Mayor and City Council Propose Formation of a Downtown Development Authority to Purchase and Determine Future Development of a Large Land Tract in Heart of the City
Citing their responsibility to protect the quality of life in Peachtree Corners, Mayor Mike Mason and the City Council have voted unanimously to move forward and purchase a tract of land that has been a point of discussion for many years. The Council had received numerous calls of concern from citizens over a proposed apartment development planned for that site.
The property was recently acquired by Lennar Corporation, a national homebuilder and planned to break ground on a 250+ apartment development on the site in the Spring. Since Peachtree Corners is currently at the 50/50 tipping point of single family vs. multi-family housing, the Council felt it was their duty to keep the City’s housing balanced in order to protect property values.
The City is actively negotiating with the seller and hopes to have an agreement within the week. Lennar made their purchase based on the current apartment zoning of RM-13. If the City acquires the property, the zoning will be changed to a C-2 commercial zoning consistent with surrounding properties.
“Since the current zoning was the result of a lawsuit in 2001, there was no legal process to stop apartment development on this property through regulations,” explains Mayor Mike Mason. “We exhausted all other options to prevent apartments before resorting to purchase of the property. Our citizens should have input into the land use on that location, not be subject to a judicial ruling that happened in 2001. Our purchase of the land is not a unique action taken by this City. Other cities have acquired properties to support their city vision including Decatur, Dunwoody, Milton, Smyrna, Suwanee, and Woodstock. This land acquisition will not affect our millage rate and will be financed with a 10 year bond.”
Suwanee’s former Mayor Nick Masino shares some insight into Suwanee’s history; “Big ideas are sometimes hard to fully envision. When we first started on our efforts in Suwanee, it was difficult to appreciate or envision what Suwanee Town Center could eventually become. But now that Town Center is in place, it is now hard to imagine Suwanee without it.”
Mayor Mason further explains, “Apartments certainly have a place within our community and currently we are above the ideal balance of single family to multi-family homes. There is also an overwhelming sentiment from our citizens that this unique tract would be much better suited for a development consistent with existing properties along this important transportation corridor.”
“Our only regret is that there was not enough time to hold a referendum. The idea of the City buying the property only occurred to us in mid-January after we had exhausted all other options—persuasion, joint ventures, another buyer– to stop the apartments. Since the County still conducts our elections, we were told that the first feasible date for a referendum would be November 2013. Lennar planned to break ground for the apartments in the Spring and you would have seen apartments out there in November. If we had delayed for much longer, either the cost of the property would have gone up beyond reason or they would have been too far along with their construction process to stop. It became a timing issue that had to be addressed immediately. We couldn’t even discuss it in public for legal reasons once we began to talk to Lennar about a purchase. Holding a special called meeting on Monday, a holiday, was simply because we wanted everyone present and there were scheduling difficulties with all the Councilmen attending our regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.”
In order to acquire the property, the city must form a Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Downtown Development Authorities – currently in use by many cities, including Duluth, Lawrenceville, Norcross and Suwanee – serve as an invaluable tool to develop or revitalize central municipal business districts. Peachtree Corners’ Downtown Development Authority will consist of citizen representatives to coordinate the acquisition and ultimate disposition of the property.
There is also a great opportunity for citizen input into what to do with this property thru the Comprehensive Land Use Planning process, which is currently underway. The first public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan is Thursday, February 21, at City Hall. Please attend and give us your input into the future of the City.
For more information, visit www.peachtreecornersga.org
Peachtree Corners FAQ
Q. Why did the City purchase this land?
A. We have the responsibility for protecting the quality of life in Peachtree Corners. This includes safeguarding property values, promoting school standings, as we are able, and ensuring community safety. Peachtree Corners’ is currently at the 50/50 tipping point of single family vs. multi-family housing. The Council feels it is our duty to keep the community’s housing balanced in order to protect property values.
Q. How will the City pay for this acquisition?
A. A 10 year bond.
Q. Will my millage rate go up?
Q. How can we afford it without increasing the millage rate?
A. The Carl Vinson Feasibility Study did not include all sources of funding for the City, such as business license fees, insurance franchise fees, and commercial trash fees. These fees, which originally went to the County and now properly go to the City, will enable us to finance the purchase without increasing homeowner property taxes.
Q. Did the City meet with the new owner in hopes of changing the nature of the development or minimizing the density of the intended multi-family development?
A. Yes. There were numerous meetings to persuade Lennar to develop a project in keeping with the surrounding area. All options to stop this development were exhausted before the Council voted unanimously to proceed with this purchase.
Q. Why is the 20.6 acres zoned for apartments anyway?
A. In 1998 (prior to Peachtree Corners incorporation), the former owner of the property filed a rezoning request for RM-13/apartments with Gwinnett County. In February 1999, the request was denied by the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.
The applicant then filed a suit against Gwinnett County seeking the apartment zoning. On Oct. 22, 2001, a consent order was issued by the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia mandating that the property be rezoned RM-13 specifically for apartments. The community never had a say in this final decision.
Q. Why wasn’t this presented as a referendum?
A. Simply put, there was not enough time for that to occur. The first feasible date for a referendum would have been November of 2013. The developer’s intention was to break ground for the apartments in May. It became a timing issue that had to be addressed immediately.
Q. What does the City plan to do with the new land?
A. We will solicit community input thru the Comprehensive Plan process, which is currently underway. The Comprehensive Plan process is designed to help set the vision for the City in 2033. The timing could not be better for consideration of this land but in the context of our shared vision of the future.
Q. What’s next?
A. We will create a separate entity called a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to acquire the property. The DDA will be led by a citizen panel and charged with the ultimate disposition of this property thru a public bidding process.
Q. What is a Downtown Development Authority (DDA)?
A. DDA’s are used in cities throughout the state as a mechanism to revitalize or develop municipal central business districts. They are invaluable in a city’s success and are used in Duluth, Lawrenceville, Norcross, and Lawrenceville, just to name a few.
Q. Can I be involved with the future vision for this property?
A. Absolutely! As with other citizen committees, we encourage everyone in the community to contact their council member.
Also, there are three upcoming meetings for the City’s Comprehensive Plan: February 21, 7:00-8:30 PM at City Hall. April 24-25 and July 25 (details TBD)