After a lengthy City Council meeting, rezoning for The Forum and Town Center will bring about a boutique hotel and 630 one- and two-bedroom apartments.
After what may have been the longest City Council meeting in the Peachtree Corners history, North American Properties (NAP) received approval for both rezoning requests — 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.
Although a few other items were on the agenda, the lion’s share of the time was taken up with the matter of mixed-use development in what is quickly becoming downtown Peachtree Corners.
In the end, the vision outlined by NAP Managing Partner Tim Perry won over City Council. At issue was the second read and consideration of The Forum Mixed-Use project, a request to rezone 44 acres from C-2 to MUD to allow for new mixed-use development at 5131 through 5185 Peachtree Pkwy.
The request to rezone The Forum to accommodate residential and temporary housing garnered the most community input, but seemingly convinced most City Councilmembers. After nearly five hours of questions from City Council, a presentation by Perry, comments from the audience, rebuttal from Perry and further discussion by City Council, the vote passed 6 to 1 with Councilman Alex Wright as the only ‘nay.’
There were about a dozen people who spoke out in support of the project, mainly from business interests such as the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce, the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber, Explore Gwinnett and Hargray Communications.
Equally, there were close to a dozen who weren’t for the rezoning, but a few qualified their position by saying they were more on the fence than solidly against. “You could put me in the ‘maybe’ category if you had one,” said one speaker.
By the time City Council was prepared for the vote, a few compromises had come about:
- The number of rooms in the hotel would be between 100 and 250.
- There would be accommodations for up to two drive-thru type retailers, such as a Starbucks.
- NAP would work out details for security and the final plans for the parking deck with the city manager or his designee. That portion of the plan wouldn’t need to come back for City Council approval.
The second read and consideration of the Innovation Lofts Mixed-Use project, a request to add 3.73 acres to the existing 20.6-acre Town Center MUD zoning district by rezoning 3.73 acres from C-2 to MUD with associated variance to allow for a new multifamily residential development at 4936 Peachtree Corners Circle, was a separate issue. Still, Perry stated that they were part of the same vision.
North American Properties wants to “…create a true town center around the already magnetic development of The Forum. …The acquisition of both these sites and the opportunity to invest in such a pro-business community with leadership and vision is compelling,” said Perry. “We’ve covered this for a long time to look not just granularly at each one of these individual pieces but combining them seeking density and seeking success for both.”
He added that NAP will invest over $450 million between what’s already been invested in the redevelopment and the multifamily units that it seeks to develop.
The concept of apartments in the Town Center area wasn’t as popular. In the end, the rezoning request was approved, but by the narrowest margin — 4 to 3, with ‘nays’ coming from Phil Sadd, Alex Wright and Lori Christopher.
The Landscape is Changing
By this time next year, the local landscape will have a new look if the bevy of development proposals receives City Council approval.
On Thursday, July 28, 2022, the Peachtree Corners City Council denied the rezoning request for the Dilweg project.
The Town Center project was approved, and Council agreed with the Planning Commission’s recommendations.
The Sun Court project was also approved by Council, but there were some modifications to the Planning Commission’s recommendations.
The developer is required to work in conjunction with the city to determine the exact path of the trail system through the property. Also, within 30 days of the issuance of a land disturbance permit, the developer must contribute 50% of the base cost of a pedestrian crossing from the property to the Intuitive campus across Spalding Drive as part of the trail system expansion.
There is nothing permanent except change. — Heraclitus
These words from a Greek philosopher who died more than 1,500 years ago ring as true now as they did then. And nobody knows that better than the residents, business owners and stakeholders of Peachtree Corners.
In his most recent newsletter, City Councilman Eric Christ pointed out that change in the city that just celebrated its 10th birthday is coming in droves.
Pay attention and speak up
“It’s summertime and many people are vacationing, going to the pool — in general paying less attention than normal to events around them,” Christ wrote. “I would encourage you to pay attention this summer as the combined impact of the proposed [mixed-use developments] MUDs (and there are most certainly even more coming that we don’t know about yet) will have a profound impact on the future direction of our community.”
During a recent Peachtree Corners Life podcast, Christ talked about how he keeps up with social media, and when misinformation is being shared, he often weighs in to set the record straight.
“Everybody is entitled to their own opinion about whether a particular project is beneficial to the city. But I think it’s important that …everybody has the facts,” he said. “And so, if we’re on Nextdoor, on Facebook — setting aside whether what they’re building is good or bad — if it’s not accurate, …on the size …or the number of units being developed, you often see me chime in and provide the facts.”
Christ said that during his first year in office, he was surprised that so many people he spoke to had no idea about items coming before the City Council.
“People need to, I want them to, know things are being voted on. Because if …no one shows up for a public hearing, I guess there are two …potential reasons,” he said. “One is no one politically cares about that particular development, they know it’s O.K., or they do care, but they didn’t know about the meeting.”
He added that City Council doesn’t always have the best ideas, and hearing from the community members is an important part of the process.
Info on upcoming project requests
“We’re seeing a lot of requests right now in the city to change from 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,” said Christ.
Mixed-use zoning can include residential, whereas commercial zoning does not. With housing shortages across the country, developers are looking for solutions like what’s going on up and down Peachtree Parkway or on Holcomb Bridge Road. They come up with lots of ideas for lots of different types of uses. But residents can’t live where it’s zoned commercial. It’s allowed to build a hotel on commercial property, but not a permanent residency.
“That’s why we’re seeing a lot of requests for residential developments,” he said.
Like most cities, Peachtree Corners has a Planning Commission comprised of members appointed by the City Council. They act as an additional filter of sorts, by making recommendations to City Council.
Christ talked about several major projects on the agenda for July.
The Forum at Peachtree Corners
The Forum has a mixed-use request to rezone 44 acres from commercial to allow for new mixed-use development at 5131 through 5185 Peachtree Parkway. Owner North American Properties (NAP) wants to include a 381-unit apartment building, retail space, a hotel and additional parking to the existing 99,050 square feet of office space and to reconfigure the existing 415,350 square-foot shopping center.
The Planning Commission recommended approval with certain conditions including:
■ The building permit for the apartments won’t be issued until the permit for the hotel is issued.
■ The developer must build a pedestrian bridge from the Peachtree Parkway Bridge to the hotel.
■ The developer must build a multi-use trail system through the property.
■ Buildings can’t be higher than 90 feet. Those located within 200 feet of existing residential properties can’t be higher than 50 feet.
■ There can be no drive-through businesses on the property.
•■ Business hours are to be limited, from 7 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends, with the exception of coffee / bagel shops that may open 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day.
“When staff researched this, they discovered that The Forum was …zoned light industrial back in the day. So, in the late 90s, it was converted into …a mid-level commercial, and they did include a condition that there would be no hotels,” said Christ.
“So, North American Properties …has taken feedback from the community meeting and they’ve requested two changes. One is changing conditions to permit a hotel and the second is to rezone the 44 acres. That doesn’t actually mean that they’re going to redevelop every piece of that. That’s just how big it is. And they want to change its zoning from commercial to mixed-use, which is what the Town Center is zoned. So, [that includes] the restaurant and the retail and the movie theater and even the townhomes.”
The project called Innovation Lofts, also owned by North American Properties, has requested to add 4.4 acres to the existing 20.6-acre Town Center mixed-use zoning district by rezoning 4.4 acres from commercial to mixed-use with an associated variance to allow for a new apartment building at 5246 Peachtree Parkway and 4936 Peachtree Corners Circle.
[Updated, Correction: The Community Development Department recommended approval with certain conditions on the Innovation Lofts proposal. At its July 19 meeting, the Planning Commission voted to deny the request. Because this was the first reading, City Council didn’t vote on the rezoning request. ]
Planning Department recommended conditions:
■ The site may be developed with up to 249 studio, one- and two-bedroom, multi-family units.
■ The developer must contribute $200,000 by Dec. 31 toward the construction of the Town Center Corners Connector Trail and other associated features in exchange for residential density credit.
■ The developer must construct a pedestrian bridge connecting its property to the Town Center.
■ The developer must provide sidewalk connectivity between all buildings and dedicated trails within the site and to all public streets adjacent to the site.
■ The property will have a resort-style swimming pool and courtyard, but no children’s playground equipment is allowed on the property.
The apartments versus condominiums question came up during a community meeting hosted by the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association. It’s obvious that under the previous owners, there were at least a dozen empty store fronts and North American Properties wants to build density on The Forum property. Popular opinion is that the residential with apartments has a better turnover, and that is a better for retail versus equity ownership.
“Tim Perry [Managing Partner of North American Properties] is looking to create a vibrant retail restaurant shopping center and maintain it,” said Christ. “We sometimes get bored with the same restaurants. …With apartment turnover every two or three years, you have new potential customers.”
Another Town Center rezoning request is for a mixed-use office and retail development. The request is to add 2.31 acres to the existing 20.6-acre Town Center MUD zoning district by rezoning the 2.31 acres from commercial to mixed-use to allow for a new office and ground floor retail development at 3847 Medlock Bridge Road and 5100 Peachtree Parkway. The rezoning also includes the existing Piedmont Bank property.
The 5100 Peachtree Parkway property is currently occupied by the bank with associated parking located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Peachtree Parkway and Medlock Bridge Road. The 3847 Medlock Bridge Road property is a vacant parcel located behind the bank at the corner of Medlock Bridge and Town Center Drive. The property is directly next to the Town Center development, which is already zoned for mixed-use development.
The property was the subject of numerous past zoning cases. One was the rezoning in 2013 by the city to the current commercial district to allow for commercial/retail development. Previous requests for apartments, a gas station with auto repair and office buildings were never constructed.
The Planning Commission recommended approval with conditions that include:
■ Retail and/or restaurant use must be located on the ground floor of the office building.
■ The remnants of the former driveway to the bank site along Medlock Bridge Road must be fully removed. The sidewalk must be returned to standard condition and the unimproved yard area must be landscaped.
A foreign limited partnership out of North Carolina, according to its Georgia business license, has requested to rezone 9.68 acres from light industrial to mixed-use development to allow for a new mixed-use development at 2 Sun Court. The Sun Court project will consist of an existing four-story office building, a new mixed-use apartment building which will contain 170 residential units, ground-floor retail space and an extension to the public trail system.
The Sun Court property currently consists of a large office building and associated surface parking located near the southeast corner of the intersection of Spalding Drive and Engineering Drive. The site has some wooded areas remaining along its periphery; however, the remainder of the site is developed with the office building and parking lots. Access points exist on Spalding Drive and Sun Court.
The property does not include the International Charter Academy school located at the immediate corner of Spalding and Engineering.
The property is across Spalding Drive from the Intuitive Surgical corporate campus. Adjacent to the east along Spalding is the Peachtree Corners Post Office. To the south and west are additional Technology Park office park buildings.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of the request with conditions that include:
■ The property must retain the existing office building in its existing configuration, square footage and use.
■ A minimum of 4,935 square feet of retail and/or restaurant uses must be located on the ground floor of the apartment building. The entirety of the space must be occupied and operational (as evidenced by a business license) before a Certificate of Occupancy for the apartment building will be issued.
■ The trail must be completed before a Certificate of Occupancy for the apartment building will be issued.
Ensuring that the trail system be completed has been a major concern of City Council. “We’ve become pretty bullish on that, you know, on the trail system. We are starting on our master plan of 11 plus miles of trails, …the exact location and how we do it is starting to really kind of coalesce more than it did in the past to where we’ve now started to see exactly where we are going to weave it through some of these developments. And as a result, we’re requiring some of them to have the trail be part of their property,” said Christ. “I think this trail system is going to come to life a lot quicker than we thought it could have even as recent as a year ago.”
Changes are inevitable, so make sure they’re positive
At the end of the day, Christ reminds residents and businesses that Peachtree Corners can’t remain the same. “Change is one constant in the world. Peachtree Corners won’t remain static,” he said. “However, considering one of the main reasons we became a city was to, at a minimum, maintain our existing ownership to rental split, I have felt it very important to ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to doing just that.”
He added that all the projects that have come before City Council have had their merits. “But ultimately, the ones I voted against I didn’t believe had favorable prospects for being a long-term value creator for our community,” said Christ in his newsletter. “Just because something will be better than what is there right now, doesn’t mean we should vote to approve something.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by noted author Victor Hugo more than a century ago when he wrote, “Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.”
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.
Combining Cities’ Teamwork Community and Development Solutions
Mayors of Berkeley Lake, Peachtree Corners and Norcross agree that pooling each city’s strengths will mean economic success for the area.
With mixed-used developments popping up all over metro Atlanta, Gwinnett County may be poised to catch up to or surpass Fulton County as the most populous county in the state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Fulton County’s population is at 1.05 million and Gwinnett is at 926,000 at the last 10-year count.
Currently, more than 500 international businesses have a footprint in the county with booming industries such as information technology, health sciences, professional services and supply chain management. With a diversity index of 80.9% (meaning that if two people are picked at random in Gwinnett County, there’s an 80.9% chance that the two would be of a different race or ethnicity), it is also the most diverse county in the southeast. Add that to a labor force of over 1.8 million individuals and along with a wide range of incentives and resources, Gwinnett is expected to continue growing and attracting companies of all sizes.
These facts are clearly evident in the southwest corner of the county. To add perspective to where the area is headed, the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion during its First Friday breakfast meeting on July 8 among the mayors of Berkeley Lake, Peachtree Corners and Norcross to enlighten residents, businesses and stakeholders of the potential future growth.
More growth on the way
Right off the bat, Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason mentioned the $500 million expansion of Intuitive Surgical’s Peachtree Corners operation. The robotic surgery systems company — the dominant player in the space — has had a presence in Georgia for a decade. The plan is to expand the Peachtree Corners campus to 750,000 square feet of manufacturing and engineering operations, training facilities for surgeons and hospital care teams and administrative offices.
The expansion will take place in phases, with completion in 2024. Intuitive Surgical plans to add 1,200 jobs on top of the 180 professionals it already has based in Peachtree Corners.
“Intuitive needs a highly educated, committed and diverse workforce; quality infrastructure; and the right geography to meet the rising demand for minimally invasive surgical technologies,” Intuitive CEO Gary Guthart said when the company first announced the project. “We’ve found that here, and we’re excited to continue to grow in the state.”
This is an incredible boon to an area that is already bustling with technology advancements.
“You have people picking up and moving here with an average salary of $130,000,” said Mason, adding that about 400 jobs will be filled locally, but another 1,000 or so will be moving into the area.
He pointed out that currently, there aren’t 1,000 available housing units in Peachtree Corners even if the wider net of Berkeley Lake and Norcross were cast.
“There’s not even 500,” said Mason. “It’s going to make a tremendous impact on this whole area. That’s exciting. And it’s the thing that the three of us have said many, many times — a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Berkeley Lake looks for housing solutions
All the mayors agreed that housing is an issue across the board. However, it’s not just about the influx of high-income residents that’s cause for concern. The dearth of affordable housing across the country has governments, real estate professionals and social services agencies seeking solutions.
That led Berkeley Lake Mayor Lois Salter to mention her conundrum. “I would have to say honestly, that as the fourth most expensive place in the state to buy a house after Sea Island, Milton and Druid Hills, …I don’t have anything to write about in that regard,” said Salter.
According to recent data compiled by Zillow.com, the average home price in Berkeley Lake is about $750,000 which is a 30% increase in the past year and a 63% increase in the past five years.
“We have looked at the only way …to make some affordable housing is what’s called accessory housing,” she added.
Also known as accessory dwelling units (ADU), they are smaller, independent residential dwelling units located on the same lots as stand-alone (i.e., detached) single-family homes, according to the American Planning Association. ADUs go by many different names throughout the U.S., including accessory apartments, secondary suites and granny flats. ADUs can be converted portions of existing homes (i.e., internal ADUs), additions to new or existing homes (i.e., attached ADUs), or new stand-alone accessory structures or converted portions of existing stand-alone accessory structures (i.e., garages, outbuildings).
“That has worked in places like Buckhead and historic Savannah,” said Salter. “They have carriage houses and garage apartments and things where single-family homes have been made.”
The concept is slowly gaining support.
“We made a potential ordinance that required anyone who wanted to do that …to get a special use permit, and to control the people who were living there so that it didn’t look like a duplex,” said Salter.
Initial concerns were about on-street parking and diminished property values.
“People who are aging in place could have an additional income from that. And then they can have people live near them with them with their own privacy, but also accessible to each other in what could be a very positive way,” said Salter. “We’re not there yet in Berkeley Lake. That’s the only thing that I can think of that Berkeley Lake can do that will create affordable housing.”
Affordable housing a priority in Norcross
Norcross Mayor Craig Newton had a different perspective.
“Housing is important for a couple of reasons,” he said. “In the last three months of 2021, institutional investors bought up 20% of all homes that were for sale. This is boxing residents out of homeownership. Now research shows that the shortage of affordable housing costs the American economy $2 trillion a year.”
Newton went on to explain that this problem is affecting a family’s ability for self-sufficiency and wealth building. When housing costs exceed 30% of one’s income, that can lead to a downward spiral.
“Addressing this, the city of Norcross made housing a priority,” Newton said.
Norcross is part of the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, a three-year program that is jointly administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the University of Georgia. The program aims to help communities around the state meet their housing and neighborhood revitalization needs.
“We’ve partnered with …Norcross Housing Authority, created a new affordable housing development to transform a 50-year-old development into a modern, affordable community with over 150 units. We’ve also established a revised Norcross Development Authority and empowered them to address affordability along with economic development. And during the process, of creating a separate affordability product that will yield close to another 150 units.”
Peachtree Corners balances development and livability
With Berkeley Lake and Norcross on nearly opposite ends of the spectrum, Peachtree Corners is somewhere in the middle.
“Housing is not the business of the city,” Mason pointed out.
But Peachtree Corners has become a much sought-after area for developers. Mason cited the revitalization of Town Center as an indicator of its cachet. He pointed out that retail in the post-COVID world has changed and Town Center’s new owner, North American Properties has a proven track record of success in this modern age.
“We’re looking forward to what they have done,” he said. “They have put a package together and given it to our community development folks that’s very exciting.”
But not every developer makes the cut.
“Developers, they come in and say, ‘We’ve got a great idea, we just want to tear all this down and put in an apartment complex or mixed-use development,’” Mason said. “We’ve turned down a number of apartment complexes because people want to just put them everywhere.”
Mason added that Peachtree Corners is working to be a good steward of its responsibilities and look at what’s best for everyone — the newcomers as well as those who’ve been around since day one.
Ten years ago, when the city was founded, it was mostly filled with single-family houses. “And we were told when we became a city that …Tech Park was falling apart. People are leaving, the office is old, and you need to do something about it,” said Mason. “So I got two wise men and women to do a survey and they told us …the young people who will work in these high tech companies want to live in Midtown where it’s cool — where they can live, work and play.”
That’s where a lot of the new development is headed.
Mason mentioned the new Waterside development, too. “Waterside sticks out as ‘old age restricted,’ although there’s an area that is not age restricted but is filling up with old folks. You need a mix of that as well,” said Mason. “We don’t have a housing plan for the city’; however, we do monitor what we’ve got and what we need.”
With each city bringing a particular set of assets to the table, all three mayors agreed that achieving controlled growth relies on teamwork.
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