Alpharetta City Council opened up its City Center update to public comment on Monday, Aug. 6, and plenty of local residents had things to say about what trees will be saved in the 22-acre downtown site.
Everyone was in favor of revitalizing downtown with a City Center, but what shape it will take still concerns some residents, with other ready to move forward.
Jean Aldy of Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart, the landscape architectural firm for the project, started the presentation on the tree plan. She said one more specimen tree will be saved with the approved City Center site plan, compared to the concept plan developed in 2011 prior to the $29 million bond referendum vote.
Aldy said while there are 104 trees considered to be specimen trees solely by their size, 23 of them are expecte to be removed because they are in poor health or in a hazardous condition. That leaves 81 trees.
The conceptual plan from 2011 saved 37 specimen trees, while the approved plan saves 38.
"We don't know what's coming down yet," Aldy said.
She said the city will try to save 11 more trees, including at least six crepe myrtles that are specimen trees.
Aldy confirmed for Councilman Chris Owens that a water oak on Academy Street next to the PAL gym is in plans to be saved even though it isn't counted as a specimen tree because it is in poor health.
Not all residents were happy with that number. Some said they felt the city wasn't following the plan that voters approved in the bond referendum. But that was part of the misunderstanding in the first place.
City Administrator Bob Regus said the 2011 concept plan was developed so that City Council knew if its residents supported development of a City Center.
City Attorney Sam Thomas confirmed City Councilman Chris Owens' statement that the bond referendum ballot measure only said the $29 million bond referendum would be used for infrastructure, a new City Hall, development of a park and a parking garage.
When Mayor David Belle Isle opened the meeting up for public comments, Paula Milliard was one of the city residents who thought the plan was getting too dense.
"Really my concern with new plan is that we have so much more retail and mixed use now than we had in the other plan," she said.
Councilman D.C. Aiken said the city doesn't know how much commercial space will be needed. "Is that 125,000 square feet? 110,000? 75,000? 50,000? I don't know. "But what I do know is that our staff is being instructed to tell us what is appropriate."
Most of the update was centered around the trees, and resident variously urged council to save more trees, save as many trees as possible – or just accused the city of being less "green".
Local resident Julie Hogg was one of those who though she had seen a change in the city.
"In three short years I've seen the attitude toward sustainability and green things in Alpharetta really change," she said.
When pressed by Councilman Aiken on what specifically caused her to make that claim, she referred to the planned removal of specimen trees for a new City Hall and a parking garage.
"Really all this plan is doing is expanding the heat island," Hogg said.
Councilman Michael Cross later responded, saying the city was removing one parking lot and replacing it with a town green, an example of removing a heat island.
David Cox told council that building City Hall where it's now planned will require removing three large water oak trees. He also said work already done at the Brooke Street Park site has damaged trees, with heavy equipment running over critical root zones. He asked for the city arborist to inspect all of the trees on the City Center site.
Brian Patton said didn't understand why people were saying the city was rushing into the plans. Patton said that in 2003 when he was on the Community Development staff, he developed the first concept plan for a City Center. Since that time three City Center plans have been developed, with two public-private partnerships being approved.
Downtown property owner Art Trotter was in favor of the plan, and asked the city to keep moving forward.
Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle promised city residents answers to questions about the City Center project he didn't have at hand during Monday night's City Council meeting.