Apartments Remain a Problem with Avalon for Alpharetta

Alpharetta Planning Commissioners don't want to set a precedent by approving for rent units on the property along Old Milton Parkway, but want to find a way to OK the project.

Alpharetta Planning Commissioners may want to move the Avalon project forward, but they don't want to open the doors to other projects getting apartments approved.

The recommending board held a special workshop meeting Monday, March 26 to discuss the project. It had held a public hearing on March 1, but the members tabled it to give themselves more time to study the proposal.

In its master plan amendment request, North American Properties asked for 382 residential units, much less than the 782 condos Thomas Enterprises got approved for Prospect Park in the master plan. But Avalon includes 250 rental units in its plans.

The Planning Commissioners spent almost two hours discussing problems they had with the developer's application, including traffic, landscaping and public space, but the rental units were perhaps the biggest concern.

"I think the citizens of Alpharetta have spoken very clearly that they don't want apartments," said Planning Commissioner Nancy Bristol.

Alpharetta has tried to follow a policy for several years–now part of its 2030 Comprehensive Land Use Plan–that calls for 85 percent for sale residential to 15 percent for rent. However, annexations at the time Milton and Johns Creek were formed helped push the actual percentage to a 76/24 ratio even before the plan was adopted.

Bristol said the only way she could see to avoid violating that policy would be for the developer to acquire development rights to apartments already approved for other properties that haven't been built.

Planning Commissioner Karen Richard said time was spent developing the land use plan with citizen input, and it should be followed.

Planning Commission Chairman Mike Tomy saw the apartment issue as two separate points to consider. One was how to define the zoning change so it may not set a precedent.

The other issue was how many for rent units are appropriate for the site. He agreed that Alpharetta already being at a 76/24 ratio is a significant issue.

"Although we do have for rents available that have not built out yet," Tomy said.

But regardless of what the Planning Commission does, he saw it as being used as a precedent by other developers, which is "something City Council and this board will have to deal with."

"This is the elephant in the room, we have to deal with it," said Planning Commissioner Francis Kung'u.

Kyle Caswell said he likes the concept of the for sale/for rent ratio.

"But I think we artificially strangle and prohibit, potentially, some obviously great development in the right place at the right time," the planning commissioner said.

Transferring development rights from other undeveloped, but approved, properties with apartments could give them the ability to support the original objective of zoning on the property, Richard said.

"At the same point in time, we still have a land use plan that has integrity," she said, "and we are not completely disregarding the 85/15."

Community Development Director Diana Wheeler said the city could create an exception that would prevent other developments from claiming precedent by using standards no other property could meet, such as a half million square feet of retail required. But she said that would need to be done before this development was approved to taken advantage of the idea.

The Planning Commission next has Avalon on its agenda at its next regular meeting on Thursday, April 5, at which time it could vote to make a recommendation to City Council.




tg March 28, 2012 at 12:00 PM
I did have some concerns about the sheer amount of surface parking presented in the plan. I'm not sure if that's something that was altered. As far as I know there hasn't been any altered plans posted?
Mark Toro March 28, 2012 at 12:00 PM
I am sorry that you are very annoyed, Tom. And I apologize that you are unaware, notwithstanding our numerous public meetings, online forums and and information sessions. The facts are these: 1. The initial draft recommendation from City Staff included 70 conditions. 2. We took exception to 37 of the 70 conditions. 3. We worked closely with City Staff to reach agreement, before it was presented to the Planning Commission, resulting in numerous changes. 4. The final draft of the recommendation from City Staff to the Planning Commission included 51 conditions. 5. We take exception to 6 of the 51 conditions, mostly in how they are worded. That is what I call compromise. I trust that you agree.
PhatNate March 28, 2012 at 12:54 PM
I know that I have read that apartments are trending as more desirable than owning a home/condo, since the real estate market crashed in 2008. This is simply due to the risk in the market, and higher mortgage qualifications to purchase a home. My personal experience was to buy a condo in Alpharetta in 2006, just down Westside Parkway from Avalon, near the peak of the real estate market; the value of my home is considerably less than I paid. The (Luxury) Condos we paid an average of $150,000 can now be had for a foreclosure price of $80,000. There were many promises of future development, and the City of Alpharetta would develop the area around our condos and that would increase our values. We are still waiting. The risk is with developer. The land needs to be developed. I do have concerns about the business impact on North Point Mall, which is struggling, concerns about adding more movie theaters, but even with all that, I think developing the property is something that needs to get done and whether or not there are apartments should not be the holdup.
TC March 28, 2012 at 03:26 PM
I work on Old Milton and live nearby. During the real estate boom the Old Milton/Windward area was overbuilt with condos. I pass by abandoned housing projects every day. I would say lose all of the apartments and let the home owners rent the condos as the ratio allows. I would also like to add a wish list item, I would like to see an outdoor covered food court. The area is lacking in places to eat during lunch, and even less places with a decent patio. have it closed off and heated in the winter and open in the summer. I really enjoy eating outside except for now when there is more pollen then air. Either way, I'm glad to hear something is moving forward with that land.
Tom Miller March 28, 2012 at 04:59 PM
North American Properties asked for public feedback on Avalon on the City of Alpharetta website beginning on February 1st and held a public meeting on Feb 13th. The site plan on the City's website is unchanged. The City Staff Report, dated 3-1-2012, with the 51 conditions shows that NAP takes exception with 10 of the 51 proposed conditions. What specifically has changed since NAP asked for public comment on February 1st? The compromises that Mr. Toro mentions were done in private meetings with City staff before the public was involved, and it sounds like the City relented on at least 19 of the original 70 proposed conditions. If anything has changed since the public meeting, what is it?
Mark Toro March 28, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Come on out to the Planning Commission meeting next Thursday night and we can talk about it.
Michael Hadden March 28, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Mark, you are absolutely correct that the comparison of Avalon's apartments to the aging garden apts dotting Holcom Bridge Rd and North Fulton is apples to oranges. One of the issues that I always bring up is the design. At first sight, a garden apt segregated from the rest of the city by a fence and sometimes a gate is great. However, very quickly, they become places that no one really cares about. Create a place where people want to be and they will care about it. Once you figure out how to do that, apartments will be successful. I doubt there is a single person on this comment thread or who has attended a public hearing on Avalon who has any burning desire to go visit any of the garden apt complexes in North Fulton. They are absolute voids separated by use and often demographic from the rest of the city. The only people who want to go there are the people who live there and that's usually only because their stuff is there until they can figure out how to move to a better place. We need to start building places where people WANT to be rather than places that store human beings and their stuff. Vertically integrated mixed-use is a proven way to do that and Avalon is a great start. If you continue to get pushback, bring your $200M down to exit 7. I'm sure Roswell will be interested :)
Mark Toro March 28, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Thanks for your note, Michael. You have hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head with your statement "create a place where people want to be and they will care about it". That is precisely what we are doing at Avalon. Please click on this link http://tinyurl.com/7nrrxnv and let us know what you think (and see if you can pick out the "apartments").
Michaela Delk March 30, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Mark, I agree with you. I am a citizen of Alpharetta and I welcome high end apartments in our area. Why should people have to BUY a condo just because they might want to live in a luxurious apartment without sacrificing mobility? The bad element that some people are worried about will not be able to afford them anyway. We need Avalon. I live right behind the eye sore and anything is better than what we have right now. I am upset that this project keeps dragging on. I read somewhere that Alpharetta has approved the building of apartments that were never developed. If this is true than I don’t understand why there is no expiration date on those rights. You buy it, you build, if you don’t you loose it after………and somebody else can apply and build them. MD
Michaela Delk March 30, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Mark, Just a few thoughts in regards to comments I read here or other forums. Transportation: – there has to be public access – Marta or shuttle or you will not be able to fill restaurant and othere jobs. Competing with downtown Alpharetta Project?: I don’t think so. Downtown Roswell is about City Hall, Library and a Park. May be later some eclectic shops or eatery. Similar to downtown Roswell. I would not go shopping for a new wardrobe to downtown Roswell. Totally different feel. Killing North Point Mall? Again, Avalon to my understanding is about bringing more life and money to Alpharetta. I want people to come and spend money. I am sure that North Point Mall area could gets some of the newly attracted people from other parts as well. Especially if each carries different stores. And the movie: I love, love, love Movie Studio Grill. Can the concept be developed here as well? May be with an option: traditional movie or movie and dinner? MD
Mark Toro March 30, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Thanks for your note, and your support, Michaela. We will work with MARTA to provide public transit access to Avalon.
Ed Gibson April 01, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I am a homeowner in Alpharetta in the Kimball Bridge area not far from where Avalon will be located. I fully support the project and the concept of having high end apartment units integrated into the development. As to some of the concerns voiced here about what happens as apartments "age", I do not think a fair comparison can be made between stand-alone apartment complexes and rental units of the type being considered in Avalon which will be integrated into the larger, up-scale mixed-use development. You have my 100% support.
Mark Toro April 01, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Your support is very much appreciated, Ed. And your rationale is 100% correct...comparing the residential-over-retail component of Avalon to standalone "apartments" is invalid. Please feel free to come out and speak in support of Avalon at Planning Commission on April 5 or at City Council on April 23. Thanks, again, for your support. We are working to make Avalon something you and we will be very proud of.
No Name April 01, 2012 at 07:54 PM
@ Mr. Toro - Did you not know that Alpharetta had an 85/15 single/multi family target before you bought this property? Surely someone of your calibur would check into these things before making an investment of this size? So your beef is not that you didn't know the rules but that we won't break the rules just for you? Is that it? Kind of like a playground bully? Apartments bring in transients and transients do not care for a town the way those who have substantial long-term investments in the community. It doesn't matter whether they are living in a garden apartment or above a store. The LBJ urban renewal projects have proven that environmental surroundings do nothing to change the inside character of a person. I say this as one who has lived in apartments before. Why can't you buy developer rights or buy up an older complex in exchange for what you want so that the net apartment gain remains at zero? Why are you so opposed to that? Instead you have come to town strong-arming the Chamber and others to steamroll the will of the electorate while you have stood on the sidelines with your incessant name-calling of citizens on public forums. NIMBYs and whiners? Really? Is this NAP's code of professionalism?
Mark Toro April 01, 2012 at 08:06 PM
@ No Name, Would you be willing to identify yourself, as I have? If so, maybe we can engage in a civil discussion, based in fact. Mark C. Toro Managing Partner North American Properties
No Name April 02, 2012 at 02:44 AM
@ Mr. Toro - Huh? You can't address the facts of my post unless you know my name? I have had this handle since Patch's inception and not changing it now. I am a citizen with valid concerns. You have many posters on the online forum who have expressed concerns but have not shared their names. Does that mean you can ignore their concerns too? You insinuated that I was not truthful in my post. Please tell me what is not factual in my post. I can back up everything I said. Why can't you buy developer rights or buy up an older complex in exchange for what you want so that the net apartment gain remains at zero? That seems like a reasonable compromise -- you get the apartments you want and the citizens get the promises made to them. Please quit bullying and name-calling.
Mark Toro April 02, 2012 at 10:14 AM
@ No Name, It is unfortunate that you've chosen to hide behind your keyboard, maintaining the anonymity of your rants. Why don't you come by City Hall on Thursday night and we can talk about Avalon? I will be the one in the front of the room, stating my name and address before the Alpharetta Planning Commission. Mark C. Toro Managing Partner North American Properties
Travis Allen April 02, 2012 at 11:34 AM
I'd like to see a response to these questions. I live in Milton, but am a 35 year resident of the area that is losing any pride in the association that I ever had with what was once Alpharetta. Why does it appear that developers never want to follow rules, but always ask for exceptions? Was NAP not aware of the 85/15 target? Is NAP open to purchasing developement rights? Does the area need another movie theatre? Overall, is there a "need" for this property to be developed or just a "want"?
Mark Toro April 02, 2012 at 11:53 AM
Thanks for your note, Travis. Please feel free to come out to Alpharetta Planning Commission on Thursday where we will convene our entire team of design professionals to respond to the community. As to your specific concerns, I offer the following: 1. Whereas I can't speak for other developers who "never want to follow the rules" and "always ask for exceptions", what I can tell you is that Avalon is a project that could not have been contemplated by the authors of the current ordinances, since nothing like it exists in the Southeast. That notwithstanding, we are proposing very few "variances". 2. Yes, we were aware that the City has adopted a guideline that would limit the % of "apartments" to 15%, even though it now stands at 24%. 3. I am unable to discuss the potential for transfer of development rights, as it is a transaction between two private parties. I'm sure you understand. 4. We have determined that there is market demand for another movie theater. 5. We have identified market demand for each and every component of the Avalon proposal. I will leave it to you to decide if that constitutes "need" or "want". Thanks, again. Mark C. Toro Managing Partner North American Properties
No Name April 02, 2012 at 02:19 PM
@ Mr. Toro - Not ranting. Voicing valid concerns. There you go with your name-calling again. Thanks Travis for backing me up. Not "hiding" either. It's a long-held handle, unlike most of the posters on this thread who appear to be new according to their histories. Do you know tg, TC, or JAH from above? You engaged them.
Julie Hollingsworth Hogg April 02, 2012 at 02:20 PM
The earlier referred to name-calling names "whiner" and "NIMBY" that Mr. Toro allegedly called a few of us Alpharettans....I'll be the first to admit I'm both of these. Lots of us are. I may have my own flavor of NIMBY ("don't put that movie theatre in my back yard!" etc. but I'm definitely a NIMBY and I suspect most of us are about something. As for whining - I can whine with the best of em. Don't know if Mr. Toro said these things and don't really care to be honest. As for NAP listening to Alpharettans comments - I'd say they've done a good job of listening, but of course the final product is what matters. On the thorny issue of luxury rentals: much more complicated to me is the quality of the management company in handling the rentals; i.e. what is their track record in rental management? do they have frequent customer complaints? Also, on the issue of luxury rentals, when the mortgage crisis finally eases up completely, can these luxury rentals be converted to "in-town" (in an Alpharetta sort of way) loft condo's for purchase? Being someone who travels to and from the mid-sized city of Knoxville, TN quite a bit, I can tell you that the strangest part of going there for me is seeing my friends leaving their home/yard mortgages in the burbs to buy lofts in old buildings on Gay Street in downtown K-ville. This is the 55 years old and up crowd. So much for only 20 year olds being candidates for loft living in Alpharetta - seems to appeal to us boomers as well.
Mark Toro April 02, 2012 at 02:23 PM
@ No Name, Fair enough. What is your name?
Mark Toro April 02, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Julie, Thank you for your candor and for your time and attention to our Avalon proposal, and for acknowledging our efforts to seek out the community's sentiment. After thousands of visits to the City's online forum, hundreds of Facebook and Twitter followers' posts, and scores of comments in this type of forum, we are listening and learning. As to your specific questions: 1. The management company for our luxury residential over retail will be North American Properties. In our company's history, we have developed and managed over 13,000 units of rental residential. Our properties maintain very high ratings and our management company has been in business since 1954. 2. We are most definitely interested in converting our luxury residential over retail to condominiums, when that market returns. I echo your sentiments about boomers leaving their home/yard/mortgages in the burbs. My wife and I, after 28 years in East Cobb, moved into a highrise in Midtown to take advantage of the energy that only comes with residential over retail. And, of course, living amongst a bunch of Gen X and Yers walking everywhere we go, keeps us young and connected.....just the experience we will provide at Avalon for Alpharettans seeking to downsize. Thanks, again. Mark C. Toro Managing Partner North American Properties
No Name April 02, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Julie, You think this sort of name-calling meets the mark of professionalism? Didn't your mom ever teach you that you don't have to say everything you think? (I'm thinking a lot of things right now, but not saying it.) Ever heard of "the customer is always right" adage? They've done a horrible job assimilating our input into their plan. Read Tom Miller's post above. It doesn't seem like they've given up much. They have come into town like a bull in a china shop knowing full well what the lay of the landscape was before they purchased it. If they didn't like those conditions as-is, they should not have purchased the land. We are under no obligation to capitulate to their every whim. Furthermore, it is not just about Avalon. It is about setting precedent. You already have one developer (Rob Forrest) above hinting at what he is after. MetLife and Penn Hodge will come back wanting the same deal because they, too, will have some "distinguishing quality" to their apartments too. Where does it stop? If Alpharetta approves this, the dominoes will start falling ..or.. we will end up with many lawsuits. I don't want my tax $ going for lawsuits that will ultimately fail and want no more apartments. If I had wanted to live in a Sandy Springs environment, I would have moved there. We chose Alpharetta because it was not like that. Asking them to leave with a zero net-gain seems like a reasonable compromise.
No Name April 02, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Furthermore, we have two new Council and a mayoral candidate who campaigned on stemming the tide and preservation. They are Donald Mitchell, Jim Gilvin, and David Belle Isle. The city has spoken with their votes. We may need to remind them of their own words from less than 6 months ago.
Mark Toro April 02, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Thanks, Julie. Please click here http://tinyurl.com/7nrrxnv for a computer simulation of Avalon, focused on outdoor spaces. We will address this aspect at Thursday night's Planning Commission meeting. I hope you can attend.
Julie Hollingsworth Hogg April 02, 2012 at 03:46 PM
*I doubt Mr. Toro has said everything he thinks. I know I haven't. * "keeps us young and connected" (living among the young and energetic)----- I completely get that now that I'm an old, whiny NIMBY. *I'm simply not qualified to speak to what Mr. Forrest wants or MetLife, or Mr. BelleIsle with regard to these matters. My pet project, love and cause is outdoor space, gardens, parks and connecting people to all these things because I know these things contribute to healthy bodies and minds. This is why I'm more concerned with the design/landscape architecture/walkability of Avalon than I am anything else.
tg April 02, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Let me preface by saying, this thread is awesome. I don't think the Avalon plan is perfect. Like I said earlier the parking as it is definitely isn't something I like to see. In the absence of a parking deck, I hope to god there will be valet. Those parking lots look murderous. I question the lack of open gathering spaces. However, those things said, I'd sure as hell like the Avalon plan over what's there now. Also, I'd like to point out that cities grow and change. If you're 50 and expect Alpharetta to be the same as when you moved here at 30 then you've living in a dreamland. I'm far more concerned with the sheer number of foreclosures in Alpharetta than the number of apartments. Those are the things ruining property values. It'd be nice to have something that actually could increase them for once. Studies show that mixed-use and mixed-income developments have a positive impact on property values.
Travis Allen April 03, 2012 at 10:14 AM
The presentation on youtube is great, but I do have two light questions. 1. What song is that playing? 2. Will stop signs be installed to prevent the two cars from hitting each other at 33 seconds into the video?
Mark Toro April 05, 2012 at 10:55 AM
1. The song is "Sweet Disposition" 2. We will just recruit two better drivers for the computer simulation. :-)


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