);
Connect with us

City Government

Peachtree Corners Officials See Continued Smart Growth in City’s Future

Published

on

The Forum Boulevard during tree lighting and festivities.

A crystal ball isn’t needed for city councilmembers and the city manager to predict good things in store for 2023 and beyond.

Peachtree Corners has seen a lot of changes in 2022 and has a lot more on the horizon. Peachtree Corners Magazine had a conversation with City Manager Brian Johnson about what has had a considerable impact on the city this past year and what he sees as significant factors for its future.

Brian Johnson

If you think of the city as a corporation, Johnson is the CEO, with the City Council as the board of directors. Although council sets policy, it’s his job to advise council as to the financial condition and future needs of the city.

Subsequently, he makes recommendations to the City Council concerning affairs of the city, and he facilitates the work of City Council in developing and implementing policy. Johnson is also responsible for assisting in developing long term goals for the city and strategies to implement those goals.

Looking back at Peachtree Corners’ economic development success, one must look at the city’s fundamentals. As the largest city in Gwinnett County, it assesses no city property tax. It currently uses effective partnerships with established businesses, start-ups and government entities to further its goals of remaining prosperous without increasing the tax burden on residents.

“That’s a huge plus for our city,” said Johnson. “We have one of the healthiest and most vibrant business communities in the area.”

The smart growth built into the city’s master plan allows for more residential and commercial properties to come online, but only when and where it makes sense to the existing footprint and where the city wants to be in the next few decades.

Retail, mixed-use growth

This year saw the rebranding of The Forum. New owners North American Properties had a vision to take an aging facility and breathe new life into it.

“[It will be] downtown Peachtree Corners, all of it, and you see that in our branding,” North American Properties (NAP) Co-Managing Partner Tim Perry said when the company unveiled the name. What was once The Forum at Peachtree Parkway, became The Forum at Peachtree Corners.

Tim Perry

Perry explained that 20 years ago, there was no city of Peachtree Corners. Now that the municipality exists, North American wants The Forum to be the de facto downtown, the gathering spot, the place where neighbors come together.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about experiences,” Perry said.

The typical resident may grab breakfast or coffee in the morning, a business lunch in the afternoon and drinks and/or dinner in the evening with friends. They may be part of a cornhole league or bring the kids to the playground and grab dessert before bedtime.

With zoning changes, the area will see an increase in residential offerings. That doesn’t just apply to The Forum, but to the Town Center across the street as well. The residential component is being included to support the restaurants and retail located at The Forum.

After what may have been the longest City Council meeting in Peachtree Corners history, North American Properties received approval in August to add apartments and a boutique hotel to the area adjacent to The Forum, and to add apartments across the street in the area at Town Center. When the projects are complete, NAP will have invested over $450 million in revitalizing that area of Peachtree Corners.

City officials have touted the redevelopment as a major boost to the area where Peachtree Parkway, Peachtree Corners Circle and Medlock Bridge Road intersect each other.

“I would say I’m excited about the vision that North American Properties has,” Mayor Pro Tem Weare Gratwick told Gwinnett Daily News. “I love the concept of sort of a downtown that’s got your density. I like looking at this area as a triangle. You’ve got both sides of the road and the [Peachtree Corners] bridge connects it, not only from a public safety standpoint, but also from an economic development standpoint. I think that will pay dividends once this is done.”

Bringing new businesses

With business incubators Atlanta Tech Park and Curiosity Lab attracting established and newly formed companies to the area, the growth will expand concentrically with a need for support services, said Johnson.

“Just like an auto plant needs support vendors who make car seats or windows or engine parts, companies like Siemens need smaller support businesses,” he said.

In March, international technology powerhouse Siemens announced a $100 million capital program aimed at advancing the decarbonization goals of small- to medium-sized enterprises. This infusion of capital will help small and medium businesses in the U.S. jumpstart their decarbonization efforts.

“Small and medium sized enterprises are the backbone of our economy, yet they may not have access to the same capital as our country’s largest corporations when it comes to making sustainability improvements,” said Anthony Casciano, CEO of Siemens Financial Services, in a press release. “We are launching this loan program to ensure essential resources for these companies are available to keep pace with our nation and economy’s climate goals.”

Anthony Casciano

Johnson said this type of corporate “paying it forward” benefits everyone with more job opportunities, a more diverse economy and a wealth of suppliers for the larger company. “This is the way it’s supposed to work,” he noted. “Success begets more success.”

Similarly, Intuitive Surgical announced in August 2021 that it will spend more than $500 million to expand its Peachtree Corners campus. A major player in the robotic surgery systems industry, the company is expanding its decade-old Peachtree Corners location to 750,000 square feet of manufacturing and engineering operations, training facilities for surgeons and hospital care teams, and administrative offices.

Intuitive Robotics had a mobile demonstration truck at the Peachtree Corners Festival this past summer.

When the project is complete in 2024, the company expects to have grown its 180 local jobs to 1,200.

And, as Johnson noted earlier, any major manufacturer will need the support of smaller businesses. “And Peachtree Corners is the perfect place for that,” he said.

City Councilmembers Weigh In

Peachtree Corners Magazine asked elected officials about their assessment of past developments in Peachtree Corners and their visions for the future. They pretty much all agreed about what had the biggest impact on the city so far, but their statements about what they see ahead are quite diverse.

Question: What do you think made the biggest impact this year in Peachtree City’s economic growth and development?

Weare Gratwick: There are two events that have made a large impact in 2022. First, Intuitive Surgical, which was announced prior to 2022 but has swung into high gear this year as their expansion is well underway. Most recently, the Intuitive Surgical project was awarded the Large Community Deal of the Year by the Georgia Economic Developers Association (GEDA) — a big deal. The second is the North American Properties acquisition of The Forum, where their improvements have begun and are already evident.

Weare Gratwick

Lori Christopher: Intuitive Surgical’s decision to choose Peachtree Corners for the headquarters, North American Properties decision to acquire the Forum and Curiosity Lab’s impact on autonomous development and innovation.

Eric Christ: I think the purchase of The Forum by North American Properties would be this year’s most significant economic development initiative. Having a new owner for the largest retail center in the city will be critical to reinvigorating the economic heart of our downtown area. North America’s long-term commitment to The Forum and, by extension, to the Town Center, will position Peachtree Corners to avoid the fate of other areas hamstrung by a dying retail center like Gwinnett Place Mall or North DeKalb Mall.

Alex Wright: Biggest impact — landing of the Intuitive Surgical expansion ($600 million investment and 1,500 new jobs). This was the largest economic development win in Gwinnett County history.

Question: What do you envision moving Peachtree Corners forward in the coming year and beyond in terms of economic growth and development?

Weare Gratwick: These two events will have momentum over the next 5-plus years as they are implemented. We want to continue to support our businesses near The Forum and Town Center, and in Tech Park as well, as we continue to seek redevelopment projects that can enhance the southern end of our community. Our Redevelopment Authority, made up of Peachtree Corners citizens, has been working hard towards that endeavor.

Lori Christopher: I envision Peachtree Corners in the coming year and beyond to continue to lead the way in innovation that benefits not only our community, but also the world with our strategic partnerships, our community leadership and remarkable city team. This collaboration provides jobs and economic growth for our area.

Lori Christopher

Eric Christ: Looking ahead to 2023, I think the city’s focus should be on the Holcomb Bridge Road/Jimmy Carter Boulevard Corridor. Specifically, what actions can the City Council or our Redevelopment Authority take to promote redevelopment in those areas of the city? I believe we can take some lessons from the Atlanta BeltLine initiative and identify opportunities to amenitize that corridor with trails, playgrounds, public gathering areas, bike lanes, sidewalks, street furniture (benches, trash cans), improved lighting, security cameras, wayfinding signage, etc. By creating a sense of connection, we can increase economic activity, reduce crime and spur the redevelopment of the aging residential, commercial and retail properties along that corridor.

Eric Christ

Alex Wright:  Moving forward — continued expansion of Curiosity Lab. This will include expanding not just the campus, but also the routes that the AV shuttles will be moving along with the ultimate goal of connecting Tech Park with the Town Center/Forum (aka Downtown Peachtree Corners). Our biggest hinderance to making this happen continues to be the Georgia DOT, but we are making progress.

Alex Wright

Arlinda Smith Broady is part of the Boomerang Generation of Blacks that moved back to the South after their ancestors moved North. With approximately three decades of journalism experience (she doesn't look it), she's worked in tiny, minority-based newsrooms to major metropolitans. At every endeavor she brings professionalism, passion, pluck, and the desire to spread the news to the people.

Continue Reading

City Government

City’s First Employee Steps Down

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

City Government

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

Published

on

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where and when to vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View a sample ballot at My Voter Page.

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

Referenda

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

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

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

Judicial races

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

School board

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

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

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

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

Key Republican primary races

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

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

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

Key Democratic primary races

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

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

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

Continue Reading

City Government

Crime and Safety Concerns Dominate Town Hall Meeting

Published

on

Eric Christ

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

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

Cutting down on crime

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

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

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

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

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

The City Marshal’s involvement

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

Edward Restrepo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

Read the Digital Edition

Subscribe

Peachtree Corners Life

Topics and Categories

Trending

Copyright © 2024 Mighty Rockets LLC, powered by WordPress.

Get Weekly Updates!

Get Weekly Updates!

Don't miss out on the latest news, updates, and stories about Peachtree Corners.

Check out our podcasts: Peachtree Corners Life, Capitalist Sage and the Ed Hour

You have Successfully Subscribed!