Alpharetta Resident Doesn't See Guarantees from Avalon

In her letter to City Council, Elizabeth Hooper says she doesn't see any guarantees that the developer will commit to what's needed for the "Wow" factor.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Hooper sent this letter to Alpharetta City Council, and prepared her own comparison of what she knows about Avalon to Americana at Brand and Santana Row.

Dear City Council Members,

I am urging you to heed the recommendations made by the Planning Commission at their April 5th meeting regarding the Avalon proposal. I am specifically referring to the requirement that NAP purchase developer rental zoning rights to cover their planned 250 rental units. My concerns are as follows;

1) The Planning Commissioners feel that it is their responsibility to uphold the 2030 Comprehensive Plan goal of an 85% “for sale” to 15% “for rent” housing ratio. The majority of citizens in our city want to maintain the lower density housing environment of Alpharetta – we are a suburban, vs. an urban city. The ratio, which is presently more like 76/24, will be significantly impacted by changing the rules for this specific development. How can the city refuse to consider future proposals for rental property expansion if this precedent is set?  Community Development did not approve the rental portion of this proposal.

2) Mr. Toro of NAP is promising the residents of Alpharetta that Avalon will be like no other mixed use development in the Southeast. It will be an “experiential” retail environment modeled after two highly successful developments in California; Santana Row in San Jose and Americana at Brand in Glendale. Both of these developments have rental residences above the retail space. Unfortunately a “luxury rental residence” still falls under the category of “for rent” vs. “owner occupied.” It is also unclear to me after researching these two specific developments, looking at the Avalon site plan, and the profile of Alpharetta, how the “WOW” factor is going to be achieved. Rental premiums will not be attainable if the property is not exceptional.  My analysis is attached. If NAP does not end up building another Santana Row (which will be NAP’s call down the road) and cannot justify “luxury” rental prices, the city will have been talked into waiving the restrictions on the number of rental units for nothing. Mr. Toro’s rationale for allowing the rental units (they are not your typical apartments) is not guaranteed.

3) NAP knew what the city zoning restrictions and guidelines were when they bought the property. It appears that a gauntlet of sorts has been thrown down over allowing the rental units. Is NAP going to sell the property if they are forced to buy rental rights? What exactly is the threat and why threaten at all? The developer of Americana at Brand, Rick Caruso, spent FOUR YEARS working with the community of Glendale to assuage their fears that the development would increase traffic and cannibalize a successful mall nearby. He had already developed the highly successful Grove at Farmers Market but felt that it was important to work with the local community. When I spoke to a leasing agent for the residences there, she went out of her way to tell me how important community was to Rick Caruso. If Mr. Toro really wants to emulate this development, it would be helpful for starters to respect our comprehensive plan, listen to our Planning Commissioners and slow down.

I am very concerned that the city has not been presented with a plan that will emulate Santana Row or Americana at Brand. There has to be a creative way to purchase available rental rights IF NAP can demonstrate that they are committed to building a project that is unique and of very high quality. Any compromise based on the limited information available is shortsighted.

Respectfully submitted,

Elizabeth Hooper


Mark Toro April 16, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Ms. Hooper, Thank you for your insightful comments and your comprehensive analysis of Avalon. We appreciate the time and attention you've dedicated to our proposal and I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss your concerns. Please feel free to call my direct line at 404.965.9060 at your convenience. Thanks, again. Mark C. Toro Managing Partner North American Properties
Linda Persing April 16, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Kudos to you Elizabeth and thank you for the insightful information.
Kevin Peterson April 16, 2012 at 03:58 PM
I am still dumbfounded as to why no one has released a list of all the properties in Alpharetta with apartment development rights that have never been exercised. Who are these people/companies, how long have they been holding these rights, and what are their plans for doing something with them? Could it be that many of these unused development rights were handed out in the distant past with no real plans to ever build, only to sit on them until the day that something like Avalon came along? And could it also be that many of these have friends within Alpharetta city government who are doing all they can to ensure that they get the biggest payout possible? I mean, letting the ratio get to 76/24 only to later come back and make it 85/15 would sure increase the potential value of anyone holding onto the development rights, would it not? Let's get that list out in the open, identify those properties with no real plan, and outright revoke their lackluster development claim. They still have the land and can develop whatever else they like. NAP can then have the 250 units with no more out of pocket expense that could otherwise demolish their balance sheet.
Kevin Peterson April 16, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Curious as to why you were not contacted before, especially when the leasing agent for another model property was contacted. *shakes head*
Mike Kennedy April 16, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Kevin, I can tackle that one for you. There is ONE privately-held parcel in Alpharetta with unused apartment development rights. And, no, that landowner does not have friends in Alpharetta government who is doing all they can to ensure they get the biggest payout possible. Hope that addresses your concerns.
Kevin Peterson April 16, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Thanks, Mike! Now we are getting somewhere. How long have they held the rights? How many units are/were they looking to build and on what timeline? What would be the ratio after any dev rights are transferred (as in, could they even afford to give up 250 units without ruining their entire business model)? Who is the developer? Where is the property located? Wouldn't this mean that this is the absolute end of the road for any dev rights transfer, with the only option going forward to raze older apartment homes in order for to make way for something new? What would be the estimated/appraised fair market value of the transfer?
Mike Kennedy April 16, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Don't know the answer to any of those questions, but I do know that the one parcel has been zoned for apartments for quite some time. I just wanted to clear up the perception among some that there are all these development rights out there just waiting for a buyer to come along. They don't exist. I also take great exception to the comment that the city would somehow game the system on behalf of a property owner.
Kevin Peterson April 16, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Thanks again, Mike. Hopefully someone in the know will open up and share. Until the details emerge, I guess I'll just keep speculating as to why none of this has been offered up already, despite many stories and comments being posted here over the past week that I'm pretty sure everyone involved has been following. Bottom line: I'm just not seeing the level of transparency I would have expected to see by now. Please note I just used the hypothetical scenario above to make a point and to draw a more meaningful discussion out into the open (it worked...this time). I do have others though...wanna hear 'em? :-) Respectfully, Kevin
Mike Kennedy April 16, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Kevin, I think it's because there is no list, per se. It's up to NAP to go find the property or properties. It's a private sector transaction. They have the same zoning map that's available to everyone else. Would absolutely love to hear any other thoughts you might have. Just shoot me an email. mkennedy@alpharetta.ga.us
No Name April 19, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Thank you Elizabeth for your excellent research.
Mark Toro April 20, 2012 at 10:59 PM
Elizabeth, It was a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you for sharing your concerns about Avalon. I look forward to meeting you Monday night. Enjoy your weekend! Mark
Jim Leckrone April 22, 2012 at 11:25 PM
I agree with Elizabeth's points in her letter to the Council. In addition, I'd make the following points as well: 1. Condition restricting NAP from poaching North Point retail tenants. This is a legitimate concern. Let me point out that there is an interesting analogy with the Caruso's Americana at Brand that NAP holds up as a good comparison. Caruso has "poached" Nordstrom from the Glendale Galleria, which is 2 blocks from the Americana, and is owned by one of the major mall owners in the U.S., General Growth. This is a devastating loss for the Glendale Galleria and I'm sure that the Glendale city council regrets not being able to have restricted Caruso from doing things like this. He also earlier poached several other smaller, important retailers from the Galleria. 2. Condition requiring NAP to buy development rights for the apartments a. I don't know whether the apartments are a good idea or not, but NAP has no experience in Georgia in building, owning or operating apartments. Moreover, NAP's history of building big box, power shopping centers and then selling them soon after they are stabilized ought to make Alpharetta pause and think about the operation of these apartments and the retail under them. b. It's interesting that NAP points to Santana Row and Americana as examples for Avalon to emulate. Neither is remotely achievable in Alpharetta. Both properties have much denser population in the trade area to support the local retail.
No Name April 23, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Santana Row apartment reviews http://www.yelp.com/biz/santana-row-living-san-jose
No Name April 23, 2012 at 12:47 AM
More reviews http://www.apartmentratings.com/rate/CA-San-Jose-Santana-Row.html
Mark Toro April 23, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Thank you for your interest in Avalon, and in North American Properties, Jim. I would welcome the opportunity to address your concerns, directly. Please feel free to call me at 404.965.9060.
Jim Leckrone April 23, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Thank you for your offer, Mr. Toro, but I'm at work. If I can go tonight, I'll try to introduce myself to you.
Mark Toro April 23, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Thank you. I look forward to meeting you.


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