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Discussing the Comprehensive Plan Update, Density, Annexation and Pickleball, with the City Manager [Podcast]



On today’s episode of Prime Lunchtime with The City Manager, we explore the challenges and opportunities facing the vibrant community of Peachtree Corners, where city leadership is open to creative ways to generate economic development and drive activity while avoiding property taxes. From incubators creating new jobs to the feasibility of a pickleball center, discussions around housing types, density, and annexation, there is never a dull moment in Peachtree Corners. Join us as we dive into the city’s comprehensive plan, Future Land Use Map, and discuss visions for the future.

“The Mayor and Council are very open and aggressive on what we can do to drive activity in this city so that we can be vibrant. We have a whole host of quality of life offerings here. And our commerce, our business to business, business to customer interaction is generating enough revenue that we don’t have to have property tax. And we’ve been successful for ten plus years.”

brian johnson

Timestamp (Where to find it in the podcast):

[0:00:00] – Intro
[0:02:43] – Why Development Has Paused
[0:11:12] – Residential Properties
[0:16:02] – Using the Comprehensive Plan
[0:31:06] – Feasibility on the Pickleball Center
[0:36:37] – Trellis Leaving the Incubator
[0:39:38] – Closing


[0:00:00] Rico Figliolini: Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. And today we have Brian Johnson, as usual, once a month, although it’s been a while. Hey, Brian. How are you?

[0:00:09] Brian Johnson: Good, Rico. How are you?

[0:00:11] Rico Figliolini: Good, thanks. So this is our Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager. We get to talk about different things in this episode. We’re going to be talking about redevelopment, rezoning, things that are going on in the city that has to deal with development and redevelopment. It just to catch up about what’s going on with several different properties. So be a good show to be able to talk about what I think is on everyone’s mind, especially with the economy moving the way it is and interest rates and all that. But before we get there, just want to thank our sponsor, EV Remodeling Inc. And Eli for supporting our journalism, our podcasts, our magazines, for being a good corporate sponsor and good corporate citizen with us. So thank you, EV Remodeling and Eli. Check him out where they do design, build and renovation work. He lives in Peachtree Corners. Great family. We just had a recent article on him as well, talking about what he’s doing, but visit them  at EVRemodelingInc.com and check out. Hopefully you all by the time you get the podcast, listen to it, you’ll be having received this or not. This is the latest issue of Peace Corners magazine.

[0:01:18] Rico Figliolini: Wesleyan Artist Market will be and we’re a sponsor of theirs will be happening April 28 and 29th. So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and good to see you, Brian. It’s been a while. Been a few weeks, a little over a month actually, I think. And you all have been busy, like always. I’ve been speaking to Lewis, the communications manager, and so much going on in the city, and we could talk about a lot of things, but I think zoning it down to development and redevelopment, I think for this episode makes a lot of sense, especially talking about it before we started rolling, talking about how different properties right now, because of the economy, right? Interest rates are going up, commercial properties. Commercial development is adjusting, I think, to the marketplace a bit more so than the home market. I think it’s being affected. But several properties have put a break, I think, on some of the development work. I know that Charlie Roberts property, what we call that, that hole in the ground, if you will, behind Chase Bank where North American properties was going to possibly develop an apartment complex there, is on hold now because that deal sort of fell through and now it’s being marketed separately. But so there’s a few things going on like that. So can you share with us, Brian, maybe, what’s going on with some of these properties? Why are they being stopped? Why are they stopping the development and all that?

[0:02:43] Brian Johnson: Well, Rico, you’re right. As development goes, typical cycle is a developer or property owner will come to the city if they need a rezoning. And they’ll come to the city and only have gone so far as to come up with is my project feasible, I’ve got to produce enough for the city to know what I want to do. So there’s a lot of conceptual work, a lot of engineering, those kind of things. But they’ll only get to that point because there’s no guarantee that they are going to be successful in their rezoning request. And how that’s affected when the economy changes is that most of these developers, even with favorable zoning decisions by Council The, have not gone to the next step of lining up, locking in their financing for the actual construction because they didn’t know if they were going to even get approval to do it. So we run into and real estate cyclical, but we have run into a number of properties that were rezoned in 2022, maybe even late 2021 that got favorable zoning. And then they would go in and start the actual design documents, the construction documents, the detailed ones that the contractor will build off of. That takes a while, especially the bigger it is. It could easily be a year where the architects, engineers are creating those construction documents. And if the economy changes in that interim period of time when it’s time for the property owner developer to go to the banks and get financing, sometimes there aren’t terms that they like or the banking industry has changed to where they require more collateral or the banks don’t have enough equity to loan out or whatever. And so we have seen that over the last six to twelve months, especially six to nine months where interest rates started climbing and certain developers kind of pumped the brakes and said, we don’t like these terms, let’s maybe hold off a year and see if the improve. Then you’ve got some of the banking issues we’ve had of late with these mid tier banks like Silicon Valley Bank and everything changing now. You’ve got the Feds are more involved in equity requirements that banks have to have and that’s affected. And so yes, we’ve had a number of favorable zonings here that right now are on hold to a degree indefinitely.

[0:05:49] Brian Johnson: So the only ones that I can say are for sure moving forward that have had favorable rezonings recently, mostly because they already had the money locked in and ready to go. Would be waterside continues to move forward. They’re in phase two. They are basically done with the first third of the property. Now they’re moving into the constructing the middle third and the clubhouse and shared facilities. And then phase three would be the institutional use the memory care type of thing. But their money has already been locked in, so they’re continuing to go. Intuitive is definitely moving forward on their first really two phases. But they had a third phase that wasn’t going to slate at a start for another two years anyway. But they have kind of, I think, stopped a little bit of the work on that that was really demoing some existing buildings and building even bigger ones to house some of their HR. There’s a welcome center. They were going to have some things that maybe weren’t or aren’t considered critical, what they want to ultimately do. But there’s been a little bit of what you.

[0:07:18] Rico Figliolini: Noticed. Those sales, intuitive robotic sales have slowed based on some of the reports I read on them. But their work, anyone that passes through Technology Park, they continuously those cranes are up, they’re working, they’re dumping soils coming out and stuff. So they’re definitely working over there every single day. So it’s not like they stop. There is a piece of property, I think that was cleared or some work was done, but then they put the brakes on that development. I don’t recall which property that was that I thought I don’t know if it was cleared, but they started some work on it and then they stopped.

[0:07:54] Brian Johnson: But there’s other which one near Intuitive. You’re talking about near Intuitive location.

[0:08:00] Rico Figliolini: Yeah, it might have been that maybe it was near there.

[0:08:03] Brian Johnson: Someone had to cleared and officially placed, had the brakes put on it. I know the Jewish chabad cleared their property, but I’ve not heard that they’ve officially put.

[0:08:18] Rico Figliolini: No, I think they’re still moving ahead with that, I think.

[0:08:24] Brian Johnson: But Intuitive, their main assembly area, their training, their expanded training, their sales office, all that stuff, they’re moving people from California. They’re actively hiring. Still going forward. The one on Peachtree Parkway is a 57 20 Peachtree Parkway. I think it’s called broadstone. The mixed use the you can see that. That’s another one that had the financing locked in before interest rates to change. So they’re going to finish that and then North American Properties will and is moving forward on the forum, I want to say it’s next week or the following. They’re kind of breaking ground on the first part of their call. It enhancement. And that is they’re going to be removing the middle parking spaces in the north, the northernmost section, Byumi, that section. And then they’re taking the old canoekins space and they’re putting in the food hall. And they are moving forward on getting the parking deck designed. It’s under design. It’s got another step when the design is at a point where it’s worthy of consideration, it’s got to go back in front of council.

[0:09:54] Brian Johnson: That was the only condition that required them to go back to council. And so they’re designing it. There’s going to be some conversation with the residents in Amberfield that reside right along the forum, so there’ll be some dialogue with them on what it looks like. But that parking deck, their hope is to have the design approved and then they start construction on that sometime in the summer.

[0:10:22] Rico Figliolini: Yeah, I think they want to finish by the end of the year or first quarter. 24.

[0:10:26] Brian Johnson: Correct. Because they can’t remove any more of the middle parking stalls beyond that northernmost section. They’re getting ready to do until the parking deck has been completed. But they are moving forward with that. So I just wanted to say bring that up to say they’re still moving forward. But beyond that, pretty much all of the other ones that have come through with favorable zonings have kind of, in some cases, officially informed the city that, hey, we’re not working on this right now, so don’t expect anything from us. Put this on hold until market conditions improve.

[0:11:12] Rico Figliolini: Right. I guess the residential stock in the city will be on hold for a little while other than the broadstone and the water size. Yeah. So interesting, the economy does affect everyone. I did an overview, market overview for recent issue, and I was looking in Peachtree Corners just to see what was listed. Right. Just on zillow, let’s say. And I think I only saw two homes being on, and this was granted, this was back in February, so before spring came. So I’m sure there are more houses on the market now, but there was like, I think only two back in January, february, that was on the market. Yeah. So, I mean, higher rates, what is it, six and a half percent now for a 30 year mortgage?

[0:11:58] Brian Johnson: Residential, unless banks have the equity that they did before, because they’re becoming a little more cautious on how much and how risky the applicant might be. And so it’s definitely affected things. And then you’re right. Housing as it stands right now, housing is a difficult thing. Of course it’s a difficult thing for everybody right now. I mean, nationally, there’s a housing shortage. Problem we have is unless we have some annexations, and even then, not a lot of annexation opportunities of undeveloped parcels. But just with our current corporate limits, we are pretty much tapped out on single family homes. There’s nowhere else for somebody to at least cost effectively build a bunch of single family residence because all that property has been used up. Now there are the one offs where somebody buys, tears down the existing house and builds a new single family on it.

[0:13:09] Rico Figliolini: Or townhomes. I mean, the metal streets not detached.

[0:13:14] Brian Johnson: Right, but yeah. So to your point is other housing products other than single family detached, it’s.

[0:13:23] Rico Figliolini: Still equity products, still ownership.

[0:13:26] Brian Johnson: Right, yeah.

[0:13:29] Rico Figliolini: The problem with that, though, is that I find is that if all of a sudden there’s 20 townhomes being built, ten of them may be owned by a company that are renting them. And that does happen more often than I think some people think. And then there’s even single family homes being bought. I mean, I was looking at I spent some time on GIS. I think it’s GIS, it’s called, where you could actually click on parcels and see who owns the parcels. Someone had asked me about a parcel that was recently zoned on the west side of Medlock Bridge Road near the Forum Drive, not the Forum Town Center Drive, and it was the west corner of that, and someone had bought it. And obviously they’re going to be developing stuff there. But then you mentioned there are companies, there are landowners, let’s say, that own land with retail on it that have a lot of parking space. And they’ve been talking to the city about possibly doing something a bit different. But they’re stopping too, right. Just because of the way the market is.

[0:14:33] Brian Johnson: Yeah. You can drive through Peachtree Corners and there are a number of locations in which you look at it, they were built back when the core units were built, way off the road and at the back of a sea of parking, both retail and some commercial. And so there’s locations that we all can think of. The Ingls shopping center at east jones bridge and peachtree parkway. You’ve got the Goodwill Shopping Center there. You can go down to PIB and Holcomb Bridge Road where the old La Fitness was another big even where Outback Shopping Center used to be at. What is that? Holcomb Bridge and Spalding. Those are ones where you’ve got underutilized parking. That is a lot of parking. Yes. That is ripe for anything as small as an out parcel is added to the current layout or some cases. Developers have approached us and said developers of even the ones that I mentioned have said, hey, we’re open to what could we do? What happens if we scrape the whole thing and start it all over? What would the city let us do?

[0:16:02] Brian Johnson: And you get back into what do we need? Using housing types are oftentimes a component of it. How much multi use rental and all that kind of stuff. Things that are being discussed right now on the Comp plan, our comprehensive plan, is being rewritten that you have to do every ten years. And housing is a very important component of the conversation being had right now. How much of our housing stock should be ownership versus rental and how much of our housing stock should be either of those two things in specific areas, and how dense should we get? And if we are wanting to grow, do we want to grow out through annexation or do we not want to do that? But do we want to grow, we’ve got to grow up more dense, or do we want to put a sign at our city limits saying, no more growth in Peace Street corners. This is it. I don’t know if there’s right or wrong answer. I’m not here to advocate for one of them. But those are all questions that have to be answered is what do we want the city to look like over the Lat next five to 25 years? We’ve got to create some policy around zoning and a future land use map that shows kind of what Mayor and Council’s goal is for, how the community is developed, and Mayor and Council gets input for them to make that decision based on community input, which is what the comp plan process is all about.

[0:17:43] Rico Figliolini: Right. I think the first public meeting has already happened. There’s another one being set up, I think, with United Peachtree Corners Civic Association. Unless that one passed already.

[0:17:52] Brian Johnson: No, that hasn’t passed. We’ve had to the Planning commission meeting last week, last Tuesday had a portion of it that was reserved for it. But there’s like five or six. And if anybody wants to provide input on any part of the way they think the city should be moving into the future, whether it’s housing, transportation, public safety, what have you, we will take comments about that at any point. There’s a link on our website. You can provide input. You could say, I want all of our roads to be six lanes, or I want our own police department, or I never want a police department, other than whatever, provide comments. This is the time for you to put it on record comments about some of these things or attend the meetings. And there are always times each meeting kind of has a theme, but at the end of it, when it’s time for the public to come and provide comment, you can comment on anything. But these are important decisions.

[0:19:01] Rico Figliolini: Yeah. And I’ll put the links into the show notes so this way people can see it. And we’ve been sharing that on social media anyway, so it’s out there. I mean, there’s no reason that anyone can say, I didn’t know, unless you have your head in the ground.

[0:19:17] Brian Johnson: I was going to say somebody will Rico.

[0:19:21] Rico Figliolini: There’s always people that do that. I just found out about it, even though for the last six months it’s being put out. Yeah. It’s a tough thing. Right. Do you decide that you don’t want more development? No, you can’t decide not to have more development. The thing is, like you said, this plan is really a plan that every ten years has to be redone. Every five years it has to be updated. It’s a guide, not a Bible. It’s not contract set in stone. These are just guidelines. And like you said, really, there is not much land to I don’t foresee any more places where you could put single family homes at a reasonable price. Right. There’d be million dollar homes, I think, because there’s just no place to do that. 100 square hundred foot frontage on single family homes or even 60 foot frontage. I think that’s gone. Right.

[0:20:20] Brian Johnson: I would agree. You want to do that, you got to go up into North Forsyth County, and that’s where those things are happening. We are at a point where we’re transitioning into what Brookhaven is, what Dunwoody is. They don’t have any more undeveloped land. So really they’re in redevelopment mode. And in their case, as opposed to us, we actually have the ability to annex. We can grow our boundaries.

[0:20:45] Rico Figliolini: Right.

[0:20:47] Brian Johnson: Brookhaven and Dunwoody are completely hemmed in. There is nowhere else. So what they are, what their city limits are, what it is forever. And so now they’ve got to, how are we going to redevelop? Are we going to make it facilitate growth in a dense way, which means you got to go up. Are we going to not do that? And just keep these aren’t easy questions. And again, it’s important and it’s good.

[0:21:18] Rico Figliolini: To have input because you don’t live in a silo, right? I mean, the city doesn’t know everything. And there are citizens here, the citizens here that don’t want further development, for example, citizens that don’t want more apartments, and then citizens that feel it wouldn’t be bad to be like Brookhaven. They moved here. They’ve moved here in less than a decade, let’s say, and some of them have moved out from a Brookhaven or a Buckhead, and they wouldn’t mind having more development similar to that and yet still have some space, if you will. Right. So like you said before, you have some of these areas where you have a sea of parking spaces that certainly can become mixed use. Maybe they can become equity property, like condos where they’re going up seven, eight stories, because some of those places you can do that because they don’t have single family residential behind them. Some of them can do it differently. But you’re right, we can either annex or we’re going to have to go up. There’s really no other or stop. And if you stop development, that’s really bad, I think, for a community. You can’t be in a thriving community and there’s no development.

[0:22:38] Brian Johnson: You’re right. While it’s an option within reason, if somebody has a parcel, they have a legal right to develop it. So there’s no such a thing as a literal freeze button, but you can’t have the zoning such that you really aren’t letting any more density happen. And so as a result, it to a degree does freeze it. But historically speaking, communities that have kind of taken that stance, what they find is they may have, for a period of time, kind of stopped development, which some people want. What they find is the communities around them that haven’t, all of a sudden, they leave the community that did want to kind of stop. They leave the behind. So a community that says, oh, we like it just the way it is, well, the world moves on, and just the way it is may end up being to where your community isn’t looked at as an appealing community anymore because you’re not doing anything. You’re not getting young blood, you’re not getting different demographics, different age groups. And all of a sudden, people start pointing to that community to say, it’s a dead community.

[0:23:54] Rico Figliolini: Yeah. I think of Matt Carmel in California when they wanted to stop development there. And Matt Carmel is on the West Coast. California. It’s essentially a tourist city. I think I forgot who is that.

[0:24:07] Brian Johnson: Right near Monterey Bay. Monterey, California.

[0:24:09] Rico Figliolini: Yeah. And the idea was to stop development essentially with the city proper because it still had like this nice old feel and ocean feel to it and stuff. I can understand that because it’s a tourist spot. It’s a whole different thing. We are not a tourist spot. No one comes here necessarily for anything specific. I can say that I’ve lived here for a while. Yes. When we have concerts, people will come for the concerts, but we are not a tourist location. We’re not a place that has ten festivals going on through the year, at least not yet. We have an iconic Peachtree Corners festival that goes on. But other cities have five or six different festivals going on through. The big ones, too. Not little ones. Bear and wine fests and stuff like that.

[0:24:59] Brian Johnson: Think of when you’re a community that has just under 50,000 people and just under 50,000 jobs. We are a very vibrant community. Meaning there is a lot of activity here. Berkeley Lake might be able to get away with saying, we’re freezing it right here. Because they have that one little sliver of retail there at, what is it? South Peach Tree and PIV. And then the rest is residential, really, around the lake. You could potentially get away with it there to say, look, no more density, no more we are what we are. And their redevelopment would be parcel by parcel if somebody wanted to demo one of the houses and build a new one, specific purpose, they’re not going to sit here and say, oh, we’re, you know, tried to be this really big they are a very hidden gem of a bedroom community around this lake. And so they could maybe get away with it, but it would be hard for us to and stay vibrant in the way that we are now.

[0:26:10] Rico Figliolini: Right. And Burke Lake is a whole different animal. Right. One of the richest per capita places in the city or the richest city in the state or something like that.

[0:26:19] Brian Johnson: They got the highest median income and median home value of any city. And for a while it was like the Southeast. I know it’s still in Georgia. So yeah, I mean, it’s a unique type of thing. It’s almost like large HOA and that’s great. But yeah, for you to be an actual community that’s really got a lot of jobs or whatever, it’s awful hard. So if you get to the point where you’re like, well, you don’t want to go that route, then it’s either do we grow out or do we grow up? And then whichever way you decide, what mix of growth does that encompass?

[0:27:07] Rico Figliolini: And the comprehensive plan allows for it to be segmented. So it’s not like we have to make that decision as a citywide thing. We can say, well, you know what, technology park or certain areas, industrial areas can be a certain way because there’s more density there. It’s a different not more density, but it’s a different layout of land. So segmenting the density in certain parts of the city is not a bad thing. Right.

[0:27:34] Brian Johnson: And the most important document that comes out of the Comp plan is something called the Future Land Use Map, and that is a zoning map that shows what character areas mayor and Council want the city to look like over the next five to 25 years. And it doesn’t go parcel by parcel. It does more like areas almost be like example would be like we want Peace Street Parkway to be a retail corridor along the parkway. Like the parcels that are right, basically up against Peace Parkway want it to be retail all the way up that corridor. It’s kind of broad brush stuff. But it does allow, like you said, the ability to segment certain parts of the city and say, here’s an area of the city that we think should be mixed use or should be single family residential or could be a rental specific product or could be a dense ownership product like condos. It’s a way for them to kind of more broadly say that’s a good area for this or that. And so that’s the most important product that comes out of it because it’s a visual depiction of what Council hopes that the zoning over the next X amount of years results in. Is that’s the Future Land use map that we aspire to have in the future? And it is a map that Council refers to, planning Commission refers to when they are considering zoning. It’s not a binding document, but it certainly carries weight both in the decision or even if there’s any litigation over a zoning decision.

[0:29:20] Rico Figliolini: Right, I was just going to say because you can then either deny or prime based on that and no one can say, well, you’re making an arbitrary decision on that. No, we’re working with the Comp plan. Does that comp plan also includes the overlays, like the Entertainment Overlay District? It includes all that. So any of that and those things can be expanded as well, probably and adjusted depending on what you want to include in it.

[0:29:48] Brian Johnson: So it’s a part of it. Now, I will say that the due date for the Comp plan to be submitted to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs is probably going to prevent there’s some overlays that are being considered right now that may not make it as part of the Comp plan. The Comp plan conversation includes all of our existing overlays.

[0:30:12] Rico Figliolini: Okay.

[0:30:12] Brian Johnson: But there are some other ones. Like the Downtown Development Authority going to be considering looking at the overlay for Tech Park, Atlanta just Tech Park and seeing if there’s some parts of it we want to tweak because we’ve really put a premium on us making sure Tech Park Atlanta is healthy because it is the driver of a lot of activity, including its boundaries being shared by Curiosity Labs. Boundaries. It’s very much an economic development engine for us. We want to make sure it’s firing on as many cylinders as we can get it to fire on. So there could be some additional overlay tweaks or districts that follow because you can create the at any time.

[0:31:06] Rico Figliolini: Right. And the can be added. Okay. All right, I just want to one more thing I think I want to just cover because I’m inherently interested in it, and that was that pickleball idea that we talked about last time. And the city is going to move ahead, I guess, with the feasibility study on the pickleball center is what we were discussing 40 or 50 courts?

[0:31:30] Brian Johnson: Yeah. So the pickleball’s growing popularity, there is certainly evidence, at least to our naked eyes, not being necessarily experts per se, and that just one thing, but there is some evidence that we’re seeing that it might, in and of itself be a driver of unique. Call it ancillary and tertiary activity, meaning you could maybe have a pickleball facility at a certain location, and its construction would then create an energy around it where others would want to get close to it. And it could be the driver of economic development at a certain location in the city. But that could be if we’re talking about a facility that has 30 to 50 pickleball courts, and its purpose is to pull activity to it during the week for league play and on weekends for tournaments. It could be an investment by somebody. Whether it’s the city private sector or combination thereof, it’s a significant investment. And so you want to make sure that you’re doing it at a good time. The need is there like you think it might be, like there is, in fact, enough demand. You’re not inadvertently going to be cannibalizing somebody’s activity that already exists. You’d hate to build 50 court pickleball facility for tournaments only to find out later on that 15 miles down the road another city is ahead of you or already built one, and now you trying to compete for the same tournaments. You got to make sure you don’t do anything that might hurt existing business, things like that. So a feasibility study by an expert to come in and look at the entire landscape and come back and tell us, is the demand there? Are we filling a niche that hasn’t been met, or can we do it without hurting any existing things? Do you have the interest in the area that you’ll pull in?

[0:33:46] Brian Johnson: Are there enough pickleball tournaments that it makes sense to do it, and would it fill hotel rooms, all that kind of stuff. And I think if it comes back favorably, I think Council Mayor. And council here. Our community doesn’t realize how lucky they are either, and I do because I work for them as a board. But they are very open to creative ways to generate economic development in the city as a way to make sure the community is vibrant. We have a mix of things and two, for us to go as long as we possibly can into the future without having to have city property tax and result. Mayor and council are very supportive of efforts that might do this. Hence why we have some of these unique events. We got this bike race, the criterion coming that might be a unique event that drives activity that in the future. Maybe it’s something we do along or maybe it’s a one time thing. We do it and we look back and we’re like, yeah, didn’t move the needle. But they’re very open and aggressive on what can we do to drive activity in this city so that we can be vibrant. We can have a whole host of quality of life offerings here. And our commerce, our business to business, business to customer interaction is generating enough revenue that we don’t have to have property tax. And we’ve been successful for ten plus years and we’re going to, we can.

[0:35:26] Rico Figliolini: The leadership on down has done a great job. I think there may be people that would argue that, but I see things like companies like Smart Mile joining Curiosity Labs, ecosystem, if you will. They’re continuing to bring in startups into that organization. I see businesses like Henry’s Bakery opening, like Julia’s Bakery opening up in the Forum. We just published some renderings on that. That looks great. As someone with Italian heritage, I can’t wait to see how that’s going to be because it’s supposed to be all authentic ingredients from Italy. So that’ll be interesting because otherwise I’d have to go downtown or something into Atlanta to get stuff like that. There’s a lot of lot going on here and I think you’re right. The city leadership is always looking at a variety of different things. I mean, from even thinking about an art center and still talking about that possibly possible other types of programs or things that the city can come up with.

[0:36:37] Brian Johnson: Rico, this one may be also something to do an article on as well. But we created an incubator in the city to help create jobs. Because in economic development, your goal is to, when it comes to jobs, to help companies expand. You want to retain or recruit or create. Those are the four legs of the economic development stool, if you will, and incubators help create jobs. It allows a very low cost way for a company to create from scratch a new thing. Well, we are getting ready to have another example, probably the largest example to date of a company that was incubated at Curiosity Lab, which started out as prototype prime. And they are going to leave and expand into commercial space elsewhere in Peach Street Corners. And that’s trellis.

[0:37:34] Rico Figliolini: Okay.

[0:37:35] Brian Johnson: And so Trellis is leaving the incubator. They’ve outgrown it, but they’re staying here in Peach Street Corners. So this is a company that didn’t exist before it was incubated here. They created a company in the agricultural space with sensors, and they’ve grown outgrown our incubator, and now they’re becoming a full fledged company in commercial space. And they’ve stayed here, which means that we have new jobs, or I guess you could consider it retained jobs that were created here. And that’s the whole purpose of having incubators here, is create new jobs or a new company. And then your hope is that they stay here when they outgrow your incubator. Because they’ve all made housing decisions based on where they were initially and now they want to stay here. So it’s a good news story of a company that made it or is making it, and they’re going to be a corporate tenant of the city and stay here.

[0:38:34] Rico Figliolini: It’ll be fun to see these companies come out like that. I mean, I remember Trellis, I think we did a small piece on it a couple of years ago. They’ve been there for, I think since prototype prime almost, if I remember.

[0:38:46] Brian Johnson: Yeah, it was they’ve been there a little bit longer with COVID We let them stay there a little bit longer than the three years. We generally want companies to leave, but COVID kind of wrench in in the mix. But yeah, it’s just great. But if mayor and council hadn’t supported having an incubator, you know, continuing to provide resources to us would have happened. And so they’re going to end up paying business license or occupational tax to be a business out in the community generating revenue for us. And they’ve got some of their employees that live in Peachtree Corners. So this is the little things add up. But we’re all about making sure that we are a vibrant economic, vibrant local economy, and that’s what drives revenue and keeps us from having to have city property tax.

[0:39:38] Rico Figliolini: Like always, Brian, we do a lot of get to learn a lot from you about what’s going on in the city. So I do appreciate you giving us the time to be able to talk about these things, especially something like this, where we were able to talk about quite a few things and some of it in general, but certainly to be able to find out a little bit more about the development work that’s going on commercially in the city, housing wise and all that. There’s going to be a lot more to talk about the next few months just because of the nature of what’s going on with the comp plan and all that. And I’m sure there will be even more development going on that we don’t even know about you.

[0:40:14] Brian Johnson: Yeah, people haven’t stopped kicking tires and looking. It might be argue it’s a little bit harder to do right now than it was a year ago, but there are still companies that are wanting to do it. In fact, some companies feel like this is a great time to do it because everybody else has stopped and so they might be able to get into a market it would have been harder to get into. But Rico, things change quickly. And I appreciate the city, appreciate you giving us a vehicle in which we can communicate some of this stuff to those of our residents who care and listen to this. It’s an invaluable resource that we’re lucky to have. So thanks for letting us have this opportunity every month.

[0:40:59] Rico Figliolini: Well, thank you, Brian. Appreciate it. Appreciate your comments. And it’s worth doing. I mean, I have lived here since 95. My kids have grown up here gone to school here, just a great community. So I’m always having fun finding out new things that are happening here and learning about new people that have moved here and are doing things. So it’s always great. Thank you, Brian, for being with us. Everyone else, thanks again for joining us. Check out the latest issue of Peachtree Corners magazine and we’re working currently on Southwest Cornette magazine, which will be profiling some of the businesses that we’ve just mentioned. We’re going to be doing a feature story about entrepreneurs and enterprises here in Peachtree Corners. So check that out. That’ll be out in another probably a month or so. But thanks again for joining us and go visit LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com for what you need to know about the city, what’s going on here. Thank you much.

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City Government

City’s First Employee Steps Down



At a City Council meeting on April 23, Diana Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.
Diana Wheeler on stage at Town Center // Photos by Tracey Rice

Diana Wheeler starts her own consulting business

When a city is established, there’s a lot to do to get it going. One of the most important decisions is hiring effective staff. Diana Wheeler was one of those qualified employees who helped turn Peachtree Corners into the community it is today. She’s also credited with being the city’s first hire.

“I worked in Alpharetta for about 20 years as a community development director, and I decided that it was time to try something new and different, something I hadn’t done before. I was going to start up my own consulting business,” said Wheeler.

She was only a few days into her new career when the city of Peachtree Corners called.

“They said, ‘Hey, we’d like you to come and help us out. We’re starting up a new city, and we don’t really have any planners. We need a community development department,” said Wheeler.

So, she went back into city government work and put off starting her business.

Years of service

“I was the only employee for a while,” she said. “There were a lot of interesting times, and there were opportunities I’ve never had before, like setting up all of their programs and systems at the beginning.”

At a City Council meeting on April 23, Wheeler was recognized for more than 12 years of dedicated service to the city.

“A lot of things were accomplished, and after 12 years, I thought, well, you know, I still want that one last sort of professional challenge that I hadn’t ever done before, which was to go out on my own and take advantage of the connections that I’ve made over the years and work on projects that were of interest to me,” she said.

She let the city leadership know that it was time for that change and that she’d be making that change at the end of April.

“Diana’s daily presence was profoundly valued by her colleagues, who benefitted from her expertise, leadership, and perhaps most importantly, her composure in the face of the numerous challenges that the Peachtree Corners city government has encountered during her tenure,” read a statement from the city.

Don’t call it a retirement

As the community development director, Wheeler wore a lot of hats, metaphorically speaking.

“When I was community development director, I had four divisions: the building department, which issues permits and performs inspections; code enforcement, which basically enforces the city’s regulations in commercial and residential areas; planning and zoning, which does all the public hearings and all the zoning research work, and when we added the Town Center, we added special events,” she said. “It’s just a lot of different things. And the city has a very limited number of employees. So, everybody does multiple tasks.”

But she hasn’t entirely left the city. Through the end of the year, she’ll be coordinating the special events at the Town Center.

“We’ve got an incredible lineup. We have all sorts of really cool concerts …  and we’re also introducing a night market, which is like a farmer’s market,” she said.

The market will take place on the second Saturday of the month and will have about 14 different vendors selling produce, homemade products, and other items.

“We’re going to have a talent competition this year,” she said. “It’s called Peachtree Corners Has Talent, and we’re asking people to submit YouTube videos, and there are prizes for winners.”

Additionally, there’s a children’s festival and one for the canines in the new dog park.

“On December 4, we’re going to have the huge holiday glow event, which is our big holiday gala at the town center with a concert and Santa and all sorts of stuff for kids to do and a sing-along and lots of free hot chocolate and cookies and things like that,” she said.

Wheeler is unsure if she’ll continue working as a consultant with the city beyond December, but she’s excited about her next chapter. Her consulting business is focused on special projects.

A new journey as a consultant

“In communities where they have a limited staff but would like to take on a project, for example, the city of Jasper and the city of Milton have two different areas where they have projects that they would like to take on, but they don’t have the staff resources,” she said.

That’s where she’ll come in.

“They hire people sort of as a side project to work just on that project. And those are the sort of things that I would do,” she said. “I get to focus on a specific project and don’t deal with the day-to-day things.”

Wheeler said she likes that she gets to choose what she wants to work on and use her skills and experience to the fullest.

Highlights of Wheeler’s career with the city of Peachtree Corners:

  • She laid the groundwork for the establishment of Peachtree Corners’ inaugural City Hall.
  • She was instrumental in the development of the Holcomb Bridge Corridor Urban Redevelopment Plan, Livable Centers Initiative, Innovation Hub Master Plan, Winters Chapel Road Corridor Study and conceptual planning for the Multi-Use Trail network.
  • She established and nurtured the Arts Council, created the Arts & Culture Master Plan, and promoted other public art initiatives, bringing the residents enriching cultural experiences, artistic expression and a sense of community pride.
  • She played a pivotal role in the establishment and ongoing support of the Peachtree Corners Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Downtown Development Authority, Redevelopment Authority, Arts Council, and Green Committee.
  • She played a crucial role in securing the city’s Green Community Certification and its Tree City USA recognition.
  • She spearheaded the implementation of the city’s initial zoning laws and led the Code Enforcement, Building and Permitting and Planning and Zoning Departments.
  • She pioneered the city’s first Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
  • She played a key role in launching Special Service Districts, contributing significantly to their initiation and success.
  • She Diana guided Town Green and Town Center initiatives.
  • She organized and managed Peachtree Corners’ special events.

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City Government

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Where and when to vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View a sample ballot at My Voter Page.

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


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

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

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

Judicial races

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

School board

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

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

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

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

Key Republican primary races

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

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

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

Key Democratic primary races

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

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

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

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City Government

Crime and Safety Concerns Dominate Town Hall Meeting



Eric Christ

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

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

Cutting down on crime

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

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

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

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

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

The City Marshal’s involvement

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

Edward Restrepo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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