CORRECTION: Statements made by Linda Persing have been updated and corrected in this version of the article. Read her comments below the article for more on the issues and her interests and concerns.
The mud pit of shame may finally become history, as Alpharetta City Council approved a master plan amendment to allow Avalon to be built.
The North American Properties' development may not open on its anticipated date in October 2013, said the company's managing partner, Mark Toro. But now it's likely that it will be built.
North American Properties announced it had come to an agreement with another developer for its rights to apartments, in exchange for the use of commercial space in the Avalon project. That cleared the way for the project's approval, as that was the main sticking point for city residents.
Toro said he believes there are 220 to 230 apartment units zoned but not built in Alpharetta.
He wouldn't speak about the agreement with the other developer, saying negotiations continue and that it wasn't appropriate to talk about an agreement between two private parties at this time.
Local resident Kyle Tripp said the city's 85/15 ratio of non-rental residential to apartments was "largely pie in the sky, wishful thinking," and it shouldn't be allowed to stop this project.
Commercial real estate broker Brian Patton said the 2030 Comprehensive Land Use Plan says more than just the 85/15 ratio. It says mixed-use developments can have up to one third of their housing as apartments. And it calls for a variety of housing.
Linda Persing of Alpharetta said the middle of an active application was not the time to be debating the 85/15 goal of Comprehensive Land Use Plan. She was not opposed to apartments, but was concerned that approval without the transfer of development rights for apartments would set a precedent and allow developers who have been denied apartments, or come forward with new applications, to make demands of City Council.
Persing, like most opponents of allowing apartments without the transfer condition, was happy to hear the announcement of North American Properties getting the vested rights to another Alpharetta property's apartment units.
(For more from Linda Persing, read her comments below.)
Another bone of contention was the condition recommended by Community Development staff and the Planning Commission that would have restricted Avalon to signing a maximum of 15 percent of leases with retailers in the North Point Mall corridor for three years.
North American Properties attorney, Don Rolader, called this unconstitutional and unfair. He said it didn't offer equal protection under the law. If North Point Mall was getting protection from Avalon, then Avalon needed the same protection from North Point Mall, restricting it from leases with the 35 retailers it is negotiating with for space.
Councilman D.C. Aiken had the strongest words against that condition, calling it the "anti-capitalism " clause.
"I'm not only a banker but also an economist. I have to agree with Mr. Toro that that clause, I'm not sure whether it's constitutional or not. I'm not a lawyer. But I am a banker and I will tell you it's un-financeable," he said.
"I'm a big believer in our capitalistic economy. It makes things happen. Competition is a good thing. Competition makes things better," Aiken said.
The large expanse of surface parking in the plan was a concern, especially if it could be seen from the street. But Avalon's landscape architect assured City Council that the Avalon site would be more than 10 feet above the grade of Old Milton Parkway, creating site lines that would make it impossible to see more than the first row of cars. A four-foot hedge would block the view of even those cars, he said.
Public space was another concern for residents, several of whom agreed with the Planning Commission's recommendations on what could be considered public space. North American Properties promised more than nine acres of public space, including an express bike trail along the tree buffer beside GA 400, several "pocket" parks and public plazas.