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Alex Wright on The Forum Sale, New Town Center Playground and More [Podcast]

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City Councilman Alex Wright and Rico Figliolini talk about the Forum on Peachtree Parkway sale and what may happen there, the new playground at the Town Green, extending the Autonomous Vehicle route from Tech Park to the Town Center, and more.

Resources:

Alex’s Email: AWright@PeachtreeCornersGA.gov
City Council Website: https://www.peachtreecornersga.gov/government/mayor-and-council/meet-the-mayor-and-council
Playground Creations

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:00:45] – New Planned Playground
[00:11:52] – Peachtree Corners Decathlon
[00:17:07] – Reupdating the Forum
[00:28:10] – Intuitive Campus
[00:31:29] – Autonomous Vehicles and Curiosity Labs
[00:41:25] – Mixed Use Development Ordinance
[00:46:36] – Closing

“But one of the purposes of (the decathlon) was to say, Hey, there’s this fitness trail there. I can’t tell you the number of times I talked to someone and they’re like, I didn’t even know that was there. You know, it’s kind of off in the woods and we want to encourage its use. To encourage people to be active.”

Alex Wright

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi, this is Rico Figliolini, host of the Peachtree Corners Life. A podcast that centers around the city of Peachtree Corners. And today we have a special guest, Alex Wright, City Councilman district three. Hey Alex, thanks for joining us.

[00:00:42] Alex: Glad to be here. Good afternoon to you.

[00:00:45] Rico: Yeah, thank you. And this is a great time to be able to go through a lot of the things that are going on. I know that getting your regular newsletter sent out to your constituents really does explain a lot to people about not only currently what’s going on, but what’s coming forward in the next few months. Great that you’re sending that out. In fact, we’re going to go through that newsletter a little bit. We’re going to go item by item to discuss some of the things. Like the planned new playground that been worked on and actually, I believe is out for a bid at this point. This is separate from the small slide playground that’s at Town Center already. And separate from the fitness trail too. So tell us as I go through this, tell us a little bit about where this playground is actually situated. And as you’re doing that, I’m going to put some slides up from the Town Center. The first one is going to be actually with the Cinebistro behind me. I took these shots this morning and with me standing at the front, if you will, by the stage.

[00:01:43] Alex: Yeah, so from this vantage point, you can see kind of, off to the right, a wooded area. And the fitness trail is up in there, but there’s an access road further up, other side of the Veterans Monument. So if you were standing on the green, looking at the woods from all the way from the access road, which is beside the Veterans Monument all the way to where the other sidewalk is that runs beside the Cinebistro down the side of it.

[00:02:11] Rico: So I think the picture here has that road on the very left, you can barely see it.

[00:02:17] Alex: Yeah, that’d be the access road, and you could see the entrance to the Fitness Trail there. So basically all that, all the way down to the beginning of the Cinebistro, if you drew a perpendicular line out from the front of the Cinebistro, that entire frontage probably going back, I don’t know, 50 to 60 feet, maybe more is where the playground is going to be. So a lot of the landscaping that’s there right now, that was planted a few years ago that, that’s all going to come out. There’ll be a few trees that will need to get taken down. Several as we went through it, probably should be taken down anyway. They’re not in good condition. But anyway, it’s pretty large. Especially in contrast to the little one we’ve got right now. So this is going to be a major upgrade to the Town Green here for kid activities and there’ll probably be some adults that get on this stuff, cause it’s, some of it’s kind of neat.

[00:03:15] Rico: And I’m going to throw up a rendering. That was one of the original renderings, that was produced for it. That said, sort of give us the elements, not necessarily the positioning of it.

[00:03:25] Alex: Yeah, so if we start left to right, you know, the left is that’s the access road. And to your point, it’s not going to look exactly like this, but it’ll be similar. So the first, it’s kind of a small, it looks like a swing almost. The original designer we had, or he still is the designer. We were kind of brainstorming with him about what we were looking for. Found out that this guy had a background in not just landscape design, but also a passion on the side of helping special needs kids. He used to be a counselor at a camp and does all kinds of different activities with them. Anyway, the point of it is when he gave us the original design, one of the things he had done really without us asking, was incorporate some equipment and other design features that would be very attractive to people with special needs kids. And especially like kids with autism, for example. So that swing, it doesn’t swing, you know, like say this that’s more flat like this. And it’s large enough where you can actually push a wheelchair into the middle of it. And I don’t, I’m not that familiar with all autism, but apparently there’s some sensory aspects to this specific swing that they find very soothing. So, Yeah, that was kind of an added benefit of this guy we picked. Where he introduced some ideas to us that we’d not really even thought about. But after hearing them we like, know, embraced it. That’s probably a segment of the population that doesn’t have a lot of attention given to as far as playground designs. So anyway, so that’s one of the things. Now to the immediate right of that is a very large covered area. And that is called a Quantis and there’s a video link that I had sent out before and it might be something I can share on some of your platforms. That it illustrates a lot more effectively than just this picture. But this thing is really big. You don’t really get a good scope in this, but it’s very large. And so you can see it’s like in a figure eight formation. And it’s got, where you can kind of bounce on it, if you will.

[00:05:40] Rico: I’m going to put the link on there for video in our show notes and people will see you’re absolutely right. This really does not show them the bigness of it, if you will.

[00:05:49] Alex: Yeah. So it looks like different things attached to it underneath, it’s got some different kinds of slides off of it. Some, some grip where you can do activities or whatever. But again, I would encourage people to go once you get the link up to check out the little video, cause it’s a really impressive piece of equipment. One of the things we had said to the designer originally was here’s the piece of property. We want you to go and be as creative as possible, come up with ideas or things that you can’t really find anywhere else. And this Quantis, they make it in, it’s in Minnesota or Canada, I can’t remember. But, he was telling us there’s only one or two in the United States right now, and one of them is in San Francisco and then maybe one other one, but it’s a very unique piece of equipment that I think even adults will find that they’re attracted to. And you can see it’s also covered, which is going to be nice in the summer, obviously when it gets pretty hot. Moving to the right from there, you can see two towers and then a blue, long blue slide coming off of that. Now there are some other things that come off of that. But one of the things that we found in the little playground, kids love that slide that’s there, but it’s metal, which gets pretty hot in the summer, which you buy those little rocks. So what we wanted to do is create a slide that was not gonna get as hot, I guess you could say. But also was higher up. And the, one of the things you can see here, there’s a slight elevation change that’s already there. And then we’ve put the tower up on top of that elevation change. So from where you’d get in that blue tube, down to the bottom is about a 20 foot drop. Which is, I mean you could see it’s covered, so you’re not going to come out of it. But if you’re a little kid, that’s going to be pretty exciting with a 20 foot drop. And there’s a few other slides off of there, but one of the things, and I remember being a kid where you love to climb into things that are enclosed and this has got that aspect to it.

[00:07:42] Rico: And then, was it the Jones bridge park has a playground that has also a tube-like, tube slide like that. But not 20 feet I don’t think.

[00:07:50] Alex: Yeah, it might be six maybe, cause I can stand up and touch the bottom of it. So you’re talking three times as high. Now, to the further right, I don’t know if this one really illustrates it very well, but the third major thing is going to be something called a bamboo jungle. Which is, imagine metal poles into the ground that are six, seven feet tall. And then occasional foot rest, for lack of a better word, where you can climb through this thing. People of all ages would enjoy that. Now, in addition, there’s a few other, you can see this little slope here with some other slides on it and then a cement area that’s covered. And it’s not going to look exactly like that, the covered area will be bigger than that. But one of the ideas was, we wanted an area where the parents could hang out, just kind of relax, watching their kids play. Like on the other side, one of the things that turned out to be a big hit was having a covered area right beside the play area. We wanted to replicate that on this side and you can see where a lot of these things kind of flow into that, that semi-circle area, which was the intent. To bring people to, the smaller kids especially, keep them flowing in to where their parents were sitting. That wall, that’s actually not going to be there. We’re going to have that sloped down. And so one of the things that’ll be kind of a side benefit, of this, is it’s going to create more seating when we have concerts. Sometimes, before the virus, some of the concerts were really well attended, I guess you could say and actually needed some more space. So this will be again, a secondary benefit to the playground, plus some seating area. And then you can see behind the playground is a sidewalk and that’s really for making it more handicap accessible. And there’ll be a stone wall behind that, that you could sit on. And then there’ll be a low fence behind that wall that you can lean back into, which will make it a little more comfortable. But you know, the contract went out for bid a few days ago. And what we’re hoping is to have this thing up and running in May, weather permitting. A lot of the equipment we had already ordered. That the bid for contract was for the land movement. The equipment was, we’ve already ordered that, it takes about three months to build some of these things. And so one of the things I’ve mentioned is that the ground is not going to be the AstroTurf like we’ve got on the other side, which we’ve had some problems with it tearing up. It’s going to be a rubber material. And it’s going to be blue and green, like the city colors and have some of the designs of the city, the tree. So I think it’s going to be, it’ll really add a nice color pop as well. Anytime you’ve got a play area, it just seems more I don’t know, fun if you’ve got some bright colored stuff.

[00:10:42] Rico: For sure. And it probably works, just like a lot of Gwinnett County parks. I mean, a lot of drainage opportunities, to drain faster, dry faster. Like you said the turf won’t be torn up. You won’t have turf to be torn up and then have to be re fixed later. So people looking at this rendering as I understand, this is sort of a representation, but obviously elements will be a little different on this, including the positioning of some of this and the terrain, but the sloping and the general area is correct.

[00:11:12] Alex: Yeah, it’s got the area right. It’s got the major components, but it’ll look a little bit different. It’ll look nicer than this. You know, this was an earlier rendering. But it’s, I think it’s really going to add, there’s always kids at the Town Green already, but I think this is going to give just a whole new level of attraction. Because what we see now is kids like at a certain age, they don’t want to play on the playground we’ve got now because there’s really not much stuff there. And they ended up migrating over into the woods and nothing wrong with that, but we thought well, let’s give them something more than what we’ve got now. Videos I’ve shown to friends of mine that have smaller kids they’ve all been really excited about it.

[00:11:52] Rico: With the video that I saw, this is a huge piece of, just the one, the Quantas is a huge piece to be there so I can imagine the rest of it. So it can’t wait for people to see that. So check out the show notes and you’ll be able to see that video also, I’ll get that link on there as well, when this comes up. Let’s also talk a bit about what you just did. You put together the first official event, which was the Peachtree Corners Decathlon which takes place in the fitness trail that was expanded from seven pieces to ten pieces. So tell us a little bit about how that went, what’s going on there and when will the next one be this year coming?

[00:12:26] Alex: Right. So we had a decathlon, like an obstacle course decathlon, back in early November on the fitness trail. And a decent turnout, about 50 people in one of the things. And it was really designed, it was a rolling start, which meant every five minutes a person would enter into it. And each, every five minutes you would rotate to a new station. So the nature of that kind of, it’s not like a 5k where you can have 500 people start at once. So the number was going to be limited. You know, there’s only a certain number of people that are kind of interested in that thing. So we knew it would be a different type of event. So there was, for me personally was kind of a lot of apprehension at the beginning not knowing, you’re building something from scratch. Like someone’s going to show up, are they going to have fun? And, A, the weather cooperated, the vibe we were looking for was a community event. Family’s come out, cheering people on. And we had all that in spades. A lot of very impressive athletes were there. Very humbling when you get older like I do. It really kind of slaps in your face, I’m really old compared to some of these guys. They were impressive. But I had a great time and an award ceremony a few days later at Anderby. Which got a lot of great feedback on that. And during the event we had, photographers there taking pictures of people, which we would then put up on the big screen.And people really liked that as well. So, I thought it was very successful. And so anyway, yeah, we’re going to do it again next year. A little bit earlier, probably mid to late October around with some of the feedback we got is, Hey, can you move it up just a little bit?

[00:13:59] Rico: Actually, that’ll be this year, so.

[00:14:01] Alex: Yes, October 2022. It’ll be the decathlon again, probably the same obstacles. We’re hoping to get a little more attendance. One of the big things was just trying to describe to people, what is this? People when you tell them hey, you’ve got to climb a 20 foot rope, they you know, some people get scared off by that. But one of the purposes of this was to, Hey, there’s this fitness trail there. I can’t tell you the number of times I talked to someone and they’re like, I didn’t even know that was there. You know, it’s kind of off in the woods and we want to encourage its use. To encourage people to just be active

[00:14:30] Rico: No matter how many times you put out things, where the city puts out the information through a variety of channels, including Peachtree Corners Magazine, these podcasts, the website, your website, social media. There will always be people that miss any of that because it’s not on their radar. They’re not thinking about it. You know, unless you’re at Town Center and even sometimes if you’re at Town Center, you might not walk all the way there. Or you might, and then try to figure out what it is. The cool part is that, really that fitness trail started because of you, I think. Because you started it out with seven, you know your idea was to put a fitness stations there. Because during, at the beginning of COVID, YMCA closed, there was really no way to do any work like that with your friends. And it’s cool that it started out that way, and now it’s expanding even further. So it’s kind of neat that you were able to do that.

[00:15:21] Alex: Yeah, you know, I’ve said this to people before where, this virus obviously has been very disruptive, continues to be disruptive. But often good things can come out of bad things. And this was a perfect example of where, this probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise because there was no impetus for it because, Hey, we’re going to the Y or whatever. And so yeah, this turned out to be, we created a something for the whole community to use. You know, some of the obstacles are very specific for people that do like Spartan races and that kind of thing. And I’ve bumped into people there who had driven from other parts of the Metro area that, you know, they’ve heard word of mouth, Hey, that you’ve got this and this. I can’t practice anywhere else on this. And if you think about it in terms of just on a very micro scale, you know, the economic development. Like, hey, we’ve got people coming into town just to use this and it gets our name out there. Again it’s, we’re talking to micro scale, but it’s creating something unique.

[00:16:18] Rico: And you know, something that’s a one-time investment. Granted there’s maintenance upkeep on it. But a one time investment that provides that type of economic impact, even on a micro scale, over a period of time, over several years, you know, the more that’s added. The same way, like this playground as unique as it will be, it’ll be a different thing. So it’s not just pulling in maybe from people from, normal retail pulls them for maybe three, four mile area, sometimes two mile area. This will draw maybe a little wider. You know, the more things we have. Like the concert, like you said, the extra seating that will be there. The first original concert had close to 5,000 or over 5,000 people on that green.

[00:16:57] Alex: Yeah. There’ve been some that were, yeah. At a Queen concert, I think back in 2019. And it was just a madhouse. It was a lot of fun. I looked forward to one day having that same kind of vibe.

[00:17:07] Rico: Yeah. Going from the Town Center, let’s keep on track a little bit in talking about the Forum. Because there’s a few things going on there at the Forum that ‘s been talked about on Next Door. So you know, one of the things going on is that there’s been some shop closings. I know that I normally, when I go to Dunkin Donuts, get my coffee, I’ll drive through the forum occasionally just to do my count to see how many stores are closed at the Forum. And it’s varied between 14 to 16, I think, closed stores. Small stores, big stores, and then you get a Lemon Lulu that does the pop-up. That pop-up is not a pop-up anymore. It seems like it’s there permanent because they’re doing really well. And if I ask my young kids why they don’t go to the Forum, they’re like, why should I go there when I can go to the Avalon? Or even if I go to the Forum, there’s really no shops for me, except for then maybe that Lemon Lulu or the Barnes and Noble, or those or Ulta. That was the other thing. So those three things for a younger, like we’re talking about twenties, late twenties, maybe early thirties. It’s not doing so well. I mean, you’ve got right now, for example Williams Sonoma is leaving the store. They’re closing up shop. But by the way, you can go to Avalon or the Avenue at East Cobb to go see them. They’re just one store closing. Dress Up just closed, I don’t know how many weeks ago or a month ago. Now there are new stores coming in, but what do we do with the place? What can be done there, Alex? I know the city is trying to do some stuff. But tell us a little bit more about what’s going on.

[00:18:32] Alex: Yeah, so we, you know, if you remember the Forum was sold it was 2015 or 2018, I can’t remember to a company it’s a REIT out of Boston, you know, real estate. And I think Behr was the managing company, doing the leases and all that kind of thing. And just not very interested in some of the, cause we approached them about, Hey, we think you need some type of activation on the property. Like there was a company that contacted the city a few, I don’t know, probably last year that does Pickleball. Something Pickleball and Waffles or something like that. I can’t remember the name of the company, but it’s trendy. And they actually wanted to, that wooded area we were just talking about beside the Town Green, they wanted to buy that and take all the trees down and build Pickleball courts. And obviously that didn’t go anywhere luckily. But we have suggested, hey, why don’t you go across the street to the Forum? You can take some of that parking in the back that’s never used and right near the bridge. And we’re just trying to be creative, something where people want to go and hang out. And they had no interest in that. We talked to them about taking the middle area and making it, taking the parking out, making it not necessarily grass but an area you could hang out in. No interest.

[00:19:51] Rico: No interest from Behr or the REIT that owns it actually.

[00:19:54] Alex: That’s correct. They’re just very rigid in their thinking. And what I kept thinking about was that scene from Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise is saying, help me help you. You know, we want to invest in your property, even though it’s struggling. Because if it goes down, it’s going to impact the whole area. As you probably know, it went up for sale again, I don’t know, a few months ago. And I believe that it actually, so there was a bidding process where they didn’t just have a deal with one company. They put it out there, hey, best offer and several companies bid. And I guess they needed to get over a certain threshold. And then after they did that, they did it again. They said, okay, we’re going to make your best last offer or last best offer. And so my understanding is a winner, I guess you could say, has been selected during the due diligence period. And assuming nothing weird happens, there’ll be a new owner here very soon. And at least what I’ve heard, through back channels is that of all the companies that were bidding on it, this was the best outcome for us. This is a company that’s willing to have a long-term vision. Hey, maybe we take some short-term hits, we’re in this for the long haul. They’ve been, because several of these companies came and contacted the city and said, hey, would you be interested in doing something with this. It’s almost like what we had already been doing. And this company in particular has been open to all the different ideas that we’ve thrown around. So I’m very cautiously optimistic that we can turn things or help them turn things around. It would include some limited investment from the city, some type of private, public partnership. I think ultimately, we don’t want to see the Forum go down. And now I would say, the future of retail obviously is different than 10 years ago. I mean, it’s going to become more of, I think, of an experience than, hey I’m just going to go roam around and look at stuff in here. Because you can buy it cheaper and easier online. It’s obviously evolving. It’s not just the Forum right, they’re kind of figuring that out. But it’s going to have to involve some things other than just retail.

[00:22:07] Rico: I think you’re, I think you’re right and part of what I understand is that the current owner, if I understand correctly some of their other properties are multi-use properties where they have residential components, office, retail. Like a Halcyon type property, like an Avalon type property. So they’re divesting themselves of properties like this that have less stores, that don’t have multi-use components to it. So now you’re talking about, if I understand correctly, the company you’re talking about that is in that due diligence stage is probably North American Properties who owns Atlantic Station, Colony Square, Avalon. The exact type of places that have a multi-use components, residential, office. Now, granted, even the Forum has an office component. Probably some people don’t even know in some ways, but there’s office components too. But no residential obviously at this point. So it sounds like maybe North American Properties may be looking to be able to do. And I want to put up some illustrations of what possibly, for example, this is one of the renderings I got my hands on that was shown to the companies where, you know, the green space would be that central part, just like you would see at Avalon, just that like you would see at Halcyon. And now granted that would take away some parking spaces, but you can note anyone that looks at this, can see the possible parking decks above and below that would essentially be owned by the city, I guess was one of the pitches. Similar to the parking deck that’s owned by the city at Town Center.

[00:23:37] Alex: That’s correct.

[00:23:38] Rico: So it’s an investment that the city can make to help further what can be done here? There was a couple of other illustrators, let me throw them one at a time up here. I believe this is that Halcyon if I understand correctly. Green space in the middle of retail, right? Which the Forum currently lacks. One of the other places, I think this was maybe I think at Avalon is what that one’s at. Is another one, type of green space or places that would allow people to essentially come to provide. Here’s a new one, this was one that was the beginning of where you see Belk’s and stuff with a small stage over there. These were just suggestions that could add energy if you will, to the surrounding areas. Because there’s no where to hang out. There really is nowhere to hang out there.

[00:24:26] Alex: That’s correct.

[00:24:27] Rico: Do you find that, I believe fervently that density is important too. And we discussed this the other day as we were having some difficulties with the original podcast schedule, which I apologize for. But we talked about density and we talked about how the apartments and the Indigo, planned Indigo hotel, boutique hotel, a Town Center is no longer viable. Because that zoning expired sunset, after five years. And that was what, a few months ago, I guess?

[00:24:54] Alex: Yeah, in December. They had a four year of special use permit and it expired. So it’s reverted back to the earlier zoning, which I think is commercial.

[00:25:04] Rico: So commercial and for retail, I think. Which was the original or maybe just offices?

[00:25:10] Alex: I can’t remember, but I know it’s not any type of residential.

[00:25:14] Rico: No, it’s not. In fact it might be just office. I think it was C1, but heck if I remember now. It was four years ago. But so that’s expired. So those apartments that were planned originally and that boutique hotel is no longer going to happen there. So as far as density goes, unless they sell that property to someone that’s actually you know, willing to do it. Would the city think of rezoning this again? I mean.

[00:25:38] Alex: I think that a boutique hotel is a great idea for that area. And we were talking the other day about Intuitive moving in. And that’s when I heard was about 15 to 16,000 visits a year from surgeons coming into town to learn on their equipment. I mean, I don’t know that many surgeons, but I think they make pretty good money and probably would like to stay in, you know, somewhere nice. Not that we don’t have some nice hotels, but I think that location would be very attractive in the sense that, let’s say you’re staying at the, you’re over at Intuitive, you’re doing some training. You have to come over to the Indigo. I can walk to eat, I could go hang out through Town Green, I could walk over the bridge. It’s like that, all that kind of connectivity we wanted. We’re putting it in place. Now we need people there in a hotel. You know, when some of the, I talked to Mr. Roberts, this was a couple of years ago. I mean, he had some kind of neat ideas. Like he talked about having a rooftop restaurant where you know, you can get to see pretty far away. I loved that idea. I’m not sure why it didn’t work out, but yeah. I’d love to see a nice hotel in there.

[00:26:45] Rico: And it’s amazing to me with the amount of the low interest rate that development could have happened, that it didn’t happen. And now interest rates are going higher. And quite frankly, I wasn’t exactly supportive of an apartment complex, which is how that was zoned actually. The apartment 200 plus units, the Indigo hotel had to be built at the same time. And then otherwise it wouldn’t happen.

[00:27:07] Alex: That’s correct.

[00:27:08] Rico: You know, I would have preferred seeing equity owned, like condominiums.

[00:27:13] Alex: Absolutely. I voted against the project primarily what you’re talking about, like I wanted the hotel and I didn’t mind the residential, but we’ve already got over 20,000 apartment units in the city. So it’s like half our housing stock, something like, do we really need more? So anyway, that doesn’t matter now because it’s reverted back. but You’re talking about housing at the Forum. I do think that’s something that will more than likely be requested. This is obviously not formal because they haven’t even finished buying the property yet. But I wouldn’t be shocked if they didn’t want to put some type of housing component in there. Just like with the green spaces. You know, it’s an activation component. If you’ve got people living there on site, they’re going to be walking around.

[00:27:56] Rico: You’re talking about the Forum now, as far as residential on that side.

[00:28:00] Alex: So yeah, I’m not sure where. But that’s my speculation is we will probably see that request at some point. Probably sooner.

[00:28:10] Rico: And I agree. I think that has to be probably part of what they’re going to be doing. And there are spots to be able to do it on the existing plane, unless they decide to cut out some retail to be able to build something up. But certainly, yeah, I agree. And in fact that whole area zoned so then they can. I think with the special use permit maybe, do a seven like seven story mid-rise condo or apartment. I would love to see more equity owned property. But because there’s already over 300 apartments that are going to come in on the south side, east side on Peachtree Parkway. I think it’s about 320 odd units and that’s apartments right there. So, and also we talked about, you mentioned Intuitive. So there’s a piece of property where there’s about 50 units that wants to be developed that sorta goes behind Creme De La Creme and QT, I guess?

[00:28:58] Alex: Yeah, yeah. Kinda in between that. Well, you know, it’s just dirt right now. If you were looking at Creme that’s to the right. And that’s coming before the council, I believe later this month. And one of the issues, issues not the right word, but concerns was the traffic. Because if you’ve ever tried to take a left out of QT on the Peachtree Corner Circle or left out of the Forum, it’s dangerous. We didn’t want to approve something and then it makes an existing situation worse. So we, you know, have requested a traffic study, slash hey, bring us a traffic solution. Because otherwise, I just don’t think it would be a good decision. Because you’re making something worse. But the idea of you know, an equity right there, right near the Forum, I think it’s probably pretty good. And like your point it’s right near this new, what I’m going to call the Intuitive Campus. There’s talk about a trail connecting up into that. So yeah, that, that whole, again, that whole connectivity we’re talking about. It furthers that walkability, people living there and they could walk to work, walk to the Forum.

[00:30:01] Rico: Right. And that campus, they’re already doing some renovation work on Spalding Drive. They’re talking about a 1200 employee growth there. Over the period of a few years, maybe four or five years, I think as they build out these campuses. As they build out some of the buildings actually. Because I think, right now I have a map in the last issue, I think of Peachtree Corners Magazine that shows the campus of five, six buildings there.

[00:30:24] Alex: Yeah, my understanding of how this is working is there, they move a lot of people into one building, then they’ll move people out of the building, renovate that building. And then they kind of, they’re just kind of moving on from building to building. But I think the goal is to have everything done by 2024. And what I’m hearing and what little I’ve seen is they’re already hard at work doing this. So, it’s a five, $600 million investment. It is a really big deal for the city.

[00:30:53] Rico: Yeah, for sure. I know one company is leaving to reposition themselves in Dunwoody. But I don’t know how many jobs actually is being lost from there, from the city.

[00:31:02] Alex: Yeah, I’m not sure. I think it’s several hundred. But you know, one of the things that we’ve suggested to Intuitive was, hey, you know, Hapag-Lloyd is moving out, maybe you could get that building. Because it’s literally right beside where their campuses are going to be. So who knows what will happen there, but.

[00:31:18] Rico: Right. And for those people that don’t know maybe, isn’t that the building with the anchor?

[00:31:23] Alex: Yes, it’s right at Spalding and 141. It’s got the anchor. Yup.

[00:31:29] Rico: Yup. That’ll be the perfect place for that. For someone to purchase it as a showpiece anyway. So yeah, we’re talking density, we’re talking growth of a city. We’re talking a smart city, right? We’re talking a city. That’s going to be the place. I forget what month it is, I think March or April maybe. Where the V2-X Live Conference is going to be held. We’re talking about a city that has a lot of companies working through the Curiosity Lab. A lot of news stories coming out of there just recently. Was it Brodmann 17, I think was another success story that has used the autonomous vehicle street. But I think you were mentioning to me earlier at some point about extending the autonomous vehicle road up too. So talk a little bit about that. I think that was a mobility park that you were talking about and maybe even the planned autonomous vehicle reach up to Town Center. Not that they’re the same, but tell us a little bit on that.

[00:32:24] Alex: Yeah. So let me, I’ll talk about that part first. So, originally when this whole concept came up, one of the objectives was, this is before the virus, years before the virus. You know, a lot of traffic in Peachtree Corners. A lot of that traffic was people driving through Peachtree Corners, which obviously we could have no ability to really control, but we thought well, how can we make it easier to move around inside Peachtree Corners? And when we started talking about, I brought up the idea about autonomous vehicles since we were kicking that idea around. Kind of the original idea was maybe we could use the autonomous vehicles to you know, move people in between Tech Park and Town Center, you know, take a few cars off the road that was kinda. And then we got some really smart people on staff. Who’ve also worked with consultants and they took this kind of a different direction, which probably ultimately it was the right thing. Well it was the right thing to do because this is still very evolving technology. They’ve taken it in an economic development path, which is really a big success for us. But the reason I bring all that up is, we’ve never really forgotten about that original idea of moving people within Peachtree Corners. Because what happens now is people drive down Technology Parkway, they’ve heard about Curiosity Lab. They’re like well, I don’t see anything going on. They occasionally see the shuttle or I go, what does that doing for you? You know, the visual is there’s no benefit to them that’s tangible. And so what we’d like to do is extend the loop, if you will, where it goes. And I say up 141, not on the road, but we would take the existing sidewalk, expand that. We’d have a dedicated lane for the shuttles and have it run up to Town Center and back. And obviously there’s more than one shuttle now, there’s four shuttles. The analogy I always give is, years ago we went to Disney World and my wife wanted to stay, I call it on campus. But she said, you know we’re closer to everything, it’ll be more fun. You know, even though it’s triple the cost. I’m like, alright. She goes, we can ride the bus. So we found after about two days was, riding the bus was not a good idea because you had to go all these places you didn’t want to go. And I said, let’s just get back in the car and pay the $10 to park. It makes more sense. That’s the story, but the point of the story is to illustrate, you can’t get people to change their behavior unless you present an option that’s as good if not better than what they’re already doing. So recognizing that you could’ve just had one shuttle, that’s coming by every 30 minutes. Someone’s going to use that. Because right now I’ll just hop in my car. So this wouldn’t happen immediately, having the four shuttles, it would make it again it’d still be kind of a novelty thing. I get that, but it’s kind of the beginning of that idea of, hey, this thing’s going to be buying three minutes. I’ll just hop on it and go back to work or wherever. Because I think this is really the beginning of maybe in 20 or 30 years, we’ll look back and say, oh yeah, I remember when I used to own a car. I use the analogy of, everyone used to ride a horse and then around the turn of the century, cars came into the model. And that was decades of transition where you had both of them kind of interacting. And I think you’ll have something like that with autonomous cars and man cars. Who knows how it’s going to evolve? But I do think, you know, if you think about your car as an asset, how often do you use it? Maybe 5% of the day and the rest of the time it’s just sitting there, depreciating. So, it’s a horrific investment. If you’ve got something that you’re just using kind of on demand. I mean, when my kids first started driving, I learned about teenagers insurance. It’s wow, this is really expensive. And I won’t go down that tangent, but this was the beginning. So where we are as far as getting approval. So you have to get, Technology Parkway is a city street, so we totally control it. Unless you get onto a county or state road, you’ve got to work with the other governments. So we’ve been working with Georgia, with GDOT, to get approvals. To have an autonomous vehicle on their side of the road. And we feel pretty good where we are. And the governments tend to be pretty conservative and that’s when it comes to these kinds of new ideas, because it’s always about well who’s going to sue who and that kind of thing. And I get it.

[00:36:51] Rico: Liability, sure.

[00:36:52] Alex: Yeah. I will say that the visit we had recently from the Secretary of Transportation, from the federal government, that at least what I’m hearing has helped as far as, giving credence to, hey, we like these ideas. We want to push these ideas. So what I’m hearing from staff is that, we hope within the next few months, knock on wood, that we’ll get the permission if you will, from the state to run this thing up at the Town Center. And we’ve already got designs, I haven’t seen them yet, but the Public Works people tell me they’ve already got designs for the expanded sidewalks. So they’re thinking ahead. I’d love to see it happen this year sometime. I mean, it might not, but we’re definitely in that direction.

[00:37:35] Rico: Yeah. I’m excited for that because you’re talking about Technology Parkway coming out at 141 near Walgreens on that side, right? Where Curiosity Lab, that road starts, there’s a couple of hotels along that road. And as you come back out and then let’s say you come left onto Spalding Drive, however that’s going to run. Or unless it’s running the other way along Peachtree Parkway, you’re going to come across several more hotels. Offices, density. And then moving that all up past Wesleyan into Town Center. You know, I think autonomous vehicles, I know we’re far from doing autonomous vehicles generally on a road, but I think the faster progression of it will be long distance trucking. Will be these types of things that are a closed road type of thing. Still has to deal with people crossing, still has to deal with driveways and stuff. But less random things going on, then if you took a car driving into a neighborhood and then some kid runs out into the street. That’s a little different, right? So, yeah. I can see that moving along way faster and having, like you said, if you have four of those vehicles. There may be more eventually cause really, how much do they cost?

[00:38:48] Alex: Yeah. You were talking about trucking. I mean, they already can run a semi, they’ve done this from California to Jacksonville on an autonomous trip. And granted, there was a person in it. But they were not driving the truck. So this, it’s already happening. It’s just, normally if you don’t see it with your own eyes you don’t really know what’s going on. You’re busy, you know, living your life and that kind of thing. But it’s, what we’re finding is that, when you’ve got this emerging technology and you’ve got, and I say competition. For us to stay relevant for businesses to come and want to use our test platform, you’ve got to constantly be thinking up new ways to make yourself attractive. Because the barriers to entry, if you think about our barrier to entry is what there’s just a road. And we’ve got some technology on it that they can use, but it’s not super expensive to get into. So you’ve really got to continue to think outside the box. Which leads me, when we’re talking about the mobility part, which is, that’s the term I came up with. I’m not sure what we’re going to call it, but it’s a piece of land at the corner of Technology Parkway. And I think it’s Scientific Drive, but it’s beside the old Honeywell building, which is now Bright Tree. An empty parking lot now. But we’re going to make some of that, I think that some of it will be green space where you can have mini concerts and hanging out for people in the Tech Park area, but maybe some EV stations. But we’re trying to think, how can we incorporate this into the Curiosity Lab? Using this piece of land to further that and one of the things that we’ve been talking about is you’ve got an autonomous vehicles. But you’ve also got drones as a way to transport maybe it’s food or different kinds of things. I mean, these drones aren’t gonna carry huge things, but again, it’s a way to take cars off the road for transportation. With drones, just like with vehicles, they need a place to test. And so we’ve been talking about how do we take our existing platform and make it potentially an area where drones can also test. And taking part of that, you know, mobility parking will and making that somehow incorporating that into a drone test platform. Maybe they’re taking off but, I don’t really know. The idea being, is you can’t just stand back on whatever successes you’ve had. You know, we were talking, or I was talking to someone the other day about using GM as an example. Most people think of GM as a car company, but for them to succeed, they have to think of themselves as a transportation company. Because otherwise you’ll just get left behind eventually if you’re not constantly evolving. And so same idea with Curiosity Lab. How do we constantly evolve to make ourselves relevant to these new evolving technologies.

[00:41:25] Rico: For sure. And you have good leadership there and you have good people like in Brian Johnson and Brandon and others technology companies that are there that are working through the resources that the city’s providing. A city like this needs energy. A city like this has a mission, right? But the mission that the leadership of the city has provided in moving forward on all these things is very strong, I think. And I think that leadership should also extend, this is my personal opinion, into residential. Any new developments like condos or equity owned or apartments should be LED compliant. Should be working with smart technology within those buildings. Controlled access, utility management, EV charging stations within those buildings. There’s so many things that can be done in a smart way in these. And we should be leading that. We talk about ourselves as a smart city. We should really be talking about that within the zoning of an urban center like ours.

[00:42:20] Alex: Yeah. I don’t know, I don’t remember all the details, so don’t quote me on this, but I know we recently passed a mixed use development ordinance. And one of the pieces of that was, how do we incentivize people to do some of the, like what you’re talking about right there with making their buildings carbon neutral or have EV stations or whatnot. And we put in a whole series of incentives. One of the incentives, maybe it’s hey, donate land to the trail system. Again, making mobility a bigger deal. But in exchange, you know, hey, we’ll give you more density. So, using density as a way to get some of these investments. Exactly what you’re talking about. So that again, I can’t remember all the details, but that definitely was one of the things that we urge.

[00:43:08] Rico: Right. And I think one of the changes was actually, and I don’t know the details either, but was the mixture of what we call retail within a multi-use. Because right now, retail in a multi-use prior to that change, could have just been a coffee shop or a breakfast place in a large complex. And still call it multi-use when, in actuality, that’s not really multi-use when there’s only one retail shop. Not that a city should drive someone’s marketing or development.

[00:43:35] Alex: Yeah. We had that discussion at, I guess it was one of our retreats. You know, twice a year, we go off site to set our vision for the next six months. And that very topic came up about, I’m not going to name the development, but there was a mixed use development that was approved recently. And technically, you know, they met the letter of the law, but not really the spirit of the law. So we kicked around trying to define, well what is it that we’re really looking for? And talk about having a range of percentages. Because to your point, like you don’t want 99% residential and then a little coffee shop just because they can placate us.. So that’s definitely on the radar screen. We did not reach a consensus on that because, as one person made the point do you want to have 70% residential with the required 30% retail? And then that retail is just sitting empty, they just kind of plan on it. Not succeeding. It’s kinda tricky. You know, you want to push things a certain direction, but not be so rigid that almost cause people to fail.

[00:44:38] Rico: But it’s exciting to be able to find places, companies like North American Properties that owns like Avalon and those places that may have an incentive and interest to actually develop something a little better than what exists. So we just did, we’re still in the midst of a Reader’s Choice Awards survey that we’re doing. So we’re getting people to come to answer the survey questions. Right now we’re over 1800 respondents on it. 1800 respondents in a short three weeks is a lot of people to do the survey. So one of the things that we asked is what would you like to see in the city of Peachtree Corners? Now, granted I put a ABC choice in there. But they’re giving us other choices in the other section. There’s like a hundred other suggestions. But the top three is, one of the top ones is, they want to see more green and venue space at the Forum. The other thing is that they would like to see more immersive events and programs. Like the Beltline’s Illuminarium. So, we’re getting suggestions about venue, green space at the Forum. We’re getting suggestions about immersive technology and events like the Illuminarium them at the Forum, or the Van Gogh exhibit that you mentioned the other day. People would like to see that here. Those are things that, to speak to what you said earlier, less retail. Yes. But more immersive events or programs or businesses that people would want to visit and come to. And that would be, and they would stay maybe to have food, have drinks, maybe shop a little bit. This is why Avalon, why some of the other places like Atlantic Station. Not just for those reasons, but giving people an experience, giving them a better choice of retail, maybe. But to be able to attract that retail and keep it, needs that type of venue, green space, energy that does not exist at a open air mall that’s been there for 20 years and hasn’t really changed what they’re doing.

[00:46:34] Alex: Absolutely.

[00:46:36] Rico: Alex, we’ve been like going on this for almost an hour. And I appreciate your patience and your being with me on this. For those that are listening, if you’re still hanging in there with us, I appreciate that. And you’re gonna find more information relevant and related links video, probably on our show notes. So check that out, with regard to the podcast, share this with your friends. If you have any questions, certainly post it in the comment section, if you’re on Facebook or on YouTube or email Alex Wright. Alex, where can people email you or get your newsletter or?

[00:47:04] Alex: Right. So I’ve got, you know, multiple emails, like most people do. But my city email address, if you just go to the city website, you can find it under council. But it’s basically, it’s AWright@PeachtreeCornersGA.gov. That’s probably the easiest. You can email me there. If you want to get my newsletter, you can send me your email address and I’ll put it on. We’ve got probably about six between six and 700 email addresses on there. Always love to add people. You know, like I said, it comes out every month or two. And one of the advantages, if you will, over what the city is able to do is, I can sometimes share an opinion or give some insight that the city is not always in a position to do so. Or maybe I’m jumping the gun sometimes and they can’t really stop me, I don’t know. But you get a little different spin on things.

[00:47:55] Rico: Yeah, for sure. People should email you, get on his list. Every time I get it there’s always something new I don’t know. Because I don’t know everything, even though I published Peachtree Corners Magazine, people think, did you know about this? It’s no, that one I didn’t know about. But it’s good that people are hungry for news. Don’t just trust the things that you might see on Next Door or other social media. Be a critical thinker, check out for the facts yourself. Look at what people are saying. If you want to know what’s going on in the city, ask your city council people also. Look at the social media that’s related to city news. If that’s related to our magazine and stuff where we’re validating certain news items and getting information out there as well. So share this. Alex, I appreciate you coming on. Thank you so much.

[00:48:38] Alex: I enjoyed it.

[00:48:39] Rico: So did I. Thank you everyone, and check out our next issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine. We’re going to have several features in there. Hopefully you’ll be interested in including the Reader’s Choice Awards coming out in that issue. As well as a we’re doing a roundup of commercial and residence developments that were approved and ongoing now in 2022. We’ll have a map in there as well. So check it out. Again, leave your comments in the comments, put your questions there or email Alex. Thanks everyone.

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City Government

The First Days of the City of Peachtree Corners

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Diana Wheeler addresses the audience in the first City Council chambers, March 2014

Peachtree Corners Community Development Director and first full-time city employee Diana Wheeler recount the early days.

Ten years ago, when I was offered the opportunity to become Peachtree Corners’ first employee, I eagerly accepted because I thought that with over 25 years of government experience, I could make a real contribution to this new city.

I didn’t realize until I visited the first City Hall building for the very first time that I would be contributing more than just my knowledge and experience. I would also be contributing my cell phone, car, laptop and credit card.

 The fledgling city of Peachtree Corners had a framework for governance in place and several part-time consultants to manage operations, but there were no other permanent employees or much of anything else. The space that had been leased for City Hall was an old, empty building with glass walls and a poor ventilation system.

I had my pick of any empty office I wanted. With my architectural training and an understanding of the building’s orientation, I could tell immediately that I would have a choice of either being too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer. (I went with too cold in the winter and invested in a space heater.)

Setting, and resetting, priorities

I spent that first morning in August 2012 making a list of everything that needed to be done and then got to work on my list. The first item was a call to the cable company to sign up for internet service. There was only so much I could do on my phone. Without computers and internet, there would be no way to start up this start-up.

Next on my list was a trip to a used furniture store to see about buying desks, chairs, file cabinets and other essentials. There was no time to order new furniture and wait for delivery. I needed to buy things that were on-hand — or second hand. Fortunately, six matching office sets were found, and I told the salesperson that I would take them all.

I was feeling a great sense of accomplishment until he asked how I wanted to pay for them. I told him that the furniture was for the City of Peachtree Corners and asked if he could create an account for the city. He said he never heard of Peachtree Corners, but he could set up an account if it was tied to a credit card or a bank account.

Well, of course, Peachtree Corners had neither, so I contributed the use of my credit card and hoped that the purchase cleared. Luckily, it was the beginning of the month, so the transaction was approved — and I was off to my newly re-prioritized next destination: the bank.

All went well there, but I thought it might still be prudent to call my credit card company and see if they would raise my card limit. They did and that made me happy until I started to think about explaining the next month’s credit card bill to my husband.

Challenges and accomplishments

Over the next few weeks, I worked to secure office equipment, including copy machines, a plotter (for maps and plans) and AV equipment, as well as basic office supplies. Fortunately, my credit card with its increased spending limit was up to the challenge and carried us over until the bank issued the city a line of credit.

Meanwhile, without the benefit of coworkers, I often needed to find creative solutions to routine challenges. For example, when trash got dumped along Peachtree Corners Circle, I reached out to Gwinnett’s Sheriff Department and made arrangements for an inmate work crew to pick it all up. And when deliveries were made to City Hall that I couldn’t physically manage, a staffing agency sent folks with strong arms to assist.

I even put my family to work. Large tables and file cases with drawers were needed for building plan review and large format projects, so my husband Robert and son John assembled big IKEA dining room tables and cabinets that were later outfitted with glass tops. They worked hard interpreting Swedish instructional hieroglyphics over the course of a weekend, and I supplied a picnic lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, because a refrigerator hadn’t yet been purchased for the break room.

Celebration for the new city

One of the biggest challenges came at the beginning of December 2012 when the City Council announced that there would be a Grand Opening of City Hall with an open house in January — and the entire community would be invited.

It seemed like an impossible goal, but the City Council had just hired City Clerk Kym Chereck and that made all the difference. The two of us worked with a consultant, developed an action plan, delegated assignments — and everyone got very, very busy.

We worked up until the very last minute. A Boy Scout troop was even recruited to raise the flag at City Hall on opening day. It didn’t occur to me until the week before that the national anthem should be played when the flag is raised for the first time. It was too late to solicit a volunteer, so again, I pressed my good-natured, trumpet player son John into service. He did an admirable job and set the tone for a jubilant day.

The highlight of the Grand Opening came when Mayor Mike Mason unveiled the city name and logo on the wall of the new Council Chambers. The unveiling generated a standing ovation and marked the realization of a dream for all those involved and for a brand-new city. It was a truly remarkable achievement.

And 10 years later, we’re still living the dream. Happy Birthday, Peachtree Corners!

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City Government

City of Peachtree Corners Finance Dept. Awarded Certificate of Achievement 

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The City of Peachtree Corners’ Finance Department has been awarded a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) for its 2021 financial year-end comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR).

The GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting, and its attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management. It is the city’s fourth year receiving the award and represents a significant accomplishment by the City’s Finance Department and its leadership.

“We are pleased to again receive this honor,” said City Manager Brian Johnson. “Our finance department, and Finance Director Cory Salley, are to be commended for this achievement as it is the highest form of recognition GOFA presents.”

The city’s Finance Department produces the CAFR each year and works with independent auditors to verify the city’s financial situation and standing. The CAFR is judged by an impartial panel to meet the high standards of the program, which includes demonstrating a constructive “spirit of full disclosure” to clearly communicate its financial story and motivate potential users and user groups to read the report.

“This is an important award that validates Peachtree Corners’ commitment to go beyond the minimum requirements to prepare comprehensive annual financial reports in the spirit of transparency and full disclosure,” said Assistant City Manager, Brandon Branham.

The Government Finance Officers Association, based in Chicago, is a non-profit professional association serving approximately 17,500 government finance professionals. With offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C., it serves the member organization by advancing uniform standards and procedures in financial management for governments and assisting with professional development for public finance managers.

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City Government

Eric Christ on Upcoming Rezonings, Citizen Engagement, and the SPLOST November Vote

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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.

Resources:

Facebook Page:https://www.facebook.com/votechrist

Email: EChrist@PeachtreeCornersGA.gov

Timestamp:

[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

Prodcast transcript

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. This is a podcast that we do every so often. We try to do it at least once, if not, twice a month, to bring in people like our current guest and others that are specialists in the field that they’re in. Or represent us in the city. So Eric, I appreciate you being on the show with us.

[00:00:50] Eric: Yeah. Glad to be here, Rico. Looking forward to talking with you.

[00:00:53] Rico: Same here. Eric Christ is City Council Member, post two. Has been a City Council person actually for how long now?

[00:01:01] Eric: Yeah, so I was first elected, Rico might recall, at a special election back in 2016. One of our original city council members had resigned to seek state house office, since that opened up the seat. And we had a quick special election. So it’s been over six years now since I was elected.

[00:01:18] Rico: It’s gone by fast. We’re celebrating 10 years, this year, of the city being in existence. So I want to, before we get right into that, let me also say thank you, big thank you, to EV Remodeling, Inc. who’s a current sponsor of the podcast. And has been supporting us, not only advertising in our publications, but as a corporate sponsor. Helping us making sure that we have the facility to be able, if you will, to provide good journalism in this community. Being able to bring stories and curating the things that go on in our lives here, both through these podcasts, the magazine and our websites. So visit them, Eli is the owner and he lives here in Peachtree Corners, EV Remodeling, Inc. They’ve done great work out there and you certainly should check them out. So now having done that, let’s get into the meat of some of the stuff that’s going on. We haven’t had a podcast, you and I, in a while. So this is great to be able to do this. So the first thing I think that we want to, you’ve been active on Next Door every once in a while. I see you on there trying to explain things to people that sometimes post. And there are erroneous things out there sometimes, sometimes factual things. But because so many people are on Next Door talking about different developments and stuff like that, facts can be not always facts. Sometimes misinformation out there, but you’ve been able to go out there and keep things straight for us, and I appreciate that. But one of the things that you’re an advocate of, and I think it’s really important, is the ability of residents to be aware of and not just aware, but engaged in the rezoning process. Because there’s a lot of it going on. God knows in the last few years, certainly a lot more has been going on. So tell us a little bit Eric, about, you know, how you feel about that and what citizens can do to be aware and engaged in this process.

[00:03:03] Eric: Happy to do that. And you know, my personal philosophy is twofold. One, obviously everybody’s entitled to their own opinion about if a particular project is beneficial to the city. But I think it’s important that we’re all, everybody has the facts, you know? So if on Next Door, on Facebook, I see somebody commenting. I heard they’re tearing this down to build this. And setting aside whether what they’re building is good or bad, if that’s not accurate, that particular comment or the size of the comment or the number of units being developed, you know? Yeah, you’ll often see me chime in and provide the facts. And just being on the City Council and we work on these things all day long, oftentimes. And we’re more familiar with the project or than what somebody else has read on social media, or they were chatting with their neighbor as they were out walking their dogs. So, that’s why you see me active in those areas. But let’s talk about the current process and what I think we can do to improve the opportunities for residents to be aware and engage in this process. And this stems from comments. I think in like in my first year in office, I’d been talking to somebody and they’d say, I didn’t even know that was being voted on. And that always, you know, affected me to say, well, people need to, I want them to know things are being voted on. Because if they let’s say, if no one shows up for a public hearing. There’s two reasons, right? Potential reasons. One is, no one particularly cares about that particular development. Or they do care, but they didn’t know about the meeting. And one of the things I’d like to say is that we don’t have all the best ideas or all the ideas sitting up there on the Dias at council meetings. And hearing from the community members is an important part of the process. So we don’t have a monopoly on the good ideas. So here let’s talk about how it works today in Peachtree Corners. So somebody owns a piece of property and they want to apply for a change. And that can be either a change in the conditions that are on their property. So they don’t wanna change the zoning. Let’s say it’s zoned commercial, but there’s a condition that says no pet grooming establishments on this property, for some reason. Normally pet grooming is permitted, but this particular property says no pet grooming. So that’s a change in condition. And then the other one, which is perhaps more significant is a change in zoning, right? So from commercial to residential or from residential to commercial. And what we’re seeing a lot of right now in the city is requests to change from, generally various types of commercial zoning to what’s called mixed use development. And under our ordinance, mixed use requires three or more different kinds of uses, but it does include residential. So today in commercial zoning, like up and down Peachtree Parkway or on Holcomb Bridge. You can do lots of different types of uses, but you can’t live there. You can have a hotel, you can’t have permanent residency. And we’re seeing a lot of requests for residential developments. So the applicant makes that request, they submit it to the city staff. They have to submit an entire packet with a checklist, and staff goes back to them, says, you’re missing this thing. You haven’t done a traffic survey yet. But so once a full packet is accepted, then they get scheduled for a hearing before the planning commission. And then a hearing before the city council. And today in Peachtree Corners, while staff will often recommend that they also hold a community meeting before that, they’re not required to. So you always do have those two opportunities for a public hearing, right? And let’s talk quickly, what’s the Planning Commission versus the City Council. City Council obviously elected by the voters of Peachtree Corners. Seven of us, the mayor and six council members. The planning commission is appointed by the City Council and acts as an additional filter opportunity for public participation in the process. What the Planning Commission does is makes a recommendation. They don’t make binding decisions. So they will hear a request for rezoning, let’s say. They will hold a public hearing. They will ask some tough questions of the applicant, of the staff. Take the input that they get from the public, both in support or opposition. And then they’ll vote on a recommendation. So when it comes to us at the city council, the packet will say planning commission recommends approval or recommends denial. And then when it gets to the City Council, then we go through that process again. Hold a public hearing, staff presents their analysis, and then we vote. And that’s the final decision on that.

[00:07:28] Rico: There is a spot in there, when it comes to the City Council, there’s a first read at one meeting and then it goes to the next City Council meeting and that’s where the actual vote and public comments are allowed. Right?

[00:07:40] Eric: Correct. So because a rezoning. Is a zoning of each parcel in the city is defined as part of our ordinances, it’s actually part of our, the laws here in the city of Peachtree Corners. So a change in zoning is a change in those laws. And under our charter, as a city, a change in our laws requires that we announce it at one council meeting. That’s the first read. And then we wait until the next council meeting to vote on it. So it’s another opportunity for people to be informed is that they’re reading the City Council agenda. Like on Tuesday night coming up, we have a council meeting, you’ll see a section on the agenda for first reads. And really just, they read the title. We don’t vote, we don’t discuss it. There’s no public hearing. It’s just another alert. So one of the things I’ve been working on to enhance this process, making sure people are aware of it is, what we currently do is when there is a rezoning or a change in conditions on a parcel, the applicant has to post a big yellow sign on the property. You might have seen, it’s not big it’s like three foot tall by three foot wide or something like that. And it says, this parcel is subject to you know, hearings. And here’s the dates of the planning commission. And here’s the date of the City Council. Neighbors within a certain distance, so property owners who have bought that property within a distance of 500,000 feet are sent a letter in the mail. City staff also puts it on the website. But that’s about it. So one of the things I do particularly for people, you know, people who subscribe my newsletter is I promote those upcoming events. I want people to know about them. And one of the things I proposed in the past, I didn’t get a consensus from other council members, but planning to promote it again is to do something that they do in the city of Sandy Springs, which is to require a community meeting for every rezoning. So not everything that we vote on, as a city council, but every rezoning. So if you go see one of those yellow signs on a parcel in the city of Sandy Springs, it’ll have the Community Meeting date and the Planning Commission date and the City Council dates. They’re all together.

[00:09:49] Rico: So is that something the applicant would actually set up a public meeting versus let’s say, in Peachtree Corners usually United Peachtree Corners Civic Association is the host of a public meeting of that sort.

[00:10:02] Eric: Yeah. So the, the way they do it in Sandy Springs is they don’t specify how you do the community meeting. Like, do you wanna, you know, have the Peachtree Corners Civic Association at their meeting. You just have to have one, you have to capture an attendance sheet. And you have to take notes from the meeting. And Sandy Springs, they actually require two community meetings. One before planning commission, and one between planning commission and city council. And the other thing they say, and Sandy Springs is a little bit bigger than us, they’re fairly stretched out. One of the meetings has to be in the same council district as the project. And the second meeting could be somewhere else. That’s not as relevant to us here in Peachtree Corners. We’re a fairly compact 16 square miles. So that’s one of the things I’ll be working on, can we adopt some elements of what Sandy Springs does to make sure that there’s a community meeting component as well?

[00:10:53] Rico: Even with people that know, or feel they’re aware of things going on, are not always aware of things going on, right?

[00:10:59] Eric: Right.

[00:11:00] Rico: And so it’s a good thing that, you know, you have a newsletter. In fact, how can someone subscribe to that newsletter?

[00:11:06] Eric: Yeah, actually if you go to Facebook, Christ for City Council on Facebook. There’s a link there to subscribe to the newsletter. Drop me an email at, EChrist@PeachtreeCornersGA.gov, which you can find on the city website. Happy to add folks to that.

[00:11:21] Rico: Excellent. So if people do that, they’ll get the same newsletter I get, which is really informative. Even I, who publishes these magazines, don’t always know every single thing going on. And I’m like, wow. You know, I wish I knew that. So I love your newsletter. So keep it up. But what I find too, is that people are starving for stuff. The good thing about the web is that you can see the traction of certain types of stories. So as much as I like putting out stuff about restaurants and other things, the biggest hits, the very biggest hits that we get is on developments. And rezonings, and people wanna know what’s going on. I mean, the changes coming to Peachtree Corners with the Forum, that piece had legs. Not only when it first was put out a month ago, but when we started reposting it again on social media to let people be aware of it. It was the top read piece on the website, we got a decent amount of traffic.

[00:12:18] Eric: There’s an example of one. So like the Forum being so critical to the economic vitality of Peachtree Corners, that was one where not only did I point out in my newsletter or Hey, these public hearings are coming up. I actually, I attended the community meeting, you know, along with about 200 folks there. And I wrote up my notes when I heard the applicant saying and shared those in my newsletter and also on, Next Door. And yeah, I got, sort of got a lot of engagement about that. And once again, this was just my impression of what I heard this wasn’t Eric speaking, this was Eric’s notes from what North American Properties had said in terms of what exactly were they doing related to parking in the Forum and a hotel. And then of course the one that gets people’s ears most perked up is adding a residential component to the Forum, right?

[00:13:06] Rico: So the interesting part, I was at that meeting too, and I had a reporter there and we unashamedly took your map from your newsletter, by the way. That you posted on Next Door. Unashamedly. I redid the map a little bit. Because, you know, we just had to. But it had all the same information you had and it pointed out all the same information that you pointed out. And it just made things easier for people to understand where everything was going. And speaking about that, there’s gonna be a first read coming up at this City Council Meeting for the Forum mixed use, which is, it’s a request for rezoning. If I read the short part here, right? Request for rezoning 44 acres from C2, commercial two, retail to MUD, to mixed use development, to allow for this new mixed use, which is the parcel, which is the Forum.

[00:13:56] Eric: Right.

[00:13:57] Rico: And that will allow because of the mixed use structure, allow the apartments to be put there and the hotel. Which I think still could have been put there, but that probably would’ve required some adjustments.

[00:14:09] Eric: Yeah. Well, generally in C2, a hotel is permitted. But staff, when they researched it, discovered that when the Forum, the property was first rezoned to permit the development of the Forum it was zoned light industrial back in the day. So in the late nineties when it was converted into, from M1, light industrial, to C2, which is a mid-level commercial, they did include a condition that no hotels, so.

[00:14:36] Rico: Really? Okay.

[00:14:37] Eric: Right. So the north American properties, you’re right. So they’re now coming to the city. They’ve taken feedback from the community meeting. And they’ve requested two changes. One is a change in conditions to permit a hotel. The second is to rezone the 44 acres. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re gonna redevelop every piece of the 44 acres. That’s the parcel they own, that’s how big it is. And they wanna change its zoning from C2 commercial to mixed use. Which is for example, mixed use is what the Town Center is zoned. The restaurant and the retail and the movie theater. Even the town homes, all that parcel that’s the Town Center, that’s zoned mixed use.

[00:15:15] Rico: Right, which is interesting because really when you look at it, they’re owned by different, right? The retail is owned by Fuqua. The Town Center is owned by and the parking deck is owned by the city. And I think those town homes are owned by different developer also, if I’m not mistaken.

[00:15:31] Eric: Yeah. Well now they’re actually owned by individual property owners. All of them have been sold. Right. But the zoning underneath the town homes, underneath the restaurants, underneath the parking deck, the foundational zoning is mixed use development. Right.

[00:15:45] Rico: So going back to, let’s go back to the Forum for a minute. Because that is probably the biggest thing going on. As far as that would affect the community, with regard to that retail space. At my last count 14 or 16 empty storefronts. And now that North American Properties took it over, they want to be able to put density there. Because density, as everyone sees in all these developments is important, right? And the apartment versus condo, let’s say, density that these places need. The philosophy is that residential with apartments has a better turnover. And because of that is better for retail. Versus equity ownership.

[00:16:24] Eric: Well, listening, and this is Tim Perry, North American Properties, this is from his presentation on Tuesday night, they presented to planning commission, right? And so I had an opportunity to attend and listen. What he talked about from their perspective, as looking to create a vibrant retail, restaurant, shopping center and maintain it that you want people who live for years and years nearby. Which we have. Amber Field, Peachtree Station. We’ve got lots of single family homes. You want people who live there, but perhaps turnover a little more frequently, like in an apartment style setting. They’re there for 1, 2, 3 years. And you also, ideally, you want people who are only there for a day or two with a hotel.

[00:17:05] Rico: Correct.

[00:17:06] Eric: And the reason they talk about looking for that mix of users of customers is that as you know Rico, we get bored with the same restaurants, right? If we, you know, how many times, right? And so they felt that, or they feel that it’s important that having, you know, people who are staying at a hotel, every night they’re new, right? And going out to eat. People who are living in the apartments. They turn over every two to three, three years, right? Well, then you also do need your repeat regular customers as well, who are coming to Home Goods more often or frequently, if you’re living in a single family detached home in the area. And then the other thing that he talked about is having that mix of potential customers helps activate the property from early in the morning, till later in the evening. Right? So that if your people are living on the property, then they’re stopping to get a cup of coffee or a bagel before they head off to work, when they come back home in the evening. So that changes it from a, right now, the Forum starts to get going in the morning about 10:00 AM-ish, right? And then, but by about seven o’clock at night. It’s pretty quiet. Except on Friday and Saturday nights. And they would love to see that more from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM. From his comments, they view that as that also attracts retailers. And I’m not, that’s not my business but from listening to all the various presentations we’ve had over the years at City Council, retailers are very picky about who they want to locate next to. Who are your anchor tenants? What other, do you have competitors of mine? I don’t wanna be there. But I wanna be near other stores that attract the same type of buyers, customers that I’m looking for, right? If I’m in women’s apparel, I want to make sure that I’m not the only woman’s apparel store in that shopping center. I want to have a couple, right? He was talking about Lulu Lemon athletic apparel. Primarily women’s, but they have men’s as well, had been in a little popup store, they call it for a while. But now that based on what they’re seeing with the Forum and the investment. They are, I don’t know if they’ve signed it yet, but my understanding is they’re intending to take a permanent larger space at the Forum. And that’s what North America was looking to do is curate that mix of retail, restaurant. And they feel residential is an important component.

[00:19:21] Rico: And I think their experience in it is important too. Because Avalon, Atlantic Station, some of the other properties they have, Colony Square, I think was another one they have. And the fact that those tenants in those places know NAP, they know North American Properties, they know what they want to do. And they’ll probably more likely be willing to move to invest, if you will, in space then at the Forum. Because they know what North American Property has done at these other locations and what they wanna do here. So the density of the departments in that mixed use at the Forum. It was close to, I forget what it was now, 300? 300 units maybe, or 260?

[00:20:00] Eric: No, on the Forum itself. So on the Forum side of Peachtree Parkway, what they proposed at planning commission was 381.

[00:20:07] Rico: 381. Okay.

[00:20:10] Eric: So, and because from a density, the way the density calculation works is you divide 381 into the total size of the property. So you divide into 40 acres and it’s not particularly dense at that level. Right? But their plan is to put, if the council approves it in August, the residential buildings would be on Peachtree Parkway. So as far away from like the Amberfield side of the Forum as possible. Not right up against Peachtree Parkway, but it would be built on top of the upper parking lots behind Barnes and Noble.

[00:20:41] Rico: There’s a rendering in that, packet that shows it like an L-shape. It actually is the back half maybe of where Barnes and Noble is. Because part of that building will become apartments. So it’s an L-shape that way. And then on the other side of it, of call it the Forum Boulevard, on the other side would also be units as well. I think coming up to Peachtree Parkway.

[00:21:02] Eric: Correct, yeah. On the other side, on the what do you want call that, the Mojito side or the, where the bridge, where the pedestrian bridge comes across, would be the hotel and about a third of the apartment units.

[00:21:12] Rico: Right. The hotel, how many units? I think it was.

[00:21:15] Eric: They said they hadn’t finalized it just yet, but in the 125 to 175 range. So let’s call it one, one-fifty. One of the interesting things that I took away, they have a hotel up at Avalon, right? And so they once again, based on their experience, they’re seeing apartments, long term residents like we have at the town homes across the street or at Amberfield behind. But having that hotel is an important part of the mix that only about a third, I think you said 35% of the people at the hotel arrive by car. All the way up at Avalon. 65% don’t bring a car. They’re coming by Uber, or Lyft, or some other way, right? Somebody had a question, and asked well, how many you know, cars? So if you say 150 rooms, so a third of 150, that’s 50 cars, right? Is coming from the hotel component type of thing.

[00:22:02] Rico: Interesting. Probably from the airport, I bet.

[00:22:05] Eric: Yeah. The other thing he shared is that at Avalon where they have over 500 rental units, the median age, so half the people are older than 53. And that the average household income for the apartment units is like over $200,000. Because they’ ve been talking that their focus, their target market is not families. Because who wants to raise a family in a one bedroom apartment. But is young professionals, singles, or just married couples. Or then at the other end of the life cycle is couples who’ve sold their 5,000 square foot home in Peachtree Station, but aren’t ready to leave Peachtree Corners just yet. But they wanna have the convenience of the lock and leave and, you know, not worrying about a yard maintenance and those types of things, so.

[00:22:50] Rico: Yeah, for sure.

[00:22:51] Eric: And those stats board out, the other thing he shared was that of those 500 apartments, there’s one school age child. So that a school bus comes to Avalon and it picks up one child out of 500 apartments.

[00:23:04] Rico: Interesting. Now obviously Alpharetta is a little different from us, but I can see that. And quite frankly, I mean, coming up 141, I mean, if people can’t afford to live in the city inside the perimeter, we’re not that far from work inside the perimeter. And plus, if we continue to grow the way we are and Intuitive Robotics is just the beginnings of what we’re seeing as far as businesses wanting to build out in Peachtree Corners of that type of nature, high tech work. Then you’re definitely talking about higher income, right? I mean, at some point there’s also the idea of affordable housing that has to be here in Peachtree Corners. But I believe we have some of that, at least if not equity ownership.

[00:23:46] Eric: Yeah, we don’t have any like city mandated. We, on no development project to date, have we, you know, required a developer to set aside a certain percentage of the units. And the way that generally works is that you take the median income and, or the poverty level and you set up a max above that. And then, you know, using the rule of thumb that you don’t want to be spending more than 25 to 30% of your annual income on your housing expenses. So that you can set some rental targets, but we don’t have any of that in the city. There might be some state or federal mandates on certain projects, but the city has not required an affordable component to any projects.

[00:24:25] Rico: Is there any thoughts on that?

[00:24:27] Eric: Yeah, we’ve talked about it a couple of times. I think there’s, and once again I’m only speaking for myself, right? Every council member is, you know, goes through their own analysis. That is that we have a diversity, a variety of employment opportunities in the city and which is a good thing. Whenever you have limited variety of housing types, employment types, then as the market conditions change, you can get into trouble, right? If you’re having a housing recession or an employment recession in different employment types. So one of the things we have in the city is opportunities for people to work at restaurants and retail. And we need those employers to be able to have workers, right? And those folks aren’t buying a 600,000 you know, dollar house. Particularly as a young single, you know, working at Lazy Dog or something. And if they have to drive from too far away, so yeah. What can we do to make sure we can support all of the employment needs that we have in the city while also providing the quality of life that people expect. And why they chose to come to Peachtree Corners?

[00:25:32] Rico: Yeah. You know, I’ll go to the local Dunkin Donut and every once in a while the lady says, do you know anyone that wants to work? It’s just impossible to get people to work. Even at, I don’t know $15 an hour, $12 an hour. You know, that’s not a living wage per se. But even kids are not even.

[00:25:48] Eric: Yeah, like our, my neighborhood pool here at Neatly Farm is desperate for lifeguards. The company that we use each year there, we said, we want lifeguards for this many hours, and then we can’t do that. You know I can maybe get you a Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I can’t staff, I don’t have enough lifeguards to work. Just cause, right now there’s a, an abundance of job opportunities.

[00:26:08] Rico: I guess. So some people just don’t wanna work. Take the summer off and they go into college after that. You know, young kids. So, I mean, as far as other, and there’s another actually mixed use that wants to come on. It’s Innovation Lofts. That’s almost like four acres and that’s a mixed use, multi-family residential on Peachtree Corners Circle.

[00:26:29] Eric: Right. So that’s the vacant property behind the Chase Bank. So that’s right on the Town Center side of the street. So that, and there’s where, the density calculation makes a little more sense, right? Because if you take 250 units into four acres. And so that one, as you recall, or you might remember way back in 2017, that same parcel had been rezoned for a potential hotel slash apartment complex that then got derailed by COVID and financing didn’t come through. And that zoning reverted back to just general C2. So that’s somebody’s looking at that parcel. I think what we’re seeing in general, Rico, is throughout the city developers are looking for properties that are either vacant, which we don’t have a lot of in the city anymore. O r underutilized A vacant office building or a office building with a huge parking lot with that a third of it gets used. And what’s hot right now, you know, the applications that we’re getting are not for office buildings. You know, other than some isolated things like Intuitive Surgical building out a corporate campus there on Technology Parkway or some work in Technology Park from an office building. So we’re not getting office buildings. We’re definitely not getting retail, lots of retail applications. No one’s putting up a new shopping center in the world of e-commerce. What we are getting a lot of is residential. And because what we have left available to build on in the city are smaller parcels, for economic sense, you can’t, you know, building three single family homes on two acres or something. You know, from a developer’s perspective the most recent single family home, I don’t know if you’ve been over on Winter’s Chapel, there actually is a little bit of land right there. And the owners, it was already zoned appropriately, that one didn’t come before the City Council. It was already zoned for single family homes. He’s put in a little cul-de-sac and he’s, I think it’s nine lots, seven lots, something like that.

[00:28:26] Rico: That’s, was that R60 I think, or 60 foot?

[00:28:29] Eric: Yeah, I think you’re right. Yeah. So you could fit R60, 60 foot wide at the street side. So we don’t have big tracks of land available for single family homes. So what developers are coming to us now is apartments. And as the, the saying goes We ‘re not making any more land, but we keep making people. So and we have a tremendous, nationally, housing shortage right now. That the number of new houses, new housing units of all types, town homes, single family detached.

[00:29:00] Rico: It’s right. It’s mainly equity ownership. That’s really the problem. There’s not enough single family homes to go around. I mean, now they’re talking there’s news reports. Now, all of a sudden the angle is Americans are moving to Europe. To Greece and to Italy because the dollar is on par with the Euro. You could probably buy, like, I think the last thing I saw was somewhere in Greece, small towns granted, 3,600 square foot home for like $80,000. But you have to put up with whatever energy crisis-es they may have and, you know, instabilities of governments. Not that we might not have our own issues sometimes. Yeah, so, you know, people are moving, deciding what they wanna do. Where, if they want ownership. I think a lot of, I don’t know if you get this Eric, but some of the young people I talk to don’t even feel they can buy a house. Or that it makes sense to even buy a house now. And certainly with the rates going higher, they’re thinking, you know what, I’ll just keep renting for the time being. Because I don’t see anything happening and there may be a market crash at some point.

[00:30:04] Eric: Yeah. I think some of that is hopefully temporary. I mean the pandemic created sort of a housing freeze essentially, as lots of people wanted to move into a single family house, but the owners of those houses aren’t selling because they didn’t know where they were gonna go or who knew what was gonna happen with the pandemic. And it looks like it’s moving sort of from a pandemic to more of endemic. Meaning it’s still with us and there’s still things we need to be doing to, protecting our ourselves and our loved ones. But you know, there are people living in Peachtree Station who, you know, are empty nesters and their kids are long gone. And they don’t want 5,000 square feet, they don’t wanna be maintaining a yard. But until both the buyers and the sellers both start going back to sort of normal levels.

[00:30:49] Rico: Right, yeah. Because otherwise you sell your house and then you have to buy something somewhere else. And it’s like, what are gonna buy then at that point?

[00:30:56] Eric: Yeah. As I was talking to a neighbor here in Neely Farm, who’s a real estate agent. And I said, well, how have you been able to sell the homes so far? And he said, well, most of my sales have been because the owners already have somewhere else to go. They already had a second place in Florida. You know? I, we had neighbors here in Neely Farm, been here 30 years. And about three years ago they bought a place in Florida. So they said, Hey, market’s hot. Let’s just finally sell this home. But they already had a place to go, right? Everybody else that didn’t have a place to go, is going well. And that’s the question is if they’re not ready to leave Peachtree Corners yet, but they’re ready to sell. We have families with young children who wanna move in. They’re chomping at the bit, they’ll sell like that. The questions is, will other types of housing options like Pret potentially? Well like the town homes on the, at the Town Green sold out lickedysplit.

[00:31:46] Rico: Oh my God. They were all over three quarters of a million dollars and I understand some of them actually went for 3,600 a month. So who can pay that rent is unbelievable.

[00:31:58] Eric: Right. So the question is, one of the things we’ve heard from the consultants is that people want to live in Peachtree Corners and all income levels want to be here, need to be here from a work perspective. And that if they can’t find a place to rent in an apartment, then they’ll go team up and they’ll go rent a home essentially. And then 3 folks will get together and they’ll be renting inside a single family subdivision. And so the consultant, this is once again, this is the consultant’s words. If you don’t provide enough variety and volume of the different types of housing stocks, then you’ll potentially get uses that you didn’t anticipate and might create conflict. You know?

[00:32:38] Rico: Yeah.

[00:32:38] Eric: When you’re living in the middle of Amberfield and the house next to you has three people splitting it as a rental.

[00:32:44] Rico: Right. So there’s a company I think in Atlanta, that’s called Pad Split or something like that.

[00:32:49] Eric: Right.

[00:32:49] Rico: And they do that, that’s their specialty. They’ll split your house up, rent a bedroom with a bathroom or just a bedroom and whatever. And you could get, like you said, three or four different people in that same house that aren’t related. Now the rules, obviously in any rezoning says you have to be related, but there’s really no way unless you’re gonna go in and check everyone’s passport or something and say, you know, are you all related?

[00:33:13] Eric: Right. Well, yeah. So in the city of Peachtree Corners, one of the provisions we do have, which helps us there a little bit is that we don’t permit short term rentals. So anything less than a month is prohibited. So an Airbnb for seven nights is not permitted in Peachtree Corners. And we do have a limit on the total number of unrelated people, but you’re right. We can’t enforce that. You know, if a complaint is made and code enforcement stops by and they see six different cars in the driveway. And they go knock on the door, who they’re going to then go talk to next is the owner, right? Because the obligations stay in compliance with our ordinance is not the renters. It’s the property owner.

[00:33:51] Rico: Sure.

[00:33:51] Eric: And we did have a situation in Peachtree Station where Pad Split, where a property owner had owned the property, had moved away, wanted to rent it, had hired somebody who then used Pad Split to rent it out. And once code enforcement got in touch with that owner and said, you know, you can’t do this in Peachtree Corner. She, said okay, and so she complied. And as those tenants, as their rent leases came up, she moved them on and fired that property manager that she’d hired who’d gotten her into a Pad Split situation.

[00:34:21] Rico: Yeah. And I guess, you know, part of it is also people. People are looking to replace income and stuff like that too. So I think part of it’s that, right? They might have lost a job or there might be other things going, you know, pressing on them that they need to get more money and it’s easy to use your property that way, right?

[00:34:37] Eric: Yeah. And just to be clear, like, so like today, if in Peachtree Corners, if you have an in-law suite, you can rent that out. Not for less than 30 days, can’t do a short term rental. But that’s a slightly different situation, right? That’s where you have the owners living in a big house and they’ve got a in-law suite and they rent to a college student, or they rent to somebody who works as a nanny, or somebody who works at the Town Center or something. That’s a little different than four or five people doing a split.

[00:35:03] Rico: Yeah, one in each bedroom. No, I get it, it feels like, feels like a college dorm room then. So what about, this is something else I think Norcross might have been looking into, I don’t know. The accessory housing. I don’t know if that ever has come up here or not. That’s the, some people look at tiny houses, I guess.

[00:35:20] Eric: Yeah. That hasn’t become a force yet. But a couple times a year, I attend training sessions put on by the Georgia Municipal Association. And the most recent session I went to was a class on trends on urban and suburban design and some of the changes happening. And yeah, we’re seeing, some of the trends that they pointed out are things like accessories, having a carriage house on back of your property. You know, what does the long term future look like 30, 40, 50 years from now? As I said, we’ve got increasing population and where is everybody going to live? And so, those are certainly things that future councils will be wrestling with for many years to come.

[00:35:58] Rico: So that is something that obviously council people like you get constant education on and being able to look at what the trends are and what other cities are doing locally.

[00:36:07] Eric: Yeah. I think it’s important for us to try to stay a little bit ahead of the curve so that our, because it’s always tougher to put an ordinance in place after. If you already have people doing X, Y, or Z, the council, the Airbnb or the prohibition on short term rentals, predates even me on the council, that’s something they adopted fairly early on in the city’s history. And it’s obviously easier to do it when not many people are viewing this as beneficial. And I’m sure Rico, there still are short term rentals happening in the city. Right? Cause we, yeah, we can’t. But when it becomes a problem for the neighbors we have the ordinance in place to address the situation.

[00:36:48] Rico: So Let’s tie this up with, maybe let’s talk about the SPLOST. The city had voted on in a special meeting about being part of the upcoming SPLOST that’s voted on in November. So tell us about that, what that means. And we already have a SPLOST, this would just be a continuation of it.

[00:37:04] Eric: Yeah.

[00:37:05] Rico: Of that one penny, but tell us a bit about that.

[00:37:07] Eric: Sure, yeah. So in Gwinnett County, we actually have two SPLOSTs. SPLOST for those folks who don’t know is a special purpose local option sales tax. So we have an E-SPLOST, an education SPLOST. That’s a 1% or one penny sales tax that’s sponsored by or championed by the school board. So the E-SPLOST, that’s one penny. Whenever you buy something in Gwinnett County, that’s covered by sales tax, the retail store, at the gas station, whatever it might be, one penny of the sales tax is, if I remember, if I get my numbers right, four pennies, 4 cents, 4% of the sales tax. Four of the six percent sales tax goes to the state. The state has a sales tax. And then in Gwinnett County, we have an educational SPLOST that goes to the school board. And then we also have a regular SPLOST another penny, and that one’s organized by Gwinnett County. And it’s driven by county, so they set the schedule. And so the last time they did a SPLOST was six years ago in 2016. They can choose how long they want to have it run before it has to be renewed. So in 2016, November 2016, we voted on a six year SPLOST. And that said that for the next six years, we’re gonna pay a penny, or 1%, on everything we buy. And that goes to the county. And then the county distributes it to the cities. So this upcoming SPLOST, so the current SPLOST, we voted on it in November 2016, it passed by a pretty strong margin. It runs through March of 2023. So then it expires. So the board of commissioners has recently voted to say, well, let’s put it on the ballot again, this November. So in the general election, November, whatever that is, second. Whenever the general election is this year, don’t quote me on that one first Tuesday in, after the first Monday in November. They’ll be a referendum and it says do the voters approve extending or continuing the one penny SPLOST, the county SPLOST, for another six years. And the estimates are that if that’s approved, that would generate approximately 1.35 billion in revenues over the six years. And then what happens is the county keeps 75% of that. 25% of it goes to the cities. And then the cities divvy up the 25% based on population. So Rest Haven with its 64 resident, gets like $18,000 to help maintain their road, their one road. And the city of Peachtree Corners, we’re the biggest by population, we will get an estimated 57 million over the six years. And as part of the SPLOST referendum process, all of the beneficiaries, all the recipients of the SPLOST revenues have to provide the voters with some guidance. Here’s how we plan to spend the money. And so the county said, Hey, we’re gonna do these transportation projects. We’re gonna build these libraries. We’re gonna do these things. And each of the 16 cities had to do the same thing. And so we had come up with some buckets of how we’re going to use the money. And one of the categories we used, the heading, the title of the category, one of the county attorneys didn’t like the wording of it. Even though our attorneys said, well, that’s one of the approved uses under state law. But to make the county attorney happy. And we weren’t, like four of the cities had used the same category, it’s called capital outlays. And they asked us to be a little bit more specific in terms of the heading. And so we did have to do a special called meeting just to vote on. Renaming the buckets or what bucket names we’re gonna use. So the plan for Peachtree Corners is the vast majority of that 57 million would be spent on transportation related projects. So that’s road construction, road maintenance, repaving sidewalks, trails, pedestrian connectivity, crosswalks, all that sort of thing. We did put some money in there as well for parks and green space type acquisition.

[00:41:01] Rico: Okay. Like recreational cultural facilities.

[00:41:04] Eric: Those general categories. Right. And so like cultural facilities. Yeah, the city, we have a vision of some point when we can find the right piece of land and get enough funding put together for it, a performing arts center of some kind. Most likely through like a public private partner ship that we would fund part of it and it’d be some private component too. But so those types of categories are where we’ve allocated the funds towards.

[00:41:28] Rico: Okay. Well, good to know then. And of course I’m, I’m all for an arts center. Love to see a theater. The city does own about six or seven acres, I think by Town Center. I think it’s by the?

[00:41:39] Eric: It does, yeah. Where the path to fitness is. If you walk through there and where we have extended the most used trail, that’s a potential place. The other thing I’d love to see is some activities here in district two, specifically along the Holcomb Bridge Corridor.

[00:41:53] Rico: Yes, absolutely.

[00:41:55] Eric: Right, revitalize that. So there is an aging strip shopping center that through a public private partnership. We could use some SPLOST money, not a performing arts center, but to turn something into green space or some other sorts of public amenity. Or along what we call outer Peachtree Corners Circle. So Peachtree Corners Circle between Holcomb Bridge and PIB. Where we have a lot of residents, but very few public amenities along that stretch. There’s other than a standard width sidewalk, there’s nothing much to do along there.

[00:42:25] Rico: Cool. So if anyone wants to get in touch with you Eric, where, how would they reach you or where would they follow you on?

[00:42:31] Eric: Sure, yeah. So you can find me on Facebook. Facebook/Christ for City Council. You can reach me at my city email address, EChrist@PeachtreeCornersGA.gov. Or if you can’t remember that, just go to the city website and go find the list of council members. And they have my email address there. Drop me an email. Give me a little time to respond. This is a, a part-time job for us city council members. We all have full-time occupations otherwise. But I’ll respond and get in touch.

[00:43:02] Rico: A lot of respect for people that have run for office and do this work, because I know very well how it can be crazy. Certainly, you know, the amount of work you have to put in, isn’t just the meetings that you’re attending, or that you need to attend the city council meetings and stuff. But it’s all the stuff you do outside that, right? Public meetings that you have to attend. Answering things on Next Door, being proactive that way. Doing continuing education, like you have done on urban development and stuff. I think if people understood the amount of time and effort it takes to do your work, being as a city council person and still do a full-time job and make a living and pay the bills and stay with your family and not be, you know. You’re sacrificing quite a bit. So I appreciate the work you do.

[00:43:48] Eric: Sure, yeah. We do get a, a small stipend about $600 a month from the city, from the taxpayers. When I was considering running for office and talking to some folks, well Eric, you know, the only thing you have to do is show up for the two council meetings each month. And well, no I mean, yeah, I guess I could not reply to any email or not take any phone calls, but that wouldn’t be much of a City Councilman. So I certainly, personally, it feels important to reach back out. And if somebody’s listening to this and you say, Hey, I sent you an email and you didn’t respond Eric. My apologies, please send it again. Sometimes they drop off the bottom on my list and I don’t spot them.

[00:44:22] Rico: I appreciate the work you’re doing Eric. Thank you. And everyone else listening to this podcast, appreciate you, you know, coming to us either through these podcasts, the magazine or our website, or our newsletter to get to know what’s going on in the city. We are working on our next issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine. We have several good powerful articles in there about some of the overview of the marketplace development that’s going on and stuff. So check that out, go to LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com. You can find out more information there as well. And you should be going to the city’s website and sign onto the city newsletter as well. And of course we’re all on social media. So find us there, find the city stuff there on Instagram and Facebook as well. Thank you again to our sponsor EV Remodeling, Inc, for being a sponsor of these podcasts and this publication. Thank you everyone. And thank you again, Eric, for being with us.

[00:45:15] Eric: Appreciate it, Rico. Thank you.

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