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Peachtree Corners Life

How will Fusus Affect Community Safety and Life in Cities Like Peachtree Corners?

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Technology has advanced so much in the realm of safety and surveillance. While in the past, surveillance cameras could help police officers solve a crime after it happens, there are technologies that allow law enforcement to catch criminals in rapid response. Peachtree Corners based company Fūsus is solving these problems in crime response and detection with some amazing technology. CEO Chris Linendau, guest on today’s episode of Peachtree Corners Life, sits down with Rico to discuss exactly how that technology works and will be integrated into our community.

Listen to “How will Fusus Affect Community Safety and Life in Cities Like Peachtree Corners” on Spreaker.

Resources:

Fūsus Website: https://www.fusus.com

Connect Peachtree Corners: https://connectpeachtreecorners.org

Timestamp Where to find it in the podcast:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:02:10] – About Chris and His Background
[00:04:03] – Fūsus Presence in Peachtree Corners
[00:06:18] – The Registry and How it Operates
[00:11:48] – Working with Pre Recorded and Live Video
[00:13:48] – AI and Recognition Technology
[00:17:21] – Second Phase Roll Out
[00:18:59] – Working Across Agencies
[00:24:53] – Choosing Peachtree Corners as a Business Location
[00:28:05] – Closing

“We’re not just talking about being able to solve crime faster. You’re talking about possibly interdicting, actually responding to an incident in real time. And if you think about law enforcement and they talk about that golden 48 hours.., you’ve got really the highest probability of capturing the suspect in that first 48. Well, let’s talk about the first 48 minutes. Think about how much we can do in real time.”

Chris Lindenau

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life, and several other podcasts that covers the City of Peachtree Corners. We have a great show today that we’re gonna be talking with Chris Lindenau, CEO of Fūsus, which is actually based in Peachtree Corners. Hey Chris, how are you?

[00:00:46] Chris: Hello Rico. Thanks for having me on.

[00:00:48] Rico: Sure, absolutely. Before we get into the show, I just want to introduce our sponsor, which is EV Remodeling. They’ve been a corporate sponsor of ours for the past few months. And they’ve been supporting our journalism, not only on these podcasts, but through the magazines that we publish. So you can reach out to them. They’ve been a great supporter of ours. They are also based in Peachtree Corners. So speak to Eli, who’s the owner at EV Remodeling Inc. And you can find that at EVRemodelingInc.com. So let’s get right into it. Technology has advanced so much as far as the last few years. And we’ve gone from, you know, having a Ring on the door, on the front door, just to see if that UPS package came or if it’s been taken. But nothing else to be able to do with this. Some people say, well, you know some of this technology is really not helpful except that it shows maybe in the post event of what happened that maybe some crime occurred. And maybe sometimes it could be used to find someone. But in the move from going from Ring and smart devices that’s out there, to a bigger drive of not just private and commercial safety, but community safety, there’s been a big void, right? I mean, you have Ring, you have a bunch of other devices out there. And even when I look at my home and say, well, I can have several different devices, they’re not all talking to each other.

[00:02:10] Chris: Right.

[00:02:10] Rico: You’ve sort of solved that. Right, Chris? I mean, your background is military. I mean, it’s a great background to have, coming into this. So in fact, let me take a step back. Give me a short two minute bio, if you will, of your background in your experience, and then we’ll jump right into the rest of it.

[00:02:26] Chris: Sure. Former military officer, graduated from the Naval academy. Like so many, you know, military personnel kind of transitioning into the private sector, you kind of think about, what’s next? I always kind of had an affinity for technology. It was always something that I enjoyed. So I decided to get into the manufacturing sector pretty early on in my private sector career. First with Panasonic, and then eventually transitioned to a large space and defense manufacturer called MOOG. Building a lot of things for, you know, the likes of General Dynamics and Raytheon. And then subsequent to that I actually, for the first time in my career got involved in public safety with a company called Utility that was building among other things, body cameras and in-car video systems for law enforcement. And so if you look at where we are now, and the company that I founded back in June of 2019, it was really an amalgamation of all of these different skill sets that I’ve kind of picked up. Not only in my private sector career, but also prior to that, my military career.

[00:03:25] Rico: Wow. Just a lot of background in safety and crime and helping certain agencies like that. And you’re right. I have a lot of friends that have been on the police force and military, and it’s amazing where they’ve gone when they’ve gotten out of that. So your company provides what’s being called real time crime center in the cloud, right? it’s working not only across the country with California agencies transforming the way they operated within their communities, providing safety to the communities that they represent. And building stronger relationships it seems, between the businesses and citizens within those communities.

[00:04:02] Chris: That’s right.

[00:04:03] Rico: But you are also in Peachtree Corners and you’re based in Peachtree Corners. And just recently the city actually signed a contract with Fūsus to be able to do some stuff here in the city. So can you sort of explain a little bit about what that agreement entails and where we are with that?

[00:04:20] Chris: Yeah, sure. So, you know, the Real Time Crime Center in the cloud platform is really a public-private partnership platform. It allows law enforcement agencies like Gwinnett County PD here in the West Precinct, which covers Peachtree Corners. Which is obviously where our headquarters is, and that’s where the contract is that you’re referring to our city here in Peachtree Corners. What it allows them to do is basically aggregate data sets throughout the community. And this is important for a number of reasons. First off, if you look at law enforcement as a whole, you know, subsequent to the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis. Which incidentally we were the platform that they used during the protest movements, and then subsequent to that, leading up to the trial. The old approach to just kind of putting police officers out on the street and having a kind of physical presence, in cities that were faced with shortfalls and budgets, in the case of Minneapolis, they actually removed at the time $8 million from the police department’s budget. And of course with that, the resources for a lot of police officers in that city. So, they were faced with an increased level of public safety need, but not the personnel resources necessary to address that need. And so that’s where technology comes in. Fūsus for the city of Minneapolis, like we’ll be doing here in Peachtree Corners, essentially builds a bridge to the private sector. So it allows the business communities, video cameras as an example, in public facing areas. Areas where vehicular traffic may occur, parking lots, entryways to buildings, you know areas of public domain. Those cameras oftentimes capture incidents. And they can be life safety incidents, they can be criminal activity. And I think Rico you’ve documented in prior podcasts, some of the prior activities that have been captured by our friends over at GCPD and their hardworking officers. Well, that just expedites that process even further. So this contract that you’re referring to is basically the phase one of that public-private partnership

[00:06:18] Rico: So, if I understand correctly, there’s a program out there, I think it’s called Connect Peachtree Corners, where essentially not only are you being able to wire, if you will, or to bring into the network or the cloud, private companies and city cameras. But you’re also looking to register citizens, home residents, cameras, Rings, other cameras that might be outward facing to roads and stuff. Voluntarily where citizens like myself, if I have a Ring or an outside camera or two, that I can actually volunteer to register to say, I have this here if you need it. And you’re Gwinnett County police and something happened in this neighborhood and you need that. They can literally know exactly where it is, versus canvasing a hundred homes to find out if any of them had a Ring and if any of them were working. So that’s truly part, I think of expanding what you’re doing, right? Being able to provide that.

[00:07:15] Chris: Yeah, and there’s some nuance to it because what we’re doing with ConnectPeachtreeCorners.org, the platform, the website that we’re going to use to basically enroll willing participants in this public-private partnership is really targeted towards the business community. So, you know, in phase one and at least for the foreseeable future, this is really not to bring homeowners’ Ring doorbell cameras into the network. It’s really more designed for Peachtree Parkway, Spalding, the businesses that kind of line those roads. And of course, on those businesses, on the front of the buildings, on the rear of those buildings, are oftentimes as we all know cameras. And that’s invaluable data for all sorts of situations that law enforcement might need to respond to. So that’s really where we’re focusing in concert with our friends with the city, city manager and his staff, and our friends over at GCPD, is to really build a platform so that the business community can contribute in the live video streams. Now there is also something called the Registry Rico. And this is what you were referring to.

[00:08:20] Rico: Right.

[00:08:20] Chris: And the Registry is a free service that basically says, my name is Chris, I have three cameras, here’s my email address, here’s my phone number, and this is the name of my business. And that’s a free service. And that’s huge because that tells the investigators where they need to go if there is a incident in an area to ask for video evidence. And of course what they do in the Registry is they simply bulk request out to everybody in an area. If you can think of like, just drawing a circle around an area.

[00:08:51] Rico: Sure.

[00:08:51] Chris: And then they can send a digital request. And of course it’s completely voluntary. You know in both cases, the Registry and the live sharing of video for public facing cameras, we’re only asking for people to share of their own volition and they can remove themselves from the program at any time. So there’s no unilateral access on the part of the agency. It’s completely donor contributed and controlled by the donor.

[00:09:16] Rico: With the live feed aside from the citizen part, then that’s a Registry. With the live feed, which includes private companies, commercial cameras, city public cameras. For example, town center has like maybe 80 cameras. There’s a bunch of cameras going down Peachtree Parkway and other intersections, and there’s even cameras the city is willing to pay and put out on outside streets, like near subdivision and such.

[00:09:43] Chris: Right.

[00:09:43] Rico: So all those would be live cameras that if Gwinnett police had something going on, if there was a robbery, a burglary, a shooting, something somewhere, an abduction, that they can follow that track down a road, let’s say. And they can literally pull up those videos?

[00:09:59] Chris: That’s exactly right. And actually the way you described it, Rico, is almost identical to the way that law enforcement uses video technology. I was with an agency the other day and they used through Fūsus in an urban area, they tracked a homicide suspect. As they went from camera to camera to camera. And then they followed that homicide suspect as they exited their vehicle into a business, and then through that business. And with the request for video from that business, they were able to identify the facial image of that suspect. And so having that video, if you will, chain of custody where you see where a suspect has transited through an area is of extraordinary importance. And we’re not just talking about being able to solve crime faster. You’re talking about possibly interdicting, actually responding to an incident in real time. And if you think about in law enforcement and they talk about kind of that golden 48 hours, the first 48 as it’s sometime called after a homicide occurs, you’ve got really the highest probability of capturing the suspect in that first 48. Well, let’s talk about the first 48 minutes, right?

[00:11:12] Rico: Right.

[00:11:12] Chris: Think about how much we can do in real time. If information is shared appropriately while of course also maintaining people’s right to privacy. And that’s the other component of this, which is, it’s important to note that we’re not talking about cameras inside people’s living rooms, or we’re not talking about doorbell cameras facing off the side of someone’s home, facing a neighbor’s home. We’re really talking about major thoroughfares, parks, public areas, areas that are already under surveillance where the officer may in the past have to physically go to that location to acquire video. Now they have actually the ability to use that data in real time.

[00:11:48] Rico: So let’s stay with that for a minute because I’m curious, I have a few quick questions regarding that. So I’m in front of these screens, these monitors and I see where I wanna be, but I know I just missed seeing that. Is it like DVR? Can I reverse that feed to be able to see a few minutes before? Is that possible to do that?

[00:12:07] Chris: It is. And we call that a Prerecord Buffer. So, you know, that buffer is configured. So typically what we’ll see with like city owned cameras, you know, they’ll keep the buffer for a few days and sometimes businesses will only share live video. Other times they may share live and maybe some prerecord buffer that they’re comfortable with. A lot of times that’s three or four days. But you know, when you talk about incidents that are unfolding in real time, you really aren’t talking about needing data a week in the past or a month in the past, that’s more of a forensic activity. What we’re talking about is real time access to data.

[00:12:40] Rico: And during that real time access, I’m sure there’s data showing up on the screens. It’s almost like sci-fi right? Like it’s almost like what you see going on you know, near future type stories. And there may be data on there because some of these cameras may be license recognition, plate readers, and stuff. So with that, they could pull that up as well at that moment. So cars passing by they’re following it down the line.

[00:13:02] Chris: Beyond just pulling up the license plate reader, think about pulling that up in context with surveillance video. So now you know where the vehicle was at the time. So now you have a time mark, where you can pull up the closest available live surveillance feed, and you’re seeing both in concert. Think about how officers would’ve responded to that in the past. They would’ve actually physically gotten in their car and driven to a location that they hoped that a suspect would drive past. Now they’re using what we consider to be more of an intelligence led policing approach. And that not only helps them do their job, but it also makes best use of taxpayer funds, right? Because now you’re not just throwing personnel resources at a challenge, you’re actually using technologically enhanced response methods.

[00:13:48] Rico: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, I could go further and just say that, I think that if they’re following someone down the road, instead of ending up being a police chase, a car high speed chase somewhere that actually can be ahead of where they’re going almost. Throw out the chain and blow out the tires. I mean, and we’re talking about cars, but it could be someone on foot as well. To be able to see where they’re going if they fled the scene. More eyes on the street, if you will. To allow other surveillance to be enhanced with what they’re doing, like you said. So, I mean, I see a lot of possibilities. Now, to dig in a little bit more, you know, we talked about privacy before. Facial recognition is part of what a lot of people know about, right?

[00:14:30] Chris: Right.

[00:14:30] Rico: Because your iPhone can recognize you, you know, it’ll open an app based on your face and it almost doesn’t matter what you’re doing sometimes, unless you’re doing like a blow up face, then it might not recognize you, right? But using AI, using machine learning, being able to recognize that is not necessarily part of what you’re doing. It could be done later, but it’s also used for identification as well, no?

[00:14:54] Chris: Yeah. So artificial intelligence is kind of a broad term and it gets thrown around quite a bit. You know, at Fūsus we kind of simplify that. So when we talk about what we’ve built, you know, we have data scientists on our team, our research and development team. And what these data scientists do is they basically identify the fact that you have a white shirt on. I have a dark shirt on. And so if I’m looking in video for a missing person or an injured person, and they’re in a park and the 911 call comes in and that call says, well, this person’s wearing a white shirt. That alone may take what is a thousand people in that park down to a hundred, right?

[00:15:34] Rico: Right.

[00:15:34] Chris: So now you’re, by a large extent, really making that area of focus more constrained and that helps them in a real time response scenario. Take that one step further, Rico you’re wearing a bag on your back, right? So now a hundred becomes maybe ten. And then we’ll add in there that you have blue jeans on, for example. So now, that ten goes down to maybe two. And so artificial intelligence in our world is really just a way to kind of take what is a large, broad view of video and really kind of funnel that into something that’s actionable. Because you know what you’re looking at Rico, you’re dealing with human beings, right? And there’s this concept of information overload. And so there’s diminishing marginal returns, obviously on investment. As you add more cameras in a city, you can’t just stare at more cameras on a screen and have a better idea what’s going on, right? It’s inversely proportional, right? So what AI does is it’s kind of the equalizer. It says, listen, these cameras are now smart. And they act almost like an alarm. We’re missing a child that was wearing a backpack with a white shirt and blue jeans. Now our cameras in the city of Peachtree Corners can look out for that missing individual and then signal to the officers that, hey, we may have a possible match. And obviously that can make the difference between saving that child’s life or them being taken out of the city limits. And that’s obviously what we’re trying to do.

[00:17:04] Rico: Right. And so for an individual to hear that, that doesn’t just mean that they’re looking at other screens to say, there’s a child with a backpack. Literally the system is recognizing that and will show those images on the monitor as the police are investigating it I imagine.

[00:17:20] Chris: That’s exactly right.

[00:17:21] Rico: You know, the platform roll out that you’re doing in Peachtree Corners is pretty much what we discussed just now, right? That first phase, so I imagine there’s a second phase. So what would be involved in a second phase of this?

[00:17:35] Chris: Well I think right now that’s kind of TBD, but expansion is really, you know, our area of focus. I mean as we bring in more community businesses, you know, the network effects take hold, right? The value of the system to you and I as citizens of Peachtree Corners increases proportionate to the buy in from the business community. You know, as more video sources and more alarms are put into the system, the situational awareness of our West Precinct assigned Gwinnett County police officers improve. And as such the thought process is, their ability to provide us public safety improves as well. So phase two is really at this stage, thought to be more of an expansion upon phase one. In phase one, we’re looking at really developing kind of a critical mass of adoption. And I think we’ve identified some businesses, some areas of interest that we’d like to reach out to and encourage their participation. And then hopefully, obviously, bring solutions to, you know, issues that we’re all aware of or now becoming more well known in Peachtree corners in terms of public safety. So that’s where the rubber hits the road. Does the system help GCPD provide a better service to us as a community? And that’s where, you know, I think we’ll be keeping a close eye in phase one and making sure that our progress is measurable and defined. And then candidly, that that’s something that, you know, as GCPD talks to members of the community, through the Cops Forum that they can report, you know, when they have their cops meetings.

[00:18:59] Rico: Not only GCPD, I mean the system actually, because of the way the platform is set. Not only can it use multiple different technologies, be drawn into a different cameras and such, different operating systems, I guess, right? But you’re talking across agencies too. So it’s not, let’s say something happens here, but all of a sudden that perpetrator is going into DeKalb or Fulton County or the City of Doraville or Brookhaven. If they’re all wired within the system, there’s really nowhere to hide to a degree, right? If you’re a criminal. I mean, is that the goal to be able to do that?

[00:19:35] Chris: Yeah. Rico, we always say, you know, criminals don’t know jurisdictions, right? They will transit from one jurisdiction and into another to commit a crime and then go back. And that may be the jurisdiction that they live and is different from the jurisdiction that they commit the crime. And so for years and years and years technology was siloed. Camera A, didn’t speak to software B or a software system A did not speak to software system B. And what Fūsus has done is we’ve eliminated that. We’ve basically created bridges between all of these disparate systems so that among other things, law enforcement agencies can have inter-department collaboration. They call that mutual aid. And when you’re talking about catching criminals and people doing the wrong thing, or even when you’re talking about responding to a life safety situation, an ambulatory situation, where maybe the closest available law enforcement or emergency resource is actually in a neighboring jurisdiction. That’s where this interagency collaboration through Fūsus is so powerful. And we’re seeing it all over the country. I mean, we’ve got now 120 plus cities and counties around the country that are connected. Some very large cities, some entire state. Just here in the Atlanta Metropolitan area, we have a wealth of mutual aid opportunity. You’ve got obviously the city of Atlanta using the system, Cobb County, Fulton County, Sheriff’s office, Henry County, Roswell, Alpharetta. I mean so you’ve got a veritable gold mine, if you will, of collaboration. And that’s what Fūsus endeavors to do. You know, obviously Peachtree Corners has invested in a certain number of cameras, both license plate readers, and surveillance cameras, in Town Center and otherwise. But you think about maybe call it 150 cameras. Think about the 10,000 now that, to your point Rico, our friends over at Gwinnett County through the system can utilize to kind of put the pieces together in an emergency. And that’s what Fūsus does.

Yeah,

[00:21:39] Rico: interestingly enough, I think if people knew the range of technology being used by different cities, different counties, different departments, where they don’t meet each other. Even within a federal government, doing Welfare let’s say, or Medicaid or Medicare. It took a while for some of these agencies to be able to talk to each other, right? Because they’re using completely different platforms, completely different technology. And it’s no different in law enforcement, right?

[00:22:03] Chris: That’s right.

[00:22:04] Rico: So being able to have a platform like yours, to me, just makes sense. And you’re then now the power of what you’re doing here across counties. Because like you said before, I mean, criminals don’t know jurisdictions. They might be in Fulton county, they might go up to Calhoun for the weekend.

[00:22:22] Chris: Right.

[00:22:22] Rico: Or something, you know, I mean, anything’s possible. Peachtree Parkway’s a, thoroughfare going from Midtown, going all the way up to Johns Creek and Foresyth. I mean, you can make that drive over 40 minutes, depending on the time of day, right? And things can happen. And random things can happen as people know. So you have, when people do burglaries, right? I think it was a Midtown street just recently. It was like, 20 car break-ins on the same street. It was just a ridiculous amount of break-ins, but people think a criminal would break into one car. Well, no, they’re not there for one car. They’re in a parking deck and they’re gonna go to five or six or seven different cars because that’s how they make their money.

[00:23:01] Chris: That’s right.

[00:23:01] Rico: So if police can see that happening, because it could happen over a period of 40 minutes, and no one would know, right? But if police can see that, I mean, I can see how that is a benefit. And when you get someone like that off the street, that means there’s less of that happening, because that’s not the only time that’s happening.

[00:23:20] Chris: Well, and criminals also know a hard target versus a soft target. So if the word gets out that Peachtree Corners is interconnected, that we have a public-private partnership between the business community and law enforcement, that there’s free flow of information sharing. And as such rapid response from law enforcement, you know, they’re gonna go somewhere else. The word will get out very quickly. They’re not gonna be breaking into cars, breaking into businesses with the same level of frequency that perhaps they did prior to that engagement with the community. And that’s why if you look across the country Rico, this is the future of law enforcement. It’s not just something that’s unique to Peachtree Corners. Community led policing is really, if you talk about what the buzz words are in public safety today, community led policing is probably at the forefront of the conversation and it’s not just law enforcement. I mean, mayors are actually running on community led policing efforts. And it just makes sense, right? I mean, you’re saying, listen, we’re gonna make better use of taxpayer funds. We’re going to bring the business community, members of the community in closer collaboration with law enforcement. And what that does Rico is it builds trust, right? I mean, that’s fundamentally what we’re achieving here is that now with quicker response and better collaboration, members of the community become part of the solution. And we all know change management, right? If you’re trying to change the perception of public safety, get people actively involved in the change. And so that’s what we’re doing with Fūsus.

[00:24:44] Rico: And that’s great, because I think you brought up the Floyd incident from a few years ago. Transparency is probably the biggest thing.

[00:24:52] Chris: Right.

[00:24:53] Rico: More cameras mean it’s more transparency. Not only, in the situation of law enforcement, but also to make sure that law enforcement also acts responsibly. Because they’re all within the system, it becomes an important factor I think, like you said, for that trust. And I can only see it growing because there will be more cameras, there will be more use. And I’m sure as your company evolves, there’ll be more different uses that you may not realize today that may come up 12 months from now because with more activity, I think that creates more opportunities for advancing the system that you have. So, as far as Peachtree Corners goes, maybe you can, you know, you guys have been in Peachtree Corners, I don’t know for how long, but why did you choose to put you to a company here?

[00:25:41] Chris: First off I live here. And the second thing is that, I really liked when I was looking at where to set up our headquarters. Because we did look outside of Peachtree Corners as well. You know candidly, you think about hiring a lot of engineers, people that are fresh out of Georgia Tech perhaps, you think immediately, okay, let’s go Midtown, right? Because that’s, you know, you’ve got Marta you know, available and that’s just as accessible. But what I really loved about Peachtree Corners is first off it was a very friendly community in terms of business. They were very supportive of us, the Mayor and the City Manager, Mike and Brian. You know, they were very supportive of us setting up shop here. It’s also a very technologically forward leaning city. And if you look at what Brian’s done, it’s just tremendous. I mean, he has really put, you know, this is kind of the Silicon Orchard. It’s kind of the east coast equivalent, if you will, of the Silicon Valley. You know, you’ve got a lot of companies coming here that are in the technology sector. You’ve got autonomous vehicle companies, you’ve got the 5G initiatives that Brian’s been pushing forward. You’ve got the international technology collaborative that he’s creating with countries like Israel. And so if you think about where you want to be as a technology company and where a wealth of talent will potentially locate themselves, well Peachtree Corners is a great place. So we’ve had a lot of success here. I would also tell you that the building owner, for the building that we’re in, he was great to us. You know when we started, Rico, back in June of 2019, we had five employees. And as a new company with five employees and we had a fold out table, that was our conference table, right?

[00:27:23] Rico: Oh, that’s funny.

[00:27:24] Chris: And you know, all of us left good paying jobs and really kind of, you know, on a hope and a prayer, right? To make our own company. And so the building owner was very kind to us when I said, listen, I can’t sign a long lease. And it’s gotta be a very reasonable monthly rate. But we wanted to be in a nice building because we had confidence that we could, you know if we put our heads together, we could grow something and sure enough. Bud was really kind in giving us kind of a no lease space to rent. And now I’m happy to report that I’m his largest tenant and we have a hundred employees and growing and. We did it in a little over two years. And so pretty excited about where we are, but you know, even more excited about where we’re going.

[00:28:05] Rico: Excellent. It’s good to have you here. And you’re right, Brian and the city has done such a terrific job. I think there are 20 countries represented here between companies like, Valmet that’s I think out of Finland, agencies and chambers, like the French American Business Chamber that’s located here. And companies like Intuitive Robotics that just is building out their five building campus. I mean, I don’t think people understand to some degree that have lived here for a while, how much is represented within the city. So cutting edge having companies like yours here really has made a difference here. And certainly I’m looking forward to the difference it can make in community safety. It’s good to have you on, I appreciate Chris, your time with us. Everyone, if you’re, you know, looking obviously for additional information, where can they find additional information on your company?

[00:28:55] Chris: Rico, we’ll have the ConnectPeachtreeCorners.org website, we’ll have that up and running here soon. And we’ll have contact information and all sorts of ancillary data. So if people are trying to learn more about the opportunity and how to contribute and how to participate. Please take a look at that website and we’re of course here. Fūsus and Peachtree Corners. And they can always reach out to us directly at Fūsus.com. And we look forward to supporting the city. This is our home. This is where my family lives. This is where our children go to school. And so, you know, obviously I have a vested interest in making sure that you know, this program’s successful and that we take care of our fellow citizens in Peachtree Corners. So thanks for having me on, Rico.

[00:29:35] Rico: Sure. I appreciate it, Chris. Thanks for being a good neighbor. Everyone, thanks again for joining us on this Peachtree Corners Life podcast. Look out for our next issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine and our newest Southwest Gwinnett Magazine. That’ll be coming out in the next month or so. But stay safe and have a great day.

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Elections and Politics

A Talk with Scott Hilton, a Candidate for Georgia House District 48

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Why is Scott Hilton running for office? What can be done about Georgia’s almost 14% inflation rate? What is his view on public safety, education, property tax bills and how will he represent Peachtree Corners? Rico Figliolini discusses these issues and more with candidate and Peachtree Corners resident Scott Hilton.

Listen to “A Talk with Scott Hilton, a Candidate for Georgia House District 48” on Spreaker.

“I love Peachtree Corners. This is where we call home. I love District 48. It would be an absolute honor to serve you again. I’m the most experienced candidate in the race. The candidate that’s proven to be able to get stuff done, and the candidate that’s proven to be able to listen to both sides of the aisle, be sympathetic to everyone, listen to folks, and really be an effective leader for you in the state. I’m someone who is a common sense conservative, that you can trust and really get behind to fight for you and your families.”

Scott Hilton

Timestamp Where to find it in the podcast:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:02:17] – About Scott
[00:05:52] – Voting for People over Party
[00:08:32] – Problems in the Economy and Inflation
[00:13:03] – Housing and Education
[00:21:19] – Public Safety Concerns
[00:24:13] – Remote and Hybrid Working Issues
[00:27:49] – Becoming a Smart State
[00:29:08] – Expanded Airports in Gwinnett
[00:29:53] – Movie Industry Incentives
[00:32:03] – Space Ports in the State of Georgia
[00:32:45] – Georgia Tech in Peachtree Corners
[00:34:09] – Scott Asks for Your Vote
[00:35:21] – Closing

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Podcast Transcript

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. This is one of these shows where we’re talking to political candidates about the upcoming election and their race. And my good friend Scott Hilton is a candidate for Georgia House 48. Scott, thanks for joining us.

[00:00:46] Scott: Rico, great to be here. Always good to see you. Thank you.

[00:00:49] Rico: Same here, glad to have you on. In the meantime, before we get into that interview, a couple of things, I just wanna tell everyone about our corporate sponsor for these shows and for our publications, is EV Remodeling. Eli is a great guy, he lives here in Peachtree Corners does a great job. You should visit him, he does a lot of remodeling, design to build type work. Just been a fantastic person to deal with. So check out Eli’s website, EVRemodelingINC.com. And that’ll take you to his showcase page and you can check out what he’s done. So before we even get into any of the questions for Scott, I’m gonna pull out some of our lower thirds here, and I’m gonna bring on the map so that people can understand where this district. This is a new house district, 48, first time being run in. It encompasses Peachtree Corners and that lower portion, as you can see, and Johns Creek, Alpharetta, and Roswell. Very big difference on some of the districts that are out there. Certainly this is a district that people have to get used to and may not even understand where they live. And who they’re gonna be represented by eventually, but the incumbent, if you will of this newly formed district, which is different from what the incumbent originally had anyway. So I don’t even know how that works, because it’s so different from what it was before. The incumbent right now is a Democrat by the name of Mary Robichaux, who only was elected, I believe in 2019, if I’m correct on that.

[00:02:15] Scott: 2018, yep. That’s correct.

[00:02:17] Rico: So, you’re running as a Republican candidate, you won your primary. You had over 6,000 voters come in. I think it was 6,400 votes come in. Granted, it was a contested republican race for some higher level statewide races there. You know, republicans had more votes coming out and like you said earlier before we got on, probably even some cross voting, maybe coming onto that. Whereas a democratic primary, very little voting going on there. I think the incumbent that you’re facing had only about 3,300 votes in that primary. But she had no opponent, I think in that race either. So that’s just to give a shape to where we are. And now I’d like to discuss a little bit, let some people actually know who you are, Scott. Give some background about where you’ve come from, what offices you’ve held and what you’ve been doing the last couple of years.

[00:03:04] Scott: Awesome. Well, I appreciate, that’s a great set up Rico. Always good to see you and talk to you. Love what you do for Peachtree Corners. I know I read the Peachtree Corners Magazine all the time and there’s always good info found in there. So for me and our family, we’ve been in the Peachtree Corners area and in this district a little over 10 years now. We moved here in 2011. And absolutely love it. And immediately was embraced by the community and got involved in public service almost right away. Joining the United Peachtree Corner Civic Association, my HOA board. Ultimately serving on a number of organizations in Gwinnett, including our local Fowler YMCA. And when you raise your hand enough times, people say hey, have you ever thought about, you know, maybe running for public office and the right doors opened at the right time. And I was able to run for what used to be House District 95. And was fortunate enough to win in 2016 and served in the state house for two years. And got a lot of good things done on behalf of families, in the areas of education, special needs, public safety, and was really proud of the work that we were able to get done. Unfortunately 2018 was a challenging year for a lot of Republicans across the Atlanta Metro area. And we found ourselves on the losing end. For me, like I said earlier, public service has just always been in the blood. And so at that time, Governor Kemp reached out and said, Scott, I’m creating a small business commission to look at cutting red tape and streamlining government for the benefit of small business. Would you lead that initiative for me? And anytime the governor calls, you say yes, sir. And so headed that initiative up for him for the last two years. We’ve got a lot of great stuff done in terms of streamlining government, reducing regulation, and really toward the tail end of our service, becoming a small business triage unit during COVID and helping small businesses with the resources they need to survive and thrive and get past COVID. And I applaud the governor and his leadership in keeping our state open and keeping our economy strong during that very difficult period. I then finished my work there, went back into the private sector where I’m a banker by trade. I’m a commercial banker now with South State Bank. My office is right here off of Spalding in Peachtree Corners. So we now truly do live, work and play in Peachtree Corners. My family is here. And opportunity opened up to run for the house seat again. We’re excited about it, had a ton of friends and family say, hey, why don’t you go ahead and jump on in, give another shot at it. Senator Isaacson, the late great Johnny Isaacson used to say, the only thing that can get politics outta your blood is the formaldehyde when you’ve been gone. And it’s, it’s so true. I found the same with me. I just love the opportunity to help others out. And this truly does feel like a calling.

[00:05:52] Rico: It’s interesting. Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever met a politician, like you said that doesn’t come back in or anything. I mean, they, you have to die in this essentially pretty much. It doesn’t leave. You answered one of my questions about why did you decide to run again? And that, that’s good. You know, you’ve lived here for quite a while. I’ve seen you at Light Up the Corners, you know, Glow Run and I’ve seen you at other events. Of course, you’ve been on the YMCA board. So you’ve been involved in the community quite a bit. You know, you’ve done, I believe a decent job out there. Of course, you know, being a Republican, there are competing issues, right? People believe in certain things and they, some of them will hold true to those issues that they believe in. But overall, I believe that you’ve probably done a decent job out there when you were in office.

[00:06:38] Scott: Yeah, I think Rico, one of the things I’m most proud about is even though we ended up losing in 2018, as we kind of broke down the data around what happened it was amazing to me to see a thousand people check the Stacy Abrams box and then went over and voted for me on the Republican side. And I think it just kind of speaks volumes to people really picking person over party. And that’s kind of our message this time around as well. You know, you can really trust me to listen to you. We may not always agree on the issues, but I’m going to be open, accessible. And like I said, really listen to you. And people admire that and they want that they want more of a uniter in politics than a divider. And that’s what I aim to be. And again, my goal this time is to, yeah, whether you’re Republican, Democrat or somewhere in between I’d love to be your candidate.

[00:07:25] Rico: It’s interesting. Politics is local. I mean, as you go up that ladder towards the Senate race and then the national races, things do get picked apart. And probably even more so now. I mean, if we look at what the New York Times just put out a few days ago about Democrats fretting over the race between Abrams and Kemp. That there’s not enough enthusiasm there right now. And that they’re actually afraid of what you’re saying, that people will jump that ballot. And vote for Kemp and then come back and vote for Democrats on other races or Republicans. More splitting of the ballot than ever before, maybe even in the state of Georgia for this type of race. At least from that top down.

[00:08:02] Scott: I think Georgia’s really unique in that standpoint, they talk about how we’re a purple state, but really a state that votes for good people. You saw Kemp in the primary get 70%. That was huge, you know? And I think as I talk to voters, a lot of them are looking at his record and yeah, maybe in 2018 they said, ah, I’m not sure. But they’ve seen what he’s done and how he’s managed. And I think that’s why Stacy’s having a tough time is, it’s hard to argue against the record he has in terms of keeping our state strong, safe, and on the right track. So we’ve got a good message this time around.

[00:08:32] Rico: And I think he’s avoiding the Trump trap, if you will, also. Trump’s not my favorite person to say the least. I don’t have a problem saying that out loud. I don’t think he’s fallen into that trap really. He’s his own man, it seems at least. So whether I agree with some of his issues or not is a different story. But for the most part, I believe he’s done some good things. And he’s planning to do some more it sounds like. Now biggest issue right now, aside from some of the social issues, which we could get into debates over abortion, for example, and stuff. That’s a very emotional type of debate I believe. So that’s a debate I’d rather leave off this particular talk because it’s just a very emotional type of thing. I think. It deals with beliefs, when life starts, we can agree to disagree about certain things. So let’s leave that aside for a minute, even though that’s an important issue, and then you can state where you stand on it. But I really wanna talk about the problem with inflation right now and the problem with the economy right now. So you have, originally there was high gas, that’s coming down. Now, I don’t know if that’s coming down for any good reason or if that’s gonna go back up as we get into the Fall again. We have 40 year high inflation in the state of Georgia. I mean, I know when I go shopping at Ingles or Publix, the price is like, where are these prices coming from? Food’s a lot more expensive than it used to be. There’s just things hitting the pocketbook with people. And even businesses not able to hire, even with that, not able to hire enough people. Whereas before they would never advertise the per hour job rate, let’s say, now I see it plasted on windows, $15 an hour start. That would never have been put up there. And every business person I talk to, I mean there’s a restaurant, fairly big restaurant that’s supposed to open on Peachtree Parkway that’s not opening yet because they’re afraid to open right now. Because there’s not enough workers to staff the restaurant. Okay. So there’s stuff like that. So tell us, you know, what do you think can be done? I mean, what can be done on a state level? That’s where you would be, so what can be done on a state level to combat that inflation?

[00:10:39] Scott: That’s a great question. Yeah, and Georgian’s unfortunately are really suffering the consequences of, we really overacted in Washington DC, overacted in terms of when Biden was sworn in and passed a number of spending bills that really, if you look at the US money supply, there is so much money out there that is just driving inflation to all new highs. And we’re unfortunately going to be suffering the consequences of that for at least the next year or so. And I know our families face it. Every time we go to the grocery store, it feels like we’re paying double what we were before. And so, what does that look like at a state level and how do we address that? So right now, because of all this spending, Georgia is actually, since we’ve done so well and budgeted so conservatively and done a fantastic job. We’re sitting on a lot of excess cash at a state level above and beyond what we need in our rainy day reserve. So the state keeps a rainy day reserve in case we have another COVID or economic shutdown. We have a few billion dollars above and beyond what we need to keep. And so the decision point for voters is do we elect someone like Scott, who’s gonna look at those resources, allocate them responsibility, even return a lot of them back to the taxpayer to help them combat inflation. And so that’s one of my campaign promises is listen, Georgians need more dollars in their pocket to kind of help combat some of this. The doubling of gas and grocery costs, et cetera. As opposed to kind of further expanding the size and scope of government. Number two, you know, a lot of the pain has come through supply chain issues. And we really need to focus in on, we’ve got a great airport, a great port in Savannah. Let’s continue to invest in those assets so that we can avoid ever having to go through those supply chain disruptions again. And then thirdly, workforce development. I hear the same thing that you do from all business owners that I just can’t find people. And if I do, I’ve gotta pay them outrageous rates. And so we’ve got to strengthen, enlargen our workforce. And so that comes down to education that comes with reequipping workers who maybe were in one industry and want to switch to another. And so I’m the candidate that has proven that I can get stuff done. And we’ll get down there and do that again, to kind of lessen the burden of policies that we’re facing from DC that are having real world impacts on some of the families right now. I mean, it’s easily the number one issue that I hear at doors is Scott, we’ve got to do something about inflation.

[00:13:03] Rico: Right. So talking about inflation, talking about what a state can do and stuff. I just got my property tax bill. I can’t even, I can’t even like, it’s just like, they can say they’re not raising the millage rate and they are right. But when they assess the property that much higher and essentially have increased my tax just by valuation, nevermind by raising the millage rates. It’s ridiculous. So now I understand there may be some support for Governor Kemp’s $500 property tax rebate for 2023. That something he’s proposing. Obviously we don’t know if he’s gonna be governor next year. The assumption is he may be, he may not be. Is this something, I don’t even know if this is something that Democrats would actually support? You would think that they would, but I don’t know. Is this something you support? Do you see this as a value thing? Do you see this as a reasonable thing for property owners? Residential? I’m assuming versus commercial.

[00:13:54] Scott: Yeah, that is correct. Yeah, so Governor Kemp has proposed this property tax relief, which I think is fantastic. Yeah, I mean all of us, we’re not selling our houses, so we’re not realizing the equity that we have, but the tax bill just goes up on the value. A lot of that again is driven by inflation. And so I fully support Governor Kemp’s property tax relief. It’s something that’s impacted again, our family with so many others across the district that I hear about. And so I think that is the difference. Again, as sort of you evaluate the two parties this November. I know my opponent has voted against some budget items that would’ve provided that kind of relief to families. And so yeah, as voters evaluate who they support in the polls. You know again, rather than kind of grow the size and scope of government. I want to return your tax dollars back to you in the form of relief on your property taxes. And so I think it’s just a prudent thing to do. Government is not in the business of making a profit. And so if we can help everyday folks out all across the spectrum, I think it makes absolute sense.

[00:14:53] Rico: Alright, cool. And my other two cents is, I would love to see a cap on these things too. There’s no reason just because evaluations have gone as high as they are, that these assessed values are that much higher. It’s like, I think some of them are like 20% increase. That’s just crazy. Especially if you’re retired. If you’re a retired person, which I’m not, but a retired person having to deal with that. It doesn’t make sense to me. Residents moving to Peachtree Corners because of our excellent schools. There are a lot people coming to Peachtree Corners. There are, my phone is either phone calls or text messages or emails or letters, of people just saying, are you ready to sell your house? We’ve got a cash offer for you. I’m just getting a little too tired of that. But apparently there’s not enough housing in Peachtree Corners. So I don’t know what’s, what is going on and how do we address some of these housing issues and make sure that our schools remain good quality schools, either through funding or programs. So tell us a little bit where you are with that.

[00:15:53] Scott: It’s a great problem to have. Like you said, I know personally we moved to Peachtree Corners because of the great schools. And so a lot of, you know, good education, that’s what drives businesses moving here, people moving here. We’ve got to keep them strong. And so when you ask me kind of what my platform is, it’s number one economy, we’ve gotta get that fixed. Education, got to keep our schools strong. And then public safety, we have to keep our area safe. But yeah, in terms of education, we’ve had some difficult past couple years, right? So with masking of students, keeping folks at home, it’s been challenging. And a lot of our students are behind and we’ve gotta figure out a way to get them caught up. We’ve gotta figure out a way too, to give parents more power in the decision making in regards to their kids’ curriculum ,the requirements in terms of how they go to school, what the school’s requirements are there. We’ve gotta keep our schools safe. I know the governor has invested millions and millions of dollars in keeping our schools safe. But we also have to empower our teachers as well. You know, so many of them have to teach to the test and there’s so much bureaucracy. We’ve got to remove a lot of that red tape and let teachers get back to what they do best, which is teaching. I previously served when I was in the house on the last time, I was on the education committee and was the leader in passing a charter school bill to increase the number of charter schools that we had in Georgia, giving parents more flexibility and choice in their child’s education. It shouldn’t be a one size fits all model. Every kid is different. Every family is different and we’ve gotta make those options available to them.

[00:17:21] Rico: What would you do for public school wise, also? Specifically, as far as program improvements or other things within the public school system, even. Are there any specifics that you would recommend?

[00:17:33] Scott: Well I, again, I support what the Governor’s done. And I think there’s still more room to do in terms of teacher pay. You know, one of the big things he did, is he did a dollar raise rather than a percentage raise. And what that did is that rewarded some of our newer teachers. You know, we need to really focus on the pipeline of younger teachers coming in. I think we’ve lost a lot of that and there’s been a lot of turnover. And we’re losing some of the best and brightest talent that we have in the state. So I would focus on how do we attract newer teachers into that K-12 environment. But then I also want to focus on higher education as well. That shouldn’t be a one size fits model too. We’ve seen a lot of kids go off and get a four year degree expecting a, a job of some type after that and it just doesn’t happen. And so we’ve been kind of trained that, you know, you’ve gotta go through that. Well, that model doesn’t fit everybody. We have tons of technical colleges, schools in Georgia that I want to promote some more that teach you real life skills that you can take to either start your own business or have a real life skill that you can add. And so that’s part of that workforce development that I mentioned earlier that’ll really help companies who are looking for good talent but it’s just not out there. And we’ve gotta bring more of that talent to our state.

[00:18:43] Rico: I think that’s a great idea. My youngest son went through Paul Duke’s Stem. I took a tour through there, we did a couple of articles in the magazine about the school, about their 3D printing about this certification within the school system where these kids essentially can graduate and actually go get a job because they’ve been trained in CAD software and 3D printing, and they can actually go out and get a job. He was, got into that school for the first year and then COVID hit. So interestingly enough, they were digital, they had digital Fridays a lot. So school, four days a week with the digital Friday. And for the last two years, sophomore and senior year, he was essentially out of the school, he was learning from home. And then his senior year, he was actually on the GSU’s Dunwoody Campus for all his courses. So he’s like 38% through ready. He just started Kennesaw, but he’s 38% through his degree practically. I mean, that’s the benefit of hope. That’s the benefit of some of these schools and digital learning. But like you said before, it doesn’t always help everyone. Younger kids, their reading level is shocked, some of these kids.

[00:19:46] Scott: Yeah, and it really pains me. We had these digital learning days and we still have them in Gwinnett and it drives, it frustrates me to no end. Because I don’t know about other parents, but it is really difficult with younger students to have them sit in front of a computer all day and try to learn. And there’s some families where both parents are working and it’s just not possible and it’s not, it doesn’t work. And so kids need to be in school learning. You know, again, another way to kind of differentiate between me and my opponent. I mean, that’s kind of a, my core belief is that we need less of, you know, behind a computer. Not everyone has access to a laptop or internet.

[00:20:21] Rico: Would you believe in more hybrid? You know, the willingness to adapt, like you said, there’s a choice you want to give, right? Charter school is a choice. So why not choice in the school, public school system, whether you want to have a hybrid learning where it’s three, four days a week in class, a day or two digital. If the parents would like that, if the kid, some kids work better that way. It’s an odd thing, right? And some kids work better being in a class in front of a teacher, it’s just the nature of the beast. Everyone learns things different, right? Some people learn better with videos. Some people learn better from reading a textbook.

[00:20:54] Scott: One of Georgia’s largest high schools, and one of the largest charter schools in the state is the Cyber Academy. It’s all online. That was even pre COVID, it was all online. And so for some students who a classroom doesn’t work, they’d prefer online. That’s awesome. We need to have those. Essentially we need to have every channel available for every student. Becau se like I said, not every student is widget, they’re all different and special in their own way. And we ought to be able to accommodate that.

[00:21:19] Rico: Cool. Now we were talking a little bit, you mentioned safety before. And of course, Uvalde, everyone knows that, I think now. And it’s sad, the things that they went through. Over a hundred officers there and yet for an hour, those kids just unbelievable. I just don’t know what was running through anyone’s mind at that point. Now we in Peachtree Corners, so I mean, these things can happen anywhere. Because it only takes that one time, right? We’re fortunate in the City of Peachtree Corners to be able to have certain things going right? There was that shooting at the QT that was essentially solved to some degree and quickly because of cameras, because of Crime Center in the Cloud type of operation. Because things were able to be found here and in Atlanta, through these technical online and in the cloud searches. There’s a lot of that going on. We don’t have our own police force, the City of Peachtree Corners. We have Gwinnett police that we hire to do our work. You know, where do you see safety, as far as what you believe should be brought back into local, into a city like Peachtree Corners? There’s a lot out there, right?

[00:22:24] Scott: Yeah, it’s huge. I mean, you mentioned that QT shooting. I think that was a wake up call for a lot of us, you know? It’s certainly been an issue in Atlanta and the problem is, it’s starting to impact our area. Certainly Buckhead has been struggling with it and it’s kind of creeping up our way. And so yeah, we have a lot of district attorneys and prosecutors you know, democrat prosecutors down in Atlanta who are not enforcing a lot of this stuff. And folks are getting back out on the street and yeah, the QT thing was scary. Because it was folks that managed to steal a car down in Atlanta, drive up here and an incredible young man lost his life because of it. And it’s horrible and it’s a tragedy. And so, you know, we moved to Peachtree Corners for a reason. For the good schools, the business, and public safety. And so yeah, we’ve got to elect folks who care about that. We don’t need to be become a police state obviously, but we need to be diligent about enforcing our laws. And, you know again, another differentiator between me and the opponent is, you know, I’m gonna vote in favor of a lot of laws that restrict the street racing and some of that stuff that’s plagued the suburbs. You know, folks stealing packages off your porch and all that. Just some of the nonsense that’s out there. While my opposition may have voted against that, I’m gonna be in favor of that because I think having a strong community is the underpinning of a lot of things. And so yeah, I think that’s incredibly, incredibly important. And it’s on a lot of folks’ minds. I mean, it’s just, we’re seeing this boiling of the pot of more and more activity. And if you put up with it, it’s kind of the broken window syndrome. And that’s what you see in Atlanta now. I mean, it’s pretty eyeopening to me. Every time I go down there I, you know, see office vacancies and businesses starting to move out. And our capital city in the state cannot go that way. I mean, we were the home of the Olympics. We’ve gotta keep Atlanta strong, prosperous, and then, so that’ll be part of our job.

[00:24:13] Rico: I’m curious what you think as an individual, as a citizen about remote work. What I’m seeing right now is that a lot of these businesses, not necessarily here in Georgia, although some of them too, are really wanting people to come back to the office full time. No remote work. The sad to say part is that the employee has become more powerful, if you will, than the employer over the last few years. Which is a good thing. You know, I think that’s a good thing. And now, because inflation, because of unemployment, may end up rising now because of what’s going on with the fed reserve and the raising of the rates. The employee may be losing some of that leverage they have, to a degree. I mean, do you think people should be going back to work? Like, do you believe remote work is okay or hybrid of that? How would you solve that employee issue that these companies are facing without removing the freedom that some of these people have?

[00:25:08] Scott: It’s a great question. You know, from a state perspective, I don’t think the government ought to be dictating, you know what private entities do with their employees. I think it should be up to the companies and their shareholders and employees. I will say how it impacts us at a state level is when we think about transportation, you know, that’s one of our biggest items we spend on in our $30 billion budget. And I know Peachtree Corners and Gwinnett at large has had a number of votes on Marta and other things over the years and if COVID taught us anything is that we need to be really innovative and rethink how people move around. You know, and you’re right Rico. Now you can work from your home, you can go into the office for a couple hours. It’s really kind of changed what transportation looks like in Georgia. And so we’ve gotta be forward thinking about that and how people are gonna be moving around in the future. But you’re right, there’s gonna be some pretty real world consequences in terms of folks losing jobs over the next, you know, 12 to 18 months. And that’s gonna impact a lot of people. And again, going back to that retraining and educating and equipping folks with new skills to allow them to get immediately back into the workforce is huge. But yeah, in terms of government mandates and stuff, I err on the side of you know, I think businesses and their employees know best what the best setup is for them. I know personally with three kids at home, I enjoyed going back to the office and having a little bit of quiet and stability in our office. But that was the decision that, that we made. Yeah.

[00:26:29] Rico: Right, right. Yeah. Everyone has, I mean, I’ve been working from home for a while. So it does, and it’s a great opportunity for when my kids were in for the most part. I have three, so one of, one of them is still here. The other one’s up in school and the other one lives on his own with his girlfriend. You know, having them down for lunch and breakfast and it’s all good to a degree, right?

[00:26:49] Scott: Well, I think one of the things that at a state level also we’ve been talking about, and I think that what the Georgia house and the Governor have done a real good job on is rural broadband. So right here in Georgia or in Atlanta and Peachtree Corners. We’ve got just about all the internet we need, but there were some sad stories about folks, you know, out in rural parts of our state went all digital having to drive to their local Wendy’s and piggyback off their WiFi in order to go to school, you know? And so we’ve gotta figure out and we’ve got the dollars to do it now, to get internet to parts of the state where, especially school-aged children really need it.

[00:27:23] Rico: Aren’t the federal dollars, didn’t that come in through federal dollars to the state? So then they can allocate it where it needs to go?

[00:27:30] Scott: Yep, that’s exactly right. So Georgia, the Governor’s Office, Office of Planning and Budget is doing that grant process right now to get those dollars in the hands of folks who can build kind of that last mile connectivity. You know, internet now is really kind of the new highway. And you’ve gotta build out these fiber optics to homes that before we weren’t able to reach.

[00:27:49] Rico: You know, we’re at sort of tail end of the interview, but I’d like to hit on a few different issues that we weren’t really thinking about, but things that come to my mind. What do you think about the autonomous vehicle stuff that we’re doing here in Peachtree Corners? Do you think the state should get more involved in creating a smart state? We have a smart city here. I mean, how much? And we’ve had the smart city, I think it was the smart expo. That was the world expo that came here, I think it was last year. You know, what do you think about that? Getting more businesses that are that type of tech oriented?

[00:28:20] Scott: I’ll tell you one of the very first bills that I’m going to sponsor when I get down there is called a regulatory sandbox. And what it is, is if you’re a new startup business, you operate in a sandbox essentially free of any type of regulation to allow you to test out innovative technologies and do things that are next level into the future. You have very few customers, you impact very little folks, but you all, you kind of work out. And then what happens is the government kind of works alongside you and figures out what the right mechanisms are from a regulatory standpoint. But it helps spur innovation, like a lot of the, what we’re doing at Peachtree Corners. So yeah, I am all behind that and I’m all behind, they’ve done it in a number of other states. Arizona, I think Minnesota, these regulatory sandboxes, where you kind of play, you figure it out, you innovate, and you create new business and new opportunities. I think it’s fantastic.

[00:29:08] Rico: I love that idea. Great idea. What do you think about, I know we have Heartfield International, do you think Gwinnett needs an expanded airport to be able to take on more traffic here?

[00:29:19] Scott: That’s a great question. I’m a big believer, I think Atlanta’s doing a fantastic job with its current airport right now. It’s the largest in the world, so. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it is kind of my position. Yeah, I’d love to have something right here in my backyard. But no, I think Atlanta’s doing a good job right now. Yeah, I mean, there’s been some discussion over the years in terms of, should the airport authority be managed by the state or the city? Frankly, I don’t know enough about the pros and cons of each to give you an educated opinion, but I think that would be something to look at or consider, but a second airport in my mind, at least doesn’t make sense at this point.

[00:29:53] Rico: Okay. What about movie incentives? The movie industry, movie entertainment industry has been, we’re the Hollywood of the east coast, right? More productions being done in the state of Georgia then almost any other state in the Southeast. Do you think that should continue? These incentives have really helped build, not just bring in these movies, but build all the peripheral infrastructure around it. Caterers, all the you know, electricians, the woodworker, everything, hotels, stay and all that. Do you think that we should continue with that type of incentive?

[00:30:27] Scott: That’s a great question. So just philosophically, I’m not in favor of the government kind of picking winners or losers in terms of certain businesses or industries. You’re absolutely right. The film industry has been a huge boom for our state and that’s fantastic. But it really seems kind of haphazard to say, let’s get behind film or healthcare insurance companies. I think we, as a government level, we ought to create a level playing field and let folks kind of compete to come here. Georgia is the number one state to do business, really in my mind, I don’t think we need to throw stuff out there to attract folks. I will say in terms of the film industry in particular, I do think that legislation needs to be tweaked a bit. We have a fairly large unfunded liability as a state right now of folks, these tax credits that we’ve offered that have been claimed but have not been sent into receive their money yet. And so the state has somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple billion dollars in tax credits that haven’t been claimed. And so that’s, that’s a liability on our balance sheet. We haven’t put a cap to it. So people can claim as many credits as they can, and that liability continues to grow. So if we were to make changes, that would be something that I’d be interested in tweaking.

[00:31:35] Rico: Okay. I think there was one other change I’d like to see probably on that one. And that is that people can sell, companies can sell their tax credits to other companies that are not shooting in the state of Georgia. I think that’s ridiculous.

[00:31:47] Scott: Yeah, that’s why I talked about the unfunded liability. If we have folks who have nothing, you know, these film companies, their tax liability is in California. So the tax credits have no value to them in Florida. So they then sell it. And we’ve got Georgia taxpayers who have tax credits that haven’t been claimed yet. So, yeah.

[00:32:03] Rico: So that’s, that’s crazy. I agree with you there. A space port. I know there’s a thing on the coast that wants to be, I think it’s in Camden county there. We want to be a space state almost, I guess some, in some people’s minds. Do you think that maybe Elon Musk should be planning a space port in the state of Georgia? Do you think we should be doing something?

[00:32:22] Scott: I think it’s exciting technology. I do know the voters in Camden kind of overwhelmingly voted against it. But I’m in favor. I think Georgia lends itself just where we’re located. We’ve got the coast there. We’d love to compete with Florida on that. So if it’s not Camden somewhere. I think Camden does lead itself naturally to be a space sport, but again, that’s for the locals to kind of figure out if that’s something they want in their backyard.

[00:32:45] Rico: Alright, cool. I think we’ve gone through most of what I wanted to get through. Well, maybe one more thing, one last thing based on that list that I just gave you and that’s Georgia Tech. I know that Georgia Tech is doing Coding Camps at Curiosity Lab in Peachtree Corners. Love to see what would happen if Georgia Tech decided to do a satellite campus here in Peachtree Corners. I mean, I think it would be a natural extension for them. Is that? I don’t know if the state gets involved in that type of thing. You know, based on Intuitive Robotics buying five buildings, essentially setting up a biotech campus for robotics, for medical robotics. Does it make sense for us to lure, the city of Peachtree corners to lure a college, a university like Georgia Tech to build a campus here in Peachtree Corners. Any thoughts personally?

[00:33:28] Scott: No, I think it’s fantastic. And yeah, I’d do whatever I could to make that happen. I think just given our city’s history with Paul Duke and his connection to Georgia Tech, it makes all the sense in the world. Especially what we’re doing with the Innovation Lab and everything here in Peachtree Corners. So yeah, the Board of Regents is really the important entity to make that happen. I’ve got a lot of connections there, obviously. And yeah, if that’s something that both sides have an appetite for, I would be happy to help facilitate that and make it happen.

[00:33:54] Rico: Great. Thank you, Scott. You’ve been very patient with me and all my questions. Before we leave, I’d like you to tell everyone, you know, why they should vote for you, when the date is and ask for the vote essentially. And where they can find out more information about Scott Hilton.

[00:34:09] Scott: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And Rico, thank you again for your time today. I love Peachtree Corners. This is where we call home. I love District 48. It would be an absolute honor to serve you again. I’m the most experienced candidate in the race. The candidate that’s proven to be able to get stuff done, and the candidate that’s proven to be able to listen to both sides of the aisle, be sympathetic to everyone, listen to folks, and really be an effective leader for you in the state. I’m someone who is a common sense conservative, that you can trust and really get behind to fight for you and your families. You can learn more about our campaign at ScottHiltonGA.com. And on there, you can click on a map to be able to scroll in, to see exactly where you live in the new district. You can sign up to volunteer. Contribute to the campaign or get a yard sign. Early voting starts Monday, October 17th. I think Pinckneyville Community Center is probably the closest one to us here. That’ll run for two weeks, Monday through Friday and on weekends as well. We encourage you to go in, vote early and get that done. But again, I ask for your vote, early vote and your vote on November 8th. Again, thank you so much for your support. It would be an honor to serve Peachtree Corners and our community again. Thank you.

[00:35:21] Rico: Scott. I appreciate your time here. Everyone, check out Scott’s website and information where he stands on the issues. You can find out a little bit more about him there. Certainly if you have questions for Scott, please direct them to Scott. Because he’s been great about answering all sorts of questions and he is local. So if you’re not gonna ask you won’t know. And be diligent, you know, be aware of what politics, you know, you like you don’t and where you wanna vote. And don’t just stick to one party because you feel that’s the party that you feel overall works for you. You have to really look at the issues and the local candidate running. So Scott, thank you again. I appreciate your time. Hang in there while I say goodbye to everybody. Check out LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com. That’s the Peachtree Corners magazine website. Our latest issue is out. We’re working on next issue right now. If you have any interesting stories, feel free. Send it to Editor@LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com. Always looking for good ideas to write about, good stories to tell. We’re curating things. Check us out online on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook we’re there. And these podcasts of course, and thank you again to EV Remodeling, Inc. For being a sponsor of these programs. Take care guys. Be safe.

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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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The Forum has new owners, a new rezoning applicant for multi-use [Podcast]

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This episode talks about The Forum on Peachtree Parkway being sold to North American Properties, an upcoming rezoning request for multi-use along Peachtree Parkway, a town center playground update, and more. Join your host Rico Figliolini and guest City Manager Brian Johnson on Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager.

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:01:35] – Purchase of the Forum
[00:07:19] – The Push for Residential
[00:14:56] – How Peachtree Corners is Growing
[00:18:13] – Israeli Consul General Visiting
[00:20:20] – New Playground Updates
[00:26:58] – Closing

“We know that the Forum’s a critical part, and its success is the City’s success. It helps generate a lot of revenue that we in turn can use to provide services back to our stakeholders. Whether it be streets or multi-use paths, or even keeping a zero millage rate. And we are excited about working with the North American Properties, trying to take the property and  take it to the next level. And so we’re rolling up our sleeves, getting ready to get that started.”

Brian johnson

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life and today’s Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager. Hey, Brian, how are you?

[00:00:38] Brian: Rico, good. How are you?

[00:00:40] Rico: Great. It’s good to have you on. This particular episode, we’re going to be talking a little bit about the new purchase that’s finally closed this past Friday, with the Forum of Peachtree Parkway. And Brian’s going to help us out with some detail on that. The new owners, North American Properties has taken it over. They are a company that is well-known for working with Avalon and Atlantic Station. They run and own those areas as well as others. So they found, obviously, an opportunity here that they believe they can take and invest in and actually grow the Forum into a great product. And a great place for us, a great space for us to live in, if you will. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that and a little bit about progress on the playground that’s going on, being built across the way at Town Center. And just a couple of other things, but let’s start off with the Forum purchase. Bryan, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what’s going on there now? What’s the latest?

[00:01:35] Brian: Well, like you said, North American Properties closed on the property on this past Friday. Their interest in the Forum is kind of in line with what they’ve done at some other properties of late. Instead of being involved in brand new mixed use developments, they’ve liked to find properties that are maybe in great areas. And ones that, maybe they feel like from an ownership and management company, they can improve the property a little bit by investing in it and then operating it instead of spinning it off to have somebody else operate it. And so they’ve done that in a couple locations already and they think that the Forum is right for that. Not only are they excited about the community that is around the Forum, the traffic count that’s near the Forum, the history and the name that it has, but it has good bones. And they also like the fact that the city understands the importance of it. It is essentially one half of what is our downtown now. And when you have a municipality who’s invested in a property within its corporate limits, then developers like that, because that means that we’re more inclined to do what it takes to ensure that this thing is a success. And we know that the Forum’s a critical part and its success is the City’s success. It helps generate a lot of revenue that we in turn can use to provide services back to our stakeholders. Whether it be streets or multi-use paths, or even keeping a zero millage rate. And we are excited about working with the North American Properties, trying to take the property and take it to the next level. And so we’re rolling up our sleeves, getting ready to get that started.

[00:03:26] Rico: Cool. We’ve been talking about this for a while now, obviously. We’re hoping that new owners would take it over because they’re reep running it. And having a secondary company managing it, it’s not quite the same as having an owner manager. And so part of what we talked about also is that a place like this could have some density. Being worked on as far as adding density to it. So, maybe we can talk a little bit about that as far as, what the City’s willing to do there. We talked a little bit, I think at one point, about a parking deck and such. Being a part of it and allowing for a space for other things to happen, for green space and stuff.

[00:04:04] Brian: Well, what you’re referring to, I can kind of go back to the previous owner if you will. And that is, the previous owner, when they reached out to the city to notify us that they were putting the Forum on the market, the reason that they were doing so as articulated to us was the fact that the Forum was a property that joined a number of other properties that they were selling that had a common theme. And they were unloading all of their properties that did not have onsite residential or onsite public gathering space. And so the Forum had neither of those or has neither of those. So the previous owner put it up along with other properties that met that description in their portfolio, they put them up for sale. North American Properties has articulated to us that one of the things they want to do and they are in a position to do because they are not only the owners, but they are going to operate it as well, which is oftentimes not the case. Many times the owners don’t operate it they merely contract with a property management company. And then that company manages it and manages the leases and operates it.

[00:05:22] Rico: Right.

[00:05:22] Brian: North American’s going to do both, which was very exciting to the city because we knew that North American Properties would invest in the property in a way that maybe results in temporarily lease revenue to be negatively impacted due to construction or other things. But they were okay with doing it because they were going to operate it as well. So they have expressed an interest in installing, if you will, onsite residential and onsite greenspace. So the city will obviously have to be to some degree or other involved in both. We do know that if there is greenspace, that’s going to have to be added and the only place to add it on the Forum property is by removing parking spaces. So the city may end up having to be involved in that to help them be able to construct green space because that means parking is going to have to be moved elsewhere, so that may involve structured parking. Maybe not too dissimilar to what we did with the Town Center and Fuqua which was the partner over there. So that may end up being part of this and then obviously residential onsite, it’s going to have to have some rezoning component. The details of that have not been presented or discussed or considered. So I don’t honestly know any more than that. They are interested in putting onsite residential in some capacity on the property. And all the evidence to healthy, mixed use developments such as the Forum, all point to needing onsite residential, and public gathering space, part of the ingredients for successful mixed use development. So it’s not surprising to us. You know, again, the devil’s in the details and that’s why our sleeves are rolled up and ready to dig in.

[00:07:19] Rico: And I understand you guys are probably meeting as we speak, you’ll be meeting sometime this week, I think on this. And I guess I can speculate a little bit from my own end that residential is probably, certainly a strong component of what’s going to happen there over the next 18 months or so. Because it needs it right? Like any multi-use. And if we look at the past history of what they’ve done, Atlantic Station, Avalon and such, residential is a big component of that. So certainly I think I can imagine that there could be probably north of 150 to 200 units coming right there at the Forum in some capacity, in some area that they set up there. Which, live, work, and play. I mean, you could be working there, living and certainly at Technology Park and I think as one company put it, we are a 15 minute city. And in their eyes because of where they located, you could walk anywhere in 15 minutes and get what you need. Which is an interesting description of what we are, being a 15 minute city that way. Because our downtown area, anywhere within this area, whether you’d be, let’s say Spalding Drive near Intuitive Robotics, or if you’re at City Hall, maybe. 15 minute walk will get you to shopping to food, to entertainment, to a degree. So interesting concept in being a 15 minute city, that’s not Atlanta. That’s outside Atlanta. So kind of interesting. Plus we have that residential property across the way still that was rezoned apartment. Was what’s called the Old Roberts property, and that was sunset. So that became, that reverted back to its original rezoning which was not residential. But there’s another component and people are looking there and I wouldn’t be surprised if North American properties is looking at that property as well. That would have been about 260 odd units, plus a hotel with a hundred plus rooms.

[00:09:13] Brian: Well Rico, I mean, not only that parcel, which is again right there by Lazy Dog behind the old Black Walnut, and Georgia Clinic right there. There’s still, even some other parcels that are kind of right near there. And really, to be honest with you anywhere in the city. Especially the north of say Jimmy Carter, Holcomb Bridge. Really north of the split here. We’re under an immense amount of pressure from developers wanting to build residential units. And I say that, by saying in general, we are. Meaning all different types. But right now, based on a number of factors, whether it’s financing or interest demand, they tend to be heavy on the rental versus the equity component. And usually that’s because we are getting pretty close to not having a lot of undeveloped parcels left. Which means that as we grow, we’re going to have to grow up. Up as in vertical. And when you do that, generally that is much harder to finance when it’s equity, which we typically call a condo. And condos require about 50% or more of the units to be pre-sold before you can get the financing. And so it makes it harder on developers, so they’re less interested. But that puts pressure on the city of trying to make sure that we’re thinking through growth. And right now there’s a lot of discussions about how are we managing it. Because with virtual workplace now, a lot of people can go back to the suburbs, if you will. You can work at a company that’s located in Midtown, but if they’re maybe in the future, not going to make you come in at all, or maybe only one or two days a week. People are like, you know what? I can handle an hour commute each way if I only have to do it one or two day a week. But the rest of my time I can be out farther away from Midtown, get more house, more yard, for my money. And so there’s a resurgence of people interested in coming here. In addition to just Metro Atlanta growing and the housing market being like ridiculous right now. So there’s a lot of chain and we got a lot of challenges right now.

[00:11:37] Rico: Yeah. Especially like you mentioned, the housing stock is unbelievable. Because I mean, I see it every day. I mean, in our neighborhood, a house went up for sale. Within three weeks it was bought and it was bought at a premium above what they were asking of like 10 to 20,000. Just one family home on a slab, right? No basement or anything. It’s just, it does not stay in the market long in this area. So you’re right. I mean, I could see the pressure because we have another multi-use or M1 that wants to become a multi-use development that is applying, that went through the planning commission. That’s presented itself in front of City Council, it’s been tabled to June. And that is about 315 units that they would like to develop, plus a five story hotel. And on top of that, it’s on Peachtree Parkway, also. So not too far from another one that was recently approved and across from Corner Find One, I think is where it is. So yeah, I can see the pressure coming in doing that.

[00:12:36] Brian: But you know, it is important to note though that mayor and council understands that and they’re being much more comprehensive and methodical in their thinking about it then they’ve ever been forced to do. So, I want everybody to know that they’re not taking it lightly. There are some very comprehensive conversations going on right now, amongst them on essentially. What do they with this big, with this pressure, what do they want Peachtree Corners to look like when it grows up? Meaning we are sitting here in a location that you could probably represent is at a place where people who are moving to Atlanta and there are more people moving here than moving away. We’re growing as a region. So as those who choose to drive north out of say the airport, and they’re looking at places to put down roots, we’re getting many of them here. The question for council is going to be, do we end up as they’re driving into our city, are we here at the city limits saying, hey, before you decide to keep going north or whatever direction they leave in. Hey, let us spend some time telling you what a great community we are. Because we want you to stay here or are we saying, keep on going. Keep on going, if you’re wanting to go north to the further suburbs, keep on going. And if that’s the case, you know, they’re the ones who decide policy. That’s fine, but they’re kind of going through that right now. And if it is no, no, no, no, we want them to stay, then how is it we grow? Because we don’t have a lot of out. We’re not like a Forsyth county or one that has a lot of outward growth. So that’s what they’re having to kind of determine right now. And it’s a new normal that we’ve never seen, the rate of growth and the pressure on residential development is something we’ve never seen. So it’s ongoing, it’s comprehensive. And, I think we’re in a good position that it will come out of this very shortly in having a good course of action going forward.

[00:14:56] Rico: I’m sure there will be. I’ve had some conversations with one to two city council member and we’ve had conversations about this as well. What does it mean? Yes, do we want to have the ability to have more residents here, versus them going past us and we just become a through place. But also what does it mean to be a smart city? And what does it mean to allow multiuse development to be able to set standards in the type of developments that come to the city, whether it’s LEED buildings or EV charging stations, what does that mean? How, what is the philosophy of doing that? Because eventually if we’re talking about being a smart city, we certainly want to make sure that, in my mind, that we’re walking the walk and that we’re looking at urban development in the right way. And not just the proving something that’s going to have a restaurant and maybe one other shop and we call it a multi-use. So, I think that they, hopefully they have that conversation. They look at that a little better about what it means to be here. I mean, we just recently had, for example, the Israeli council general visit us. The Mayor, Mike Mason is on a mayor’s summit, remote, that’s part of the smart city conference in Taiwan. And we’re getting a lot of companies here, like Intuitive Robotics and other firms that are coming because we’re part of that Silicon Orchard, right? So I mean, if we can continue to look at our environment as a good steward, then we have to look at that too, right? How are we going to let these builders develop and in a smart way all around, right?

[00:16:34] Brian: You know, I mean I couldn’t have said it better myself, Rico. And that is exactly what council’s doing. In fact, at the council meeting Tuesday, the one policy or the one action item that council was involved in is they did change the pro-rata makeup of a mixed use development by requiring a higher percentage of non-residential uses on a mixed use parcel. To prevent somebody coming in and having three uses, 95% of it’s residential, 3% something else, and then 2% the remaining. And, they’re like, that’s ridiculous. So, yes. I mean, you know, maybe even more to follow on that. But there’s definitely those conversations about all right, what are we going to do to set ourselves apart from others? What are we going to do to continue to live up to the reputation that we’re gaining? I mean, you know, the mayor was asked to speak and he was actually invited to speak in person there, did not work out for lots of different reasons COVID included. But invited to speak there, but on a panel of cities in the world of mayors, from cities like, well, Denver and Atlanta in the US. Or Prague, Czech Republic or Edmonton, Canada, Taipei, Taiwan. I mean, these are cities that are you know, way above our weight class. We were asked to speak at it because of the things that we’re doing. And so, yes, we need that to try to correspond into other conventional development within the city. Not just within the technology ecosystem.

[00:18:13] Rico: To stay on that for a little bit, so the Israeli Consul General did visit us. We have several, I think Israeli firms working out of here as well at Curiosity Lab and stuff. Anything new that you want to share with what’s going on there? I know there’s quite a bit, but if we can get a quick description of what’s going on, that would be great.

[00:18:32] Brian: The Israeli Consul General came up here because we do have a special relationship with really the nation of Israel, as well as Israeli companies. We have a number of arrangements and collaborations with governmental agencies within Israel. And a lot of Israeli companies come here because if you think about it, the nation of Israel is by population standpoint about the size of Metro Atlanta. And so if there is something that some product or software or whatever that’s invented there, for them to scale it they have to leave that area because that area is not really big enough for them to really scale. So they need to go to Asia or Europe or North America. And we are a location that a lot of them have started to find even more appealing than your typical, oh, I go to the states and I go to Silicon Valley or I go to research Triangle or I go to New York City. I mean, those are all great, but you are a small fish in a very big, expensive pond. Here you can actually be a smaller pond, it’s not as expensive. And just being the same size, you can be a bigger in relation to others because that pond doesn’t have so many big fish. And so we’re seeing a lot of it. The local Israeli consulate wanted to ensure that we continue to have that synergy between us and them. And we have great relationships with them. We’ll continue to, and we look forward to fostering that relationship. And getting more companies come through here and use Peachtree Corners either as a place to put down roots or as a launching pad. But we at least benefit from their involvement, however brief it may be.

[00:20:20] Rico: Yeah. So many companies out there that, so much representation from around the world here that we’re going to be doing another feature piece. Not in this coming issue, but the next about the amount of, the different companies we have that represent different countries here, that are based in Peachtree Corners. That’s, I think there’s over 20 nations that are actually represented. So that’d be a neat piece to talk about. Let’s get some update on the playground. That’s, I say playground, but it’s a little bit more involved than that. That’s being built out at Town Center. Dirt’s moving, everything’s moving around there. Are we still on track for that to come in for May? I think it was May, end of May?

[00:20:56] Brian: Yeah, we’re still on track around the end of May for most of the playground equipment. The supply chain issue is such that we may not have all the shade structures in for even as much as two months after that, unfortunately. Because you know we put seating around there as part of this because we knew parents were going to go over there and want to be close to their kids and everything. And so we may not have all of the shade structures in. Just again, supply chain and you just run out of it. But we’re still tracking on that. And so that’s good. You know, our goal was to have it in so that the first concert of our series, which is the end of May, doesn’t still have that area to be a construction site. We’re also, you know, I don’t know if you’ve been out there, we added a lot more decking under the current shade structures that are there on the other side of the town green. And we’re going to add another shade structure as well there. So there’s a lot more space for people to have furniture and we have a new fire pit out there that’s a little bit more user friendly. Although I will say Rico, unfortunately we may end up having to talk about this again, but we have created a really cool place to hang out. And it’s getting cooler by the day. You know, it’s just a great place to whether to get something, you know, and eat or drink, or a kid’s play or just hang out. But as a result of it, we’ve got a lot of destructive behavior that’s happening out there. And we’re getting ready to add over 80 cameras out into the parking deck and the Town Green area. And we’re having to do that, one, it’s a good deterrent. But two, just a lot of people going in and destroying things randomly for no reason. And it’s sad. I mean, we have a new much larger fire pit that had a lot of other, not only bigger, it was round. It was, you know, a place you kind of hang out. And yet all we do is it’s only been operational for probably two weeks and have already had people pry open the door to try to get to the controls. They’ve been stealing the stones. The nice stones that are in there. I mean just stuff like that. And it’s sad and, you know, we’re hoping. We may have to talk to the community as a whole and say, look, please help police yourselves and prevent a great location and amenity that’s theirs. It’s the community’s, it’s the public’s. But it’s either lack of parental supervision or people just, I mean, I don’t know. It’s sad.

[00:23:41] Rico: It’s probably happening in the middle of the night too, right? Like two or three in the morning and stuff.

[00:23:46] Brian: Some of it, but then some of it it’s not. I mean, we’ve had destructive behavior there and you know, again, even some of it’s on surveillance. But either we don’t have a great image of the person or what is generally the case is, you have video of a person. But unless like one of us recognized that person, there’s no way for us to know who it is.

[00:24:11] Rico: It’s amazing. Can’t keep anything in the public realm without having to deal with that crap, quite frankly. I just like, you know, you would imagine that people are a little bit more respectful, but no. It’s never going to be, and that’s never going to be the case because there are people that are just not respectful of things.

[00:24:30] Brian: I’ll even go so far as this, you know, with the playground areas, we’re doing site work. We’re doing grading and getting the terrain ready for when we bring in the artificial surfaces and everything. And so they will have construction equipment out there, like backhoes and mini excavators inside of areas roped off with caution tape. But on the weekend, you’ll go out there and people have ripped down or are inside of the caution tape, kids climbing around construction equipment and their parents are right there. But they’re letting them, we caught kids in the boom of the, you know, the back climbing around on that. And their parents are right there, like.

[00:25:12] Rico: And not for anything we don’t teach, I shouldn’t say we. But a lot of people just don’t teach their kids what respect means and things. And they’re, they’re all John Waynes and Yahoos sometimes saying, leave them alone, they need to play. And it’s just like, and then there are those people that want safe places for their kids. It’s just like, if we just taught a little respect, common respect and courtesy, that’s all we need. It’s just, it’ll never end this, like. And I’m not surprised quite frankly, because tape’s not going to hold anyone away, it’s just like.

[00:25:50] Brian: No, you’re like really? Can you not see them? And you’re underneath. You had to go underneath caution tape. Or it was ripped down, it’s laying on the ground, you’re stepping over, you know it’s a construction site and yet you’re either in there yourself or you’re letting your kid run around around that. And you’re just like, you know.

[00:26:08] Rico: And that same parent, God forbid a child gets hurt. The same people will want to sue the city to say that wasn’t enough. You shouldn’t have put just the tape there. You should have like put a cement wall to stop people from entering. It’s just like, you know what? At some point people have to take responsibility for themselves and their family.

[00:26:28] Brian: Yeah. But I guess the good thing here is that Town Center is doing what we, we hope, which is attracting people. And that’s, you know, activity begets more activity and makes restaurants and stores and everything healthier. So that’s good. But we just need to, those of us who live and work and use that need to police ourselves and make sure that we keep it a nice amenity and not let it get beat down by destructive, irresponsible people.

[00:26:58] Rico: Yeah. Amazing, never-ending. Well, I’m glad that we were able to talk about these things and especially about North American Properties and the Forum and that buyout. I know that there’ll be more coming out and actually my editor right now is going to be interviewing the owner of NAP by, I think 4:30 late today. So we’ll have an article out sometime in the next few days about that, a little bit more in depth hopefully some more information that we can provide people with. And we’re going to stay on top of this. That, along with everything else that’s going on in the city.

[00:27:28] Brian: It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal.

[00:27:31] Rico: For sure. So I appreciate your time, Brian. Thank you for being with us again. I look forward to next time. Share this with your friends, if you’re listening to the podcast on Apple or iHeart Radio, certainly leave a review on this. Look for more additional information on LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com. You can either subscribe to our newsletter to find out more news that comes out. We come out once or twice a week, depending on what news is going on. Or like us on Facebook, @PeachtreeCornersLife or follow us on Instagram as well. Thank you for being with us and we’ll see you next time.

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