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.