a change in conditions to permit a hotel. The second is to rezone the 44 acres. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re gonna redevelop every piece of the 44 acres. That’s the parcel they own, that’s how big it is. And they wanna change its zoning from C2 commercial to mixed use. Which is for example, mixed use is what the Town Center is zoned. The restaurant and the retail and the movie theater. Even the town homes, all that parcel that’s the Town Center, that’s zoned mixed use.
[00:15:15] Rico: Right, which is interesting because really when you look at it, they’re owned by different, right? The retail is owned by Fuqua. The Town Center is owned by and the parking deck is owned by the city. And I think those town homes are owned by different developer also, if I’m not mistaken.
[00:15:31] Eric: Yeah. Well now they’re actually owned by individual property owners. All of them have been sold. Right. But the zoning underneath the town homes, underneath the restaurants, underneath the parking deck, the foundational zoning is mixed use development. Right.
[00:15:45] Rico: So going back to, let’s go back to the Forum for a minute. Because that is probably the biggest thing going on. As far as that would affect the community, with regard to that retail space. At my last count 14 or 16 empty storefronts. And now that North American Properties took it over, they want to be able to put density there. Because density, as everyone sees in all these developments is important, right? And the apartment versus condo, let’s say, density that these places need. The philosophy is that residential with apartments has a better turnover. And because of that is better for retail. Versus equity ownership.
[00:16:24] Eric: Well, listening, and this is Tim Perry, North American Properties, this is from his presentation on Tuesday night, they presented to planning commission, right? And so I had an opportunity to attend and listen. What he talked about from their perspective, as looking to create a vibrant retail, restaurant, shopping center and maintain it that you want people who live for years and years nearby. Which we have. Amber Field, Peachtree Station. We’ve got lots of single family homes. You want people who live there, but perhaps turnover a little more frequently, like in an apartment style setting. They’re there for 1, 2, 3 years. And you also, ideally, you want people who are only there for a day or two with a hotel.
[00:17:05] Rico: Correct.
[00:17:06] Eric: And the reason they talk about looking for that mix of users of customers is that as you know Rico, we get bored with the same restaurants, right? If we, you know, how many times, right? And so they felt that, or they feel that it’s important that having, you know, people who are staying at a hotel, every night they’re new, right? And going out to eat. People who are living in the apartments. They turn over every two to three, three years, right? Well, then you also do need your repeat regular customers as well, who are coming to Home Goods more often or frequently, if you’re living in a single family detached home in the area. And then the other thing that he talked about is having that mix of potential customers helps activate the property from early in the morning, till later in the evening. Right? So that if your people are living on the property, then they’re stopping to get a cup of coffee or a bagel before they head off to work, when they come back home in the evening. So that changes it from a, right now, the Forum starts to get going in the morning about 10:00 AM-ish, right? And then, but by about seven o’clock at night. It’s pretty quiet. Except on Friday and Saturday nights. And they would love to see that more from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM. From his comments, they view that as that also attracts retailers. And I’m not, that’s not my business but from listening to all the various presentations we’ve had over the years at City Council, retailers are very picky about who they want to locate next to. Who are your anchor tenants? What other, do you have competitors of mine? I don’t wanna be there. But I wanna be near other stores that attract the same type of buyers, customers that I’m looking for, right? If I’m in women’s apparel, I want to make sure that I’m not the only woman’s apparel store in that shopping center. I want to have a couple, right? He was talking about Lulu Lemon athletic apparel. Primarily women’s, but they have men’s as well, had been in a little popup store, they call it for a while. But now that based on what they’re seeing with the Forum and the investment. They are, I don’t know if they’ve signed it yet, but my understanding is they’re intending to take a permanent larger space at the Forum. And that’s what North America was looking to do is curate that mix of retail, restaurant. And they feel residential is an important component.
[00:19:21] Rico: And I think their experience in it is important too. Because Avalon, Atlantic Station, some of the other properties they have, Colony Square, I think was another one they have. And the fact that those tenants in those places know NAP, they know North American Properties, they know what they want to do. And they’ll probably more likely be willing to move to invest, if you will, in space then at the Forum. Because they know what North American Property has done at these other locations and what they wanna do here. So the density of the departments in that mixed use at the Forum. It was close to, I forget what it was now, 300? 300 units maybe, or 260?
[00:20:00] Eric: No, on the Forum itself. So on the Forum side of Peachtree Parkway, what they proposed at planning commission was 381.
[00:20:07] Rico: 381. Okay.
[00:20:10] Eric: So, and because from a density, the way the density calculation works is you divide 381 into the total size of the property. So you divide into 40 acres and it’s not particularly dense at that level. Right? But their plan is to put, if the council approves it in August, the residential buildings would be on Peachtree Parkway. So as far away from like the Amberfield side of the Forum as possible. Not right up against Peachtree Parkway, but it would be built on top of the upper parking lots behind Barnes and Noble.
[00:20:41] Rico: There’s a rendering in that, packet that shows it like an L-shape. It actually is the back half maybe of where Barnes and Noble is. Because part of that building will become apartments. So it’s an L-shape that way. And then on the other side of it, of call it the Forum Boulevard, on the other side would also be units as well. I think coming up to Peachtree Parkway.
[00:21:02] Eric: Correct, yeah. On the other side, on the what do you want call that, the Mojito side or the, where the bridge, where the pedestrian bridge comes across, would be the hotel and about a third of the apartment units.
[00:21:12] Rico: Right. The hotel, how many units? I think it was.
[00:21:15] Eric: They said they hadn’t finalized it just yet, but in the 125 to 175 range. So let’s call it one, one-fifty. One of the interesting things that I took away, they have a hotel up at Avalon, right? And so they once again, based on their experience, they’re seeing apartments, long term residents like we have at the town homes across the street or at Amberfield behind. But having that hotel is an important part of the mix that only about a third, I think you said 35% of the people at the hotel arrive by car. All the way up at Avalon. 65% don’t bring a car. They’re coming by Uber, or Lyft, or some other way, right? Somebody had a question, and asked well, how many you know, cars? So if you say 150 rooms, so a third of 150, that’s 50 cars, right? Is coming from the hotel component type of thing.
[00:22:02] Rico: Interesting. Probably from the airport, I bet.
[00:22:05] Eric: Yeah. The other thing he shared is that at Avalon where they have over 500 rental units, the median age, so half the people are older than 53. And that the average household income for the apartment units is like over $200,000. Because they’ ve been talking that their focus, their target market is not families. Because who wants to raise a family in a one bedroom apartment. But is young professionals, singles, or just married couples. Or then at the other end of the life cycle is couples who’ve sold their 5,000 square foot home in Peachtree Station, but aren’t ready to leave Peachtree Corners just yet. But they wanna have the convenience of the lock and leave and, you know, not worrying about a yard maintenance and those types of things, so.
[00:22:50] Rico: Yeah, for sure.
[00:22:51] Eric: And those stats board out, the other thing he shared was that of those 500 apartments, there’s one school age child. So that a school bus comes to Avalon and it picks up one child out of 500 apartments.
[00:23:04] Rico: Interesting. Now obviously Alpharetta is a little different from us, but I can see that. And quite frankly, I mean, coming up 141, I mean, if people can’t afford to live in the city inside the perimeter, we’re not that far from work inside the perimeter. And plus, if we continue to grow the way we are and Intuitive Robotics is just the beginnings of what we’re seeing as far as businesses wanting to build out in Peachtree Corners of that type of nature, high tech work. Then you’re definitely talking about higher income, right? I mean, at some point there’s also the idea of affordable housing that has to be here in Peachtree Corners. But I believe we have some of that, at least if not equity ownership.
[00:23:46] Eric: Yeah, we don’t have any like city mandated. We, on no development project to date, have we, you know, required a developer to set aside a certain percentage of the units. And the way that generally works is that you take the median income and, or the poverty level and you set up a max above that. And then, you know, using the rule of thumb that you don’t want to be spending more than 25 to 30% of your annual income on your housing expenses. So that you can set some rental targets, but we don’t have any of that in the city. There might be some state or federal mandates on certain projects, but the city has not required an affordable component to any projects.
[00:24:25] Rico: Is there any thoughts on that?
[00:24:27] Eric: Yeah, we’ve talked about it a couple of times. I think there’s, and once again I’m only speaking for myself, right? Every council member is, you know, goes through their own analysis. That is that we have a diversity, a variety of employment opportunities in the city and which is a good thing. Whenever you have limited variety of housing types, employment types, then as the market conditions change, you can get into trouble, right? If you’re having a housing recession or an employment recession in different employment types. So one of the things we have in the city is opportunities for people to work at restaurants and retail. And we need those employers to be able to have workers, right? And those folks aren’t buying a 600,000 you know, dollar house. Particularly as a young single, you know, working at Lazy Dog or something. And if they have to drive from too far away, so yeah. What can we do to make sure we can support all of the employment needs that we have in the city while also providing the quality of life that people expect. And why they chose to come to Peachtree Corners?
[00:25:32] Rico: Yeah. You know, I’ll go to the local Dunkin Donut and every once in a while the lady says, do you know anyone that wants to work? It’s just impossible to get people to work. Even at, I don’t know $15 an hour, $12 an hour. You know, that’s not a living wage per se. But even kids are not even.
[00:25:48] Eric: Yeah, like our, my neighborhood pool here at Neatly Farm is desperate for lifeguards. The company that we use each year there, we said, we want lifeguards for this many hours, and then we can’t do that. You know I can maybe get you a Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I can’t staff, I don’t have enough lifeguards to work. Just cause, right now there’s a, an abundance of job opportunities.
[00:26:08] Rico: I guess. So some people just don’t wanna work. Take the summer off and they go into college after that. You know, young kids. So, I mean, as far as other, and there’s another actually mixed use that wants to come on. It’s Innovation Lofts. That’s almost like four acres and that’s a mixed use, multi-family residential on Peachtree Corners Circle.
[00:26:29] Eric: Right. So that’s the vacant property behind the Chase Bank. So that’s right on the Town Center side of the street. So that, and there’s where, the density calculation makes a little more sense, right? Because if you take 250 units into four acres. And so that one, as you recall, or you might remember way back in 2017, that same parcel had been rezoned for a potential hotel slash apartment complex that then got derailed by COVID and financing didn’t come through. And that zoning reverted back to just general C2. So that’s somebody’s looking at that parcel. I think what we’re seeing in general, Rico, is throughout the city developers are looking for properties that are either vacant, which we don’t have a lot of in the city anymore. O r underutilized A vacant office building or a office building with a huge parking lot with that a third of it gets used. And what’s hot right now, you know, the applications that we’re getting are not for office buildings. You know, other than some isolated things like Intuitive Surgical building out a corporate campus there on Technology Parkway or some work in Technology Park from an office building. So we’re not getting office buildings. We’re definitely not getting retail, lots of retail applications. No one’s putting up a new shopping center in the world of e-commerce. What we are getting a lot of is residential. And because what we have left available to build on in the city are smaller parcels, for economic sense, you can’t, you know, building three single family homes on two acres or something. You know, from a developer’s perspective the most recent single family home, I don’t know if you’ve been over on Winter’s Chapel, there actually is a little bit of land right there. And the owners, it was already zoned appropriately, that one didn’t come before the City Council. It was already zoned for single family homes. He’s put in a little cul-de-sac and he’s, I think it’s nine lots, seven lots, something like that.
[00:28:26] Rico: That’s, was that R60 I think, or 60 foot?
[00:28:29] Eric: Yeah, I think you’re right. Yeah. So you could fit R60, 60 foot wide at the street side. So we don’t have big tracks of land available for single family homes. So what developers are coming to us now is apartments. And as the, the saying goes We ‘re not making any more land, but we keep making people. So and we have a tremendous, nationally, housing shortage right now. That the number of new houses, new housing units of all types, town homes, single family detached.
[00:29:00] Rico: It’s right. It’s mainly equity ownership. That’s really the problem. There’s not enough single family homes to go around. I mean, now they’re talking there’s news reports. Now, all of a sudden the angle is Americans are moving to Europe. To Greece and to Italy because the dollar is on par with the Euro. You could probably buy, like, I think the last thing I saw was somewhere in Greece, small towns granted, 3,600 square foot home for like $80,000. But you have to put up with whatever energy crisis-es they may have and, you know, instabilities of governments. Not that we might not have our own issues sometimes. Yeah, so, you know, people are moving, deciding what they wanna do. Where, if they want ownership. I think a lot of, I don’t know if you get this Eric, but some of the young people I talk to don’t even feel they can buy a house. Or that it makes sense to even buy a house now. And certainly with the rates going higher, they’re thinking, you know what, I’ll just keep renting for the time being. Because I don’t see anything happening and there may be a market crash at some point.
[00:30:04] Eric: Yeah. I think some of that is hopefully temporary. I mean the pandemic created sort of a housing freeze essentially, as lots of people wanted to move into a single family house, but the owners of those houses aren’t selling because they didn’t know where they were gonna go or who knew what was gonna happen with the pandemic. And it looks like it’s moving sort of from a pandemic to more of endemic. Meaning it’s still with us and there’s still things we need to be doing to, protecting our ourselves and our loved ones. But you know, there are people living in Peachtree Station who, you know, are empty nesters and their kids are long gone. And they don’t want 5,000 square feet, they don’t wanna be maintaining a yard. But until both the buyers and the sellers both start going back to sort of normal levels.
[00:30:49] Rico: Right, yeah. Because otherwise you sell your house and then you have to buy something somewhere else. And it’s like, what are gonna buy then at that point?
[00:30:56] Eric: Yeah. As I was talking to a neighbor here in Neely Farm, who’s a real estate agent. And I said, well, how have you been able to sell the homes so far? And he said, well, most of my sales have been because the owners already have somewhere else to go. They already had a second place in Florida. You know? I, we had neighbors here in Neely Farm, been here 30 years. And about three years ago they bought a place in Florida. So they said, Hey, market’s hot. Let’s just finally sell this home. But they already had a place to go, right? Everybody else that didn’t have a place to go, is going well. And that’s the question is if they’re not ready to leave Peachtree Corners yet, but they’re ready to sell. We have families with young children who wanna move in. They’re chomping at the bit, they’ll sell like that. The questions is, will other types of housing options like Pret potentially? Well like the town homes on the, at the Town Green sold out lickedysplit.
[00:31:46] Rico: Oh my God. They were all over three quarters of a million dollars and I understand some of them actually went for 3,600 a month. So who can pay that rent is unbelievable.
[00:31:58] Eric: Right. So the question is, one of the things we’ve heard from the consultants is that people want to live in Peachtree Corners and all income levels want to be here, need to be here from a work perspective. And that if they can’t find a place to rent in an apartment, then they’ll go team up and they’ll go rent a home essentially. And then 3 folks will get together and they’ll be renting inside a single family subdivision. And so the consultant, this is once again, this is the consultant’s words. If you don’t provide enough variety and volume of the different types of housing stocks, then you’ll potentially get uses that you didn’t anticipate and might create conflict. You know?
[00:32:38] Rico: Yeah.
[00:32:38] Eric: When you’re living in the middle of Amberfield and the house next to you has three people splitting it as a rental.
[00:32:44] Rico: Right. So there’s a company I think in Atlanta, that’s called Pad Split or something like that.
[00:32:49] Eric: Right.
[00:32:49] Rico: And they do that, that’s their specialty. They’ll split your house up, rent a bedroom with a bathroom or just a bedroom and whatever. And you could get, like you said, three or four different people in that same house that aren’t related. Now the rules, obviously in any rezoning says you have to be related, but there’s really no way unless you’re gonna go in and check everyone’s passport or something and say, you know, are you all related?
[00:33:13] Eric: Right. Well, yeah. So in the city of Peachtree Corners, one of the provisions we do have, which helps us there a little bit is that we don’t permit short term rentals. So anything less than a month is prohibited. So an Airbnb for seven nights is not permitted in Peachtree Corners. And we do have a limit on the total number of unrelated people, but you’re right. We can’t enforce that. You know, if a complaint is made and code enforcement stops by and they see six different cars in the driveway. And they go knock on the door, who they’re going to then go talk to next is the owner, right? Because the obligations stay in compliance with our ordinance is not the renters. It’s the property owner.
[00:33:51] Rico: Sure.
[00:33:51] Eric: And we did have a situation in Peachtree Station where Pad Split, where a property owner had owned the property, had moved away, wanted to rent it, had hired somebody who then used Pad Split to rent it out. And once code enforcement got in touch with that owner and said, you know, you can’t do this in Peachtree Corner. She, said okay, and so she complied. And as those tenants, as their rent leases came up, she moved them on and fired that property manager that she’d hired who’d gotten her into a Pad Split situation.
[00:34:21] Rico: Yeah. And I guess, you know, part of it is also people. People are looking to replace income and stuff like that too. So I think part of it’s that, right? They might have lost a job or there might be other things going, you know, pressing on them that they need to get more money and it’s easy to use your property that way, right?
[00:34:37] Eric: Yeah. And just to be clear, like, so like today, if in Peachtree Corners, if you have an in-law suite, you can rent that out. Not for less than 30 days, can’t do a short term rental. But that’s a slightly different situation, right? That’s where you have the owners living in a big house and they’ve got a in-law suite and they rent to a college student, or they rent to somebody who works as a nanny, or somebody who works at the Town Center or something. That’s a little different than four or five people doing a split.
[00:35:03] Rico: Yeah, one in each bedroom. No, I get it, it feels like, feels like a college dorm room then. So what about, this is something else I think Norcross might have been looking into, I don’t know. The accessory housing. I don’t know if that ever has come up here or not. That’s the, some people look at tiny houses, I guess.
[00:35:20] Eric: Yeah. That hasn’t become a force yet. But a couple times a year, I attend training sessions put on by the Georgia Municipal Association. And the most recent session I went to was a class on trends on urban and suburban design and some of the changes happening. And yeah, we’re seeing, some of the trends that they pointed out are things like accessories, having a carriage house on back of your property. You know, what does the long term future look like 30, 40, 50 years from now? As I said, we’ve got increasing population and where is everybody going to live? And so, those are certainly things that future councils will be wrestling with for many years to come.
[00:35:58] Rico: So that is something that obviously council people like you get constant education on and being able to look at what the trends are and what other cities are doing locally.
[00:36:07] Eric: Yeah. I think it’s important for us to try to stay a little bit ahead of the curve so that our, because it’s always tougher to put an ordinance in place after. If you already have people doing X, Y, or Z, the council, the Airbnb or the prohibition on short term rentals, predates even me on the council, that’s something they adopted fairly early on in the city’s history. And it’s obviously easier to do it when not many people are viewing this as beneficial. And I’m sure Rico, there still are short term rentals happening in the city. Right? Cause we, yeah, we can’t. But when it becomes a problem for the neighbors we have the ordinance in place to address the situation.
[00:36:48] Rico: So Let’s tie this up with, maybe let’s talk about the SPLOST. The city had voted on in a special meeting about being part of the upcoming SPLOST that’s voted on in November. So tell us about that, what that means. And we already have a SPLOST, this would just be a continuation of it.
[00:37:04] Eric: Yeah.
[00:37:05] Rico: Of that one penny, but tell us a bit about that.
[00:37:07] Eric: Sure, yeah. So in Gwinnett County, we actually have two SPLOSTs. SPLOST for those folks who don’t know is a special purpose local option sales tax. So we have an E-SPLOST, an education SPLOST. That’s a 1% or one penny sales tax that’s sponsored by or championed by the school board. So the E-SPLOST, that’s one penny. Whenever you buy something in Gwinnett County, that’s covered by sales tax, the retail store, at the gas station, whatever it might be, one penny of the sales tax is, if I remember, if I get my numbers right, four pennies, 4 cents, 4% of the sales tax. Four of the six percent sales tax goes to the state. The state has a sales tax. And then in Gwinnett County, we have an educational SPLOST that goes to the school board. And then we also have a regular SPLOST another penny, and that one’s organized by Gwinnett County. And it’s driven by county, so they set the schedule. And so the last time they did a SPLOST was six years ago in 2016. They can choose how long they want to have it run before it has to be renewed. So in 2016, November 2016, we voted on a six year SPLOST. And that said that for the next six years, we’re gonna pay a penny, or 1%, on everything we buy. And that goes to the county. And then the county distributes it to the cities. So this upcoming SPLOST, so the current SPLOST, we voted on it in November 2016, it passed by a pretty strong margin. It runs through March of 2023. So then it expires. So the board of commissioners has recently voted to say, well, let’s put it on the ballot again, this November. So in the general election, November, whatever that is, second. Whenever the general election is this year, don’t quote me on that one first Tuesday in, after the first Monday in November. They’ll be a referendum and it says do the voters approve extending or continuing the one penny SPLOST, the county SPLOST, for another six years. And the estimates are that if that’s approved, that would generate approximately 1.35 billion in revenues over the six years. And then what happens is the county keeps 75% of that. 25% of it goes to the cities. And then the cities divvy up the 25% based on population. So Rest Haven with its 64 resident, gets like $18,000 to help maintain their road, their one road. And the city of Peachtree Corners, we’re the biggest by population, we will get an estimated 57 million over the six years. And as part of the SPLOST referendum process, all of the beneficiaries, all the recipients of the SPLOST revenues have to provide the voters with some guidance. Here’s how we plan to spend the money. And so the county said, Hey, we’re gonna do these transportation projects. We’re gonna build these libraries. We’re gonna do these things. And each of the 16 cities had to do the same thing. And so we had come up with some buckets of how we’re going to use the money. And one of the categories we used, the heading, the title of the category, one of the county attorneys didn’t like the wording of it. Even though our attorneys said, well, that’s one of the approved uses under state law. But to make the county attorney happy. And we weren’t, like four of the cities had used the same category, it’s called capital outlays. And they asked us to be a little bit more specific in terms of the heading. And so we did have to do a special called meeting just to vote on. Renaming the buckets or what bucket names we’re gonna use. So the plan for Peachtree Corners is the vast majority of that 57 million would be spent on transportation related projects. So that’s road construction, road maintenance, repaving sidewalks, trails, pedestrian connectivity, crosswalks, all that sort of thing. We did put some money in there as well for parks and green space type acquisition.
[00:41:01] Rico: Okay. Like recreational cultural facilities.
[00:41:04] Eric: Those general categories. Right. And so like cultural facilities. Yeah, the city, we have a vision of some point when we can find the right piece of land and get enough funding put together for it, a performing arts center of some kind. Most likely through like a public private partner ship that we would fund part of it and it’d be some private component too. But so those types of categories are where we’ve allocated the funds towards.
[00:41:28] Rico: Okay. Well, good to know then. And of course I’m, I’m all for an arts center. Love to see a theater. The city does own about six or seven acres, I think by Town Center. I think it’s by the?
[00:41:39] Eric: It does, yeah. Where the path to fitness is. If you walk through there and where we have extended the most used trail, that’s a potential place. The other thing I’d love to see is some activities here in district two, specifically along the Holcomb Bridge Corridor.
[00:41:53] Rico: Yes, absolutely.
[00:41:55] Eric: Right, revitalize that. So there is an aging strip shopping center that through a public private partnership. We could use some SPLOST money, not a performing arts center, but to turn something into green space or some other sorts of public amenity. Or along what we call outer Peachtree Corners Circle. So Peachtree Corners Circle between Holcomb Bridge and PIB. Where we have a lot of residents, but very few public amenities along that stretch. There’s other than a standard width sidewalk, there’s nothing much to do along there.
[00:42:25] Rico: Cool. So if anyone wants to get in touch with you Eric, where, how would they reach you or where would they follow you on?
[00:42:31] Eric: Sure, yeah. So you can find me on Facebook. Facebook/Christ for City Council. You can reach me at my city email address, EChrist@PeachtreeCornersGA.gov. Or if you can’t remember that, just go to the city website and go find the list of council members. And they have my email address there. Drop me an email. Give me a little time to respond. This is a, a part-time job for us city council members. We all have full-time occupations otherwise. But I’ll respond and get in touch.
[00:43:02] Rico: A lot of respect for people that have run for office and do this work, because I know very well how it can be crazy. Certainly, you know, the amount of work you have to put in, isn’t just the meetings that you’re attending, or that you need to attend the city council meetings and stuff. But it’s all the stuff you do outside that, right? Public meetings that you have to attend. Answering things on Next Door, being proactive that way. Doing continuing education, like you have done on urban development and stuff. I think if people understood the amount of time and effort it takes to do your work, being as a city council person and still do a full-time job and make a living and pay the bills and stay with your family and not be, you know. You’re sacrificing quite a bit. So I appreciate the work you do.
[00:43:48] Eric: Sure, yeah. We do get a, a small stipend about $600 a month from the city, from the taxpayers. When I was considering running for office and talking to some folks, well Eric, you know, the only thing you have to do is show up for the two council meetings each month. And well, no I mean, yeah, I guess I could not reply to any email or not take any phone calls, but that wouldn’t be much of a City Councilman. So I certainly, personally, it feels important to reach back out. And if somebody’s listening to this and you say, Hey, I sent you an email and you didn’t respond Eric. My apologies, please send it again. Sometimes they drop off the bottom on my list and I don’t spot them.
[00:44:22] Rico: I appreciate the work you’re doing Eric. Thank you. And everyone else listening to this podcast, appreciate you, you know, coming to us either through these podcasts, the magazine or our website, or our newsletter to get to know what’s going on in the city. We are working on our next issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine. We have several good powerful articles in there about some of the overview of the marketplace development that’s going on and stuff. So check that out, go to LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com. You can find out more information there as well. And you should be going to the city’s website and sign onto the city newsletter as well. And of course we’re all on social media. So find us there, find the city stuff there on Instagram and Facebook as well. Thank you again to our sponsor EV Remodeling, Inc, for being a sponsor of these podcasts and this publication. Thank you everyone. And thank you again, Eric, for being with us.
[00:45:15] Eric: Appreciate it, Rico. Thank you.
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