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.