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Registering Security Cameras, Medlock Bridge Road, City Marshall and More with the City Manager [Podcast]

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Here’s why you should register your Ring doorbell with Connect Peachtree Corners. Plus, we discussed the Medlock Bridge and Bush Road intersection, the City Marshall system, the Town Center Parking Deck maintenance and the upcoming Economic Development Master Plan.

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:02:06] – Home Camera Registering with Fūsus
[00:09:29] – Parking Deck Partially Closed for Repairs
[00:12:52] – Medlock Bridge Road Repair Progress
[00:17:26] – Tree Removal Along 141
[00:22:29] – City Marshal Program Update
[00:32:37] – Writing a New Comprehensive Plan
[00:38:07] – Closing

“The mayor and council agree with me that really making our community safe is about the most important responsibility we have. Because it will affect all other things. There’s a lot of other important things too, but for us to be a great community to live, work, learn, and play, it’s got to be safe.”

BRIAN JOHNSON

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone, this is Rico from Peachtree Corners Magazine and Peachtree Corners Life. We have our special guest as we do almost every month, Brian Johnson, the city manager. Hey, Brian.

[00:00:40] Brian: Rico, how are you?

[00:00:42] Rico: Good, good. When we’re taping today, it’s actually a cold day, but it’s a beautiful sunny day, so it’s all good. Before we get into our discussion, updates about what’s going on in the city, I just want to say thank you to our corporate sponsor, EV Remodeling Inc. And Eli, who’s been a great sponsor of these podcasts and of the magazine. So I want to put a shout out to him and let you all know that if you’re looking to do anything from design to build, in home improvement from extensions to whole house improvement, Eli’s the one. So EV Remodeling, they live in Peachtree Corners, they’re based in Peachtree Corners. It’s a good local company. A lot of people like them. Check them out. EVRemodelingInc.com is where you can find out more information. So now let’s get into the show. There’s a few things we want to go through. Lots of things have been going on. We’re going to be hitting on some of these. So then we can even clear up some stuff that I didn’t even understand on some things happening. So it’s all good to be doing this with you, Brian, and I always appreciate you straight shooting and giving us the information we all need to know. Why don’t we start off with the first thing with Fūsus Technologies company here based in Peachtree Corners, that has been instrumental in helping Atlanta police, helping Gwinnett police, find criminals through technology and crime center in the cloud. So there’s something going on now about registering home base cameras. So tell us a little bit about that and what that is.

[00:02:06] Brian: Yeah. And Rico, Fūsus, which is a Peachtree Corners based company here created a platform that can link all cameras of different makes, models, into a mesh network. That can both talk to each other and be used by law enforcement. And it doesn’t have to be owned by one entity. Like it’s not just city cameras, it just allows private cameras to voluntarily enroll their cameras into this program. So we create this net of surveillance for use by law enforcement, and in the two unfortunate fatalities we’ve had in the city within the last six months. The Norcross High School student shooting, and then the failed carjacking or car slider. Both of those shooters in both of those cases were identified because of the city’s cameras and the Fūsus platform. And so it does work. Now, of course, the best crime is the one that’s not committed. So, we would much prefer to prevent versus use it to solve, but it does help. What we’re doing now is on residential cameras, these are cameras that are not owned by businesses, these are private residents. A lot of people have video surveillance of some sort. Ring video doorbell, Amazon’s got products, and Google’s got products, Simply Safe, I mean all that kind of stuff. Well, all those cameras are important to law enforcement in that, law enforcement wants to know that they exist. And that if a crime is committed in the area, the police department would know how to contact the owner to request a segment of their video they’re recording for the use in investigating the crime. And so what we’re asking is for people to take their cameras and enroll them. That’s all this is. This is merely telling Gwinnett County PD through the city’s program that, I have a camera. You can describe it and you can do more than one, but you can say, I have, five cameras. I have a doorbell camera, and I’ve got four cameras on the exterior looking around my house. If you want any of the video that I’m taping, here’s my contact information, and then that’s it. What we’re doing, what Fūsus does then, is it creates a map. And it’ll allow Gwinnett PD to see all the places that they know that there are cameras. And if a crime is committed there, then they also know how to quickly get ahold of the owner and quickly ask for some video that might be important because of a crime. And without this, if there’s a crime committed somewhere, the only way the police can know if there’s video footage in the area is to canvas, the area by knocking on doors. And that’s time and labor intensive. And people aren’t always home versus you provided your contact information and you know, somebody can call me or email me and I can help very quickly provide Gwinnett PD with the information they want. And again, it’s a case by case basis, so you can enroll your camera. And for some reason, you could decide in that particular case, you didn’t want to share your data. All this done, allows Gwinnett to know where there are cameras and where to request video from that on a case by case basis. So we really encourage everybody to do it because it’s not, none of this is, all of a sudden anybody has access to your camera. Nobody can use it, you know?

[00:05:50] Rico: Right. That’s important to say, right? There’s no physical access through wifi or networking to the camera. The person would have to physically download that video and then send it off to the police, so.

[00:06:01] Brian: That’s correct. And the Fūsus platform also provides a really easy way for you to, like drag and drop the particular date, time of video that the police might be asking for. And that’s it. I mean, nobody’s getting access to it. You’re just providing what they request so that they can do it quickly. So nobody should feel like they shouldn’t register their camera. I get it, if they don’t want, which is why it’s not part of it. On the commercial side, there will be a second level where some commercial establishments will give the police department access to their video feed. But that’s only on commercial establishments and that’s a different program. On the residential side, you have nothing to lose. All you’re doing is telling the police that I have a camera and if you ever might need it, here’s how to contact me and I will consider your request.

[00:07:01] Rico: And that makes sense because you don’t want, you want the police to have available as immediate as possible video, if God forbid there’s a child abduction. Kids waiting at the bus line and something happens, or there’s something violent happens or burglary happens in the neighborhood, they can trace the street path of possibly where the cameras are and time of the incident. So there’s all sorts of reasons why the homeowners should register their video camera.

[00:07:32] Brian: That’s right. It’s not just their own property, Rico, you make a good point. This isn’t just, if there’s a crime on your property, it could be there’s a crime elsewhere in your neighborhood.

[00:07:42] Rico: That’s right.

[00:07:42] Brian: Say you have a doorbell camera, the car has got to go across the front of your house and your camera might give the police, while that car, or a person walking or whatever, it could give valuable information to solve other crimes. So we encourage everybody to enroll.

[00:08:01] Rico: And certainly if it’s a serial crime where you have car break-ins in a neighborhood, I’ve seen friends that have shown me videos of their driveway, well, all of a sudden you see a guy walking up the driveway, checking door handles to see if any of them are open. I mean, eventually, that type of stuff. And not even covering their faces is the strangest part.

[00:08:20] Brian: Right. Porch pirates, I mean, but you know, this is just an easy way for you to share the data. And it doesn’t even have to be requested. You can actually reach out to Gwinnett PD through it by saying, Hey, I’m getting ready to send you, on my own, video of a porch pirate. And there’s his face, I’d like to file a police report. Here’s why. And it’s just an easy way to communicate and share information for us to make this community a safer place.

[00:08:49] Rico: Yeah. We should all participate. Go to ConnectPeachtreeCorners.org. That’s the website. So anyone listening to this should go to ConnectPeachtreeCorners.org and that’ll give you all sorts of information. Right now I’m looking at 95 registered cameras, 255 integrated cameras. I guess there’s a, a live member account on here.

[00:09:11] Brian: That would be commercial establishments.

[00:09:14] Rico: Okay.

[00:09:15] Brian: Acme Widget Company has a, lay down yard in the back of their property, a warehouse. They want the shipping doors to be under surveillance and they just tell Gwinnett, Hey, you can tie into our camera anytime you want. Those are the integrated ones.

[00:09:29] Rico: Okay, gotcha. Alright, cool. So check that out. If you’re looking to help out and you’re using a ring or Alexa or whatever you are using. Next on my list is, so the parking deck at Town Center, Peachtree Corners Town Center, portions of it will be closed, I think beginning February 1st. If I have that right. For repairs. Give us a little background on that.

[00:09:50] Brian: Much like any new construction, whether it’s your home or elsewhere, when you build something brand new, you need to give it time for everything to settle. And the kinks to get worked out. You’ve flexed all the parts and you’ve been to all the corners and everything. And so we’re kind of finishing up the parking decks, had some time for, everything to settle. And there’s some areas that we think there needs to be a little bit of repair work. Now that it’s kind of at the point where it’s going to stop moving and settling like it does when it was brand new. And so unfortunately most of this work has got to be on the outside edge along where most people will know where the EV chargers are. Because just on the outside of that is the retaining wall for the creek. And so, that’s the most sensitive part of the parking deck. And so that’s why we’re, kind of finishing punch list items from the parking deck. And it requires equipment to get and close off that ramp. So there will be a period of time in which those electric vehicle charging stations will not be accessible because equipment will be in there. So, it looks like it actually won’t start until the middle of February.

[00:11:09] Rico: Okay.

[00:11:09] Brian: So we’ll keep it open until the bitter end, but when it does, they have too much equipment. On the backside there’s nowhere outside of the parking deck in that location for them to stage. Because it just falls right off.

[00:11:21] Rico: So actually just a portion of the deck, I said the whole deck, but just a portion. So the portion with the EV charges all the way up that part. And the entrance to that EV charging area, which is on the CineBistro side is going to be closed. And the entry from Lazy Dog Restaurant’s side is going to be closed.

[00:11:40] Brian: That’s right. Both sides of that ramp all the way down. Because again, the work being done on that side of the parking deck, there’s nowhere on the outside of the parking deck for the equipment to stage because it’s a drop off to the creek. So we’ve got to do it on the inside, and so it closes it.

[00:11:58] Rico: But the rest of the deck is opened.

[00:12:00] Brian: Yeah, the rest of the deck is open and, you know, we hate it. Trust me. I mean, the EV charging stations are, just the Tesla ones are the most heavily used Tesla Chargers in the US off interstate system.

[00:12:19] Rico: Really?

[00:12:20] Brian: So, yes.

[00:12:21] Rico: Told a little trivial pursuit of EV charging facts.

[00:12:28] Brian: Right. I mean, it gets a lot of use and there’s places off the interstate system where they obviously more. But you know, that’s business right now, so pretty cool. But, unfortunately we’ve got to do this work at some point. So now’s the time to rip the bandaid off. It was right after the holidays, which we didn’t want to effect. So we’re going to get on it and we’ll get it fixed and get it back open.

[00:12:52] Rico: Alright. Talking about repairs, continuing down that road, if you excuse the pun, Medlock Bridge Road, 141, Peachtree Parkway. That intersection, that area has been a burden to the city, to its residents. It’s taken three years to get to where we are. But finally it seems like everything’s finally getting together and gelling between, I guess, the state, the county, and everyone involved, utilities. So tell us, what progress, where we are with that.

[00:13:19] Brian: And, you know, as a reminder, this intersection project is a joint project between us and the county and Medlock and Bush Road, our county maintained Road. So the county’s actually paying like 80% of this project. So, you know when you pay 80% into something, you have the most say in what’s going on. And so there have certainly been some decisions that were made after the project started that have prolonged it, including like burying certain lines for the new traffic signal that originally were not slated to be buried. They were going to go above ground, but they made a decision, no, let’s go ahead and bury it. And while then that means more material and, orders take longer and just, things like that, push it out. Of course, COVID had something to do with it, supply chain. But at the end of the day, that’s probably a decision, if we had been asked, we would’ve probably said, yes, go ahead and do it. Because that means that power to this intersection is going to be less at risk of a power outage if we have a storm, if all the lines are buried. And so that was the decision making calculus here is, look, while we’re doing this project, let’s just bury all the power and fiber so that this intersection should, if electricity goes out, it should continue to work because the lines are buried. So anyway, we are getting close to having the final parts we need for this traffic signal cabinet to run the software. And that was a chip, a micro chip that we’ve been waiting on. And if anybody’s read those kind of things, you know, the automotive industry has got massive car lots full of cars that are missing one chip because there’s a shortage. Well, this traffic cabinet, which runs the cycle of signals, we’re waiting on that. We’re waiting on a, when we bury the utilities, there’s got to be an underground utility cabinet there. So we should be getting close to being able to move the last traffic pole that was in there. And at a minimum get all the resurfacing finished. So all of that starts. Although, to remind everybody project, even though it’s been a long time, it actually hasn’t closed any lanes. All of this is about adding lanes. So you know, traffic, if we never did this project, traffic would still the way it is right now.

[00:16:08] Rico: Yeah, I mean, I drive that almost every day. And quite frankly, I know people are complaining about it, but there’s no difference, I think. Once it’s complete, it’s really no difference from what’s going on now to some degree. Right?

[00:16:20] Brian: Correct. But the main one would be the pedestrian crossing coming off of Bush Road, going to the Town Center will be better. That is one. So people who walk to the Town Center along Bush Road, that will be improved. It’s probably the biggest improvement. You know, you’ve got a deceleration lane we added for those coming off of Medlock, turning onto Bush Road. Coming from say the Spalding Drive area.

[00:16:45] Rico: Right, right.

[00:16:46] Brian: But the main, will probably, improvement would be the slip lane for those coming up Bush Road towards the Town Center, and they want to head north up Peachtree Parkway. They won’t even have to worry about the traffic signal because they will have a dedicated, call it on-ramp, a slip lane that’ll pull them right around to the current on-ramp that you use to get on there. So that’ll flush traffic wanting to head north on 141 in a way that they don’t even have to wait for the signal, they just have automatic slip lane going. So that’s probably gonna be the biggest advantage. But we’re hoping that, February is when we’re scheduled to get the chip, so we’re hoping that that’ll be it.

[00:17:26] Rico: So, we’re close. A couple of months, I guess, to be fair. Cool. So this again, this is another part of where a lot of us drive, and that’s coming off Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, where that split is, of 141 and Peachtree Parkway. Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, and Peachtree Parkway. So there’s been a lot of clearance of trees there and stuff. And variety of reasons, different reasons have come up. None of which apparently is true at this point. Because I thought it was being cleared because of the new monument that’s eventually would get put there. Someone else had thought the state had come in because there were a lot of, I don’t know how many homeless tents in the back of that area. But apparently it wasn’t because of that. Apparently it’s because line of sight. Well, tell us why is that? Why are trees being cut away along the state route?

[00:18:14] Brian: So, and in fact, all up and down 141, there was tree clearing recently by actually two entities, Georgia DOT, and Georgia Power. Two separate initiatives that we did the best we could to coordinate them to kind of do it at the same time so that you didn’t have lane closures and all that stuff at different times. Their purpose of both of them coming in was to remove trees that they deemed to be posing a more significant risk to, in Georgia Power’s case, the power lines along the road. In Georgia DOT’s case falling into the road during a storm event and posing a hazard to the public or sight lines. So, you know, as trees fill out and branches, sometimes they can start getting into sight lines. And so when Georgia Power and DOT come in, and mind you, we have nothing to do with this, this is the state’s road. State Route 141. And Georgia Power certainly has a utility easement that gives them the right to remove trees that they deem, or branches of trees that they deem to pose a risk. But when either of these entities come in and do this, and not just in Peachtree Corners, they will overdo it. And by overdo it, I mean, they don’t have the resources to come in on a consistent basis. They want to come in and do this and not have to come back for, 10, 15, 20 years.

[00:19:47] Rico: Right, right.

[00:19:48] Brian: So they overdo it. And so they will overcut, they will over clear, they will really kind of scalp the area because they’re like, we don’t want to come back. And in the case of the split, GDOT, and if anybody who’s driven, you know, up PIB at the split and they’ve stayed left to go to Peachtree, you know, go on Peachtree Parkway.

[00:20:12] Rico: Sure.

[00:20:12] Brian: And the light at Holcomb Bridge is red, and the cars would back up. You could come smoking around that corner if traffic was good, there wasn’t slow traffic. You’d come around the corner and you could be doing, 55, 60, or more depending on the driver. And then all of a sudden you come around and there’s cars stopped. And GDOT was like, you know what, we are going to remove any of that sight line risk. We were surprised at how much they removed as well. I don’t feel like all of that was necessary. But it’s almost like, well, it’s almost like I went into a barber with a full head of hair and I said, just take a little off of the top and this is what I came out looking. It’s just like, the first time I saw him do it, I’m like, whoa, easy there, boss. I mean, you know. Their mindset is we don’t want to come back and this thing, trees and plant material grows. And so we had nothing to do with that. We were surprised. There is, probably late spring, we do have a project that will enhance the Paul Duke Gateway sign.

[00:21:21] Rico: Okay.

[00:21:21] Brian: But we haven’t started on it yet, and that would’ve not affected any of the trees. I mean, all of that wouldn’t have removed any of the trees. So I, for those who knew that pop-up project’s happening, I can see why somebody would think it was the city. But I promise you, we’ve been guilty about cutting trees or too many trees, but that was surprising. But again, GDOT’s mandate is to safely move cars from point A to point B and site line is the consideration. So between them and Georgia Power, that’s why all that work was done. And so kind of finishing up, there was a homeless camp down at the bottom. Not a big one, I would say there might have been, looked like, four or five individual. We’re not even sure if they were always there. Could have been, you know, they were coming back. But when they removed those trees, there was a period of time before they cleaned it out that you could see the tents and little areas. So, yeah, it’s almost done. They’ll put in mulch where they removed all the trees. And sometime in the spring, we’ll upgrade that sign and that’ll be the way that intersection looks.

[00:22:29] Rico: Yeah. If anyone wants to see what that looks like, they should go to LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com and just search State of the City 2022. The video is there. In fact, they show in the video, it’s shown what the signs will look like. So check that out. Cool. So I guess the next, probably the last thing here, is I just want to get back onto a little bit about what’s going on with the City Marshal. The mechanics now, of a little bit of what the process might be over several months and stuff. So, because the City Marshal system is coming in, right? There’s no doubt at this point that will not come in. So what is the process and give us some timeline idea of where you think this is going, Brian?

[00:23:09] Brian: Yeah, so, the program itself of having City Marshals here is going to happen. Based on our conversations with other communities who have this program outside of the city, or excuse me, outside of Gwinnett or even in Gwinnett. Like in the case of Sugar Hill, they have the very program we are looking to create, and because they use Gwinnett PD for their law enforcement or the enforcement of state law. And they created a City Marshall program so that they have post certified officers to enforce city code. And why that’s unique is, most cities have code enforcement officers, they’re called. But unless they’re post certified, they can’t enforce certain things because they don’t have the right to, take away somebody’s civil liberties if you will. Like arrest somebody, or detain somebody, or things like that. And so they can only go so far. And if there’s a, you know, and in our case, there’s some gaps between what Gwinnett PD can do. Because the legal department at Gwinnett County has taken the stance that they cannot enforce city code inside our city. And they’re post certified, so that would’ve helped. And our code enforcement can enforce city code, but they’re not post certified. So there’s a little bit of a gap that needs to be filled. And so, we’re going to fill it with City Marshals, which are going to fill that gap. We’re still going to be using Gwinnett PD to enforce state law. But we’ll be able to have some resources at our disposal to target specific things that are important to us at the time. Like here, just in Peachtree Corners. And sometimes that isn’t quite as important to the leadership of Gwinnett Police Department, headquartered up in Lawrenceville, providing police protection for a very, you know, second most populist county in the state. So sometimes we need the ability to take assets that don’t have limitations and direct them at things that are important to Peachtree Corners. So that’s why we’re doing it. What we’re doing now is if you imagine, we’re going to have these three new positions. We’ve got to start building, you know that we call it table of organization and equipment. Alright, who’s answering to whom? How much are we going to pay? What are their uniforms going to look like? What type of vehicles are we going to have them drive? What type of weapon are they going to carry? Are they going to have body cams? If so, what kind? I mean, you can start getting into a lot of things that you have to, and that’s what we’re doing right now is building the framework. And we have a pretty good estimate on cost, which was presented to council when I presented them my proposal on creating this program. And I did it just to ensure that we can do this without there having to be any property tax. We can absorb this within our budget, which is important for everybody to know.

[00:26:23] Rico: So this is within the existing budget.

[00:26:25] Brian: Correct, yeah. So there’s not like some new fee coming or property tax that’s going to already start to be levied. No, we can do it within our existing budget. We do have to get the exact numbers. Some of this stuff has long lead times. But all of this is being put into the budget. What would be the FY 24 budget, which starts July 1st, 2023, this year. And so really this program will go live July One. At that point, and maybe I would’ve already started advertising the positions by then. You know, it could be August, September before we get some people in. And at that point they’re in here, and then we have a few more things that you’ve got to do. We’ve got certain policies and procedures we’re going to need to write. Creating their left and right limit because they’re going to come in and they’re going to have all of the very same authority that Gwinnett Police Officers have. They’ll have that. Where they’re gonna be limited is by our policy. We’re going to say. Yeah, yeah, you can do all that, but you’re not going to. This is where you’re going to concentrate on. You’re going to fill gaps and focus on areas that are really important to us in Peachtree Corners that are very unique to Peachtree Corners. And so that, you know, I’ve already started writing some of those. So there’s a lot of work to this, even though it’s just City Marshals and it’s just going be three people.

[00:27:55] Rico: Oh, but you have to, yeah. I mean, we’re fortunate I guess, because like you said before, Sugar Hill, City of Sugar Hill has a similar thing. Are you actually looking at that to see how they interact with Gwinnett Police? And not just how they interact, but policies, technology to use to interact. We’re not taking 911 calls, obviously. You know, how do you interact when you detain someone and then Gwinnett Police has to come and actually do the arrest, to collar, if you will. And then all, like you said, the details of body cameras. Well, it’s not just we need body cameras, but which brand, what type, how do you?

[00:28:32] Brian: Correct. How long are we going to score the video? I mean, things like that. And so, yeah. I mean, you know, Sugar Hill has been helpful in that. Their City Manager, Paul Radford and I know he is a really good guy, really smart manager. Their program has been run pretty well, so we’ve been talking to them. That’s always helpful. There are other City Marshal programs in the US and we borrow from those programs and we find good examples and templates for us to make our own. And so that’s being done right now. But yeah, I mean, it is going to happen. It’ll be in the FY 24 budget. Technically speaking, July One, it’ll all be funded fully and I’ll start writing checks against that budget. But you know, by the end of this year, we will have three Marshals and a program and policies guiding their actions to make Peachtree Corners the safest community we can possibly make it.

[00:29:29] Rico: And one last thing was this, I forget now. We did discuss this on our last podcast, but was this a 24/7 type of deal as well, or is this?

[00:29:39] Brian: No, I mean, again, you start getting a 24/7 and you would need more people than that. No.

[00:29:45] Rico: Okay. That’s what I thought.

[00:29:46] Brian: They would, generally speaking, they would probably be your normal business hours.

[00:29:52] Rico: Okay.

[00:29:52] Brian: But much like code does right now, there will be a consistent, call it exception to that. Where like maybe once a week, one of the officers is not going to come in until 6:00 PM and they’re going to work till, 2:00 AM. Just looking, you know, maybe targeting certain things. And then if we have something that really becomes a problem, I may end up having all three of them focus on something on odd hours or over a weekend. Things like that. But normally they’re not going to need to be 24/7. Again, 911 and the enforcement of state law, which are all felonious crime, that’s still going to be Gwinnett PD. They’re still 24/7.

[00:30:36] Rico: Will they provide any security or any policing, if you will, during big events like, Friday Night Concerts or the Peachtree Corners Festival or things like that?

[00:30:45] Brian: Oh, sure. And I don’t foresee us stopping our off-duty police program either. Where we pay off duty Gwinnett officers to work the Town Center. From like, was it like 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM, I think, is what we have an off-duty shift. I don’t foresee us stopping that because again, I want that to be a safe place and we’ve certainly grown a lot of toys and stuff out at the Town Green to encourage people to go there. So the more people who go there, the more you know you need. So this is an ad. There are volunteer, call it reserve programs, where you can end up having other people help with certain things as part of volunteers from the community. So it opens up some doors for us that we didn’t have without exercising the city’s authority to create these type of things. So again, mayor and council rightly so, agree with me that really making our community safe is about the most important responsibility we have. Because it will affect all other things. There’s a lot of other important things too. But, for us to be a great community to live, work, learn, and play, it’s got to be safe.

[00:32:02] Rico: I totally agree, totally agree. I’m glad the city’s moving that way. Because if you don’t feel safe, you don’t feel like going out. We covered my list. And I’m glad that we were able to get through and talk about some of these things and touchpoints on a bunch of these things. I know over the next few months there’ll be more things coming and happening. I know that there were a couple of boards appointed or reappointed this past week or so. It’s going to be stuff coming out from the redevelopment authority and some of the other government entities. So there’s going to be a lot to talk about. Not as much development maybe at this point.

[00:32:37] Brian: Well, one other thing, the one thing I do want to add at the end of this. Our comprehensive plan, all cities in Georgia have to have what’s called a comprehensive plan. And it is a master plan to guide how the community is going to tackle your general components of being a city. Public safety, transportation, housing, things like that. Well, every 10 years you have to write a complete new one. And then, after that, five years later you have to update it. So every 10 years you have to rewrite it. And we’re in the 10 year. It expired, our first one expired last year, so we’re rewriting ours. There’s going to be a series of public meetings, community meetings that we’re going to be holding over the next four-ish months. And which we’re inviting the community to come out and provide us some input on what they want to see the direction of this city in some of those areas I just mentioned. Rico, you’ll be getting something to help with this, but on February 23, it’s gonna be our first full on community meeting. And its purpose, its main topic is housing.

[00:33:52] Rico: Okay.

[00:33:53] Brian: And so, you’ve been covering the city for a long time. If you could pick one thing, one matter that over the 10 years we’ve existed, tends to get the most criticism on an ongoing basis, it tends to be housing. Specifically, rental.

[00:34:13] Rico: For sure, for sure.

[00:34:14] Brian: And so for those who want to have a say, to learn, to help guide how the city is going to handle that stuff. Going into the next five to ten years. That meeting is going to be a very important meeting to show up. We will have a lot of experts there, including ones who represent like developers, and developers to give us a perspective on what they look for. We can talk about legal constraints the city has on zoning decisions and all that kind of stuff. So very important. All these are important. But we tended to get, from an ongoing, consistent basis, criticism of decisions the city’s made, tended to be mostly around housing decisions, zoning decisions around, you know, in that housing component. So if you are one of those people who don’t think that it was going the right direction, that is the meeting to show up.

[00:35:10] Rico: So the housing, if I remember correctly from my planning commission days, the comprehensive development plan actually includes a map that will show areas where we might restrict certain types of housing, restrict businesses.

[00:35:24] Brian: That’s correct. You’re referring to what’s called a future land use map. And that’s right Rico. It is a map in which it is, in somewhat broad brush, it doesn’t go parcel by parcel, but it basically paints a broad brush of character areas. And it’ll be like, we want this corridor to be a commercial corridor. We want this area over here to be multi-family to serve this. We want this one to be single family. That map is the map that both planning commission and city council refer to when people come in for zoning decisions. And if they’re requesting a rezoning and they look at the future land use map and it is not rezoning in the direction that future land use map says it should go, generally speaking, that’s when Planning Commission and City Council are like, nope.

[00:36:15] Rico: I think that map also can be looked at two ways because it’s a map that we all know over a period of time, certainly over a decade. The character changes even, because exceptions are made and once one exception is made, then other exceptions will have to follow, no doubt. Right? So it’s both how some people look almost like at the Bible in some ways, if you will. It’s should be strict, strictly followed. And others believe it should be aspirational because over a decade of time that plan changes a bit, you have aspirations of Technology Park should stay just the way it is where there’s some housing now because it’s already been adjusted and the rest of it should remain that way.

[00:36:58] Brian: Spoken by somebody who has been involved in land use decisions and planning commissioner. But you are right, Rico, a hundred percent. It is very much like the Bible or even like the Constitution. You have people who feel like it should be strictly adhered to and others are like, look, it provides guiding principles that can be. And you’re a hundred percent right. But regardless how you feel about it, it has to be produced. It is referenced all the time. And if you want to either know what it’s going to look like or be able to provide input and potentially influence the way it looks. That’s the meeting, you know, that’s the comp plan meeting that you’re going to want to go to. Follow on ones will be around, like transportation and again, public safety, and things like that. But this housing one, February 23, it’s going to be a big one. So, more information and invitation to follow. But while you and I are on here, we should talk before that in February because our council meeting is before that.

[00:38:07] Rico: That’s right. Yeah, okay.

[00:38:09] Brian: Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. So, thanks for your time.

[00:38:12] Rico: Thank you Brian. I appreciate it. Thank you everyone for listening in. Certainly go to LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com you’ll always find more information. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. February 23rd, Thursday, that’s a Thursday, is that first meeting on housing, on the comprehensive development plan, the input of that. So check that out and we’ll have more information as we get to it. Thank you again for listening in. Thanks Brian for being with me.

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City Government

City’s First Employee Steps Down

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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]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where and when to vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View a sample ballot at My Voter Page.

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

Referenda

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

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

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

Judicial races

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

School board

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

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

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

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

Key Republican primary races

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

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

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

Key Democratic primary races

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

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

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

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City Government

Crime and Safety Concerns Dominate Town Hall Meeting

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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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