There’s still room for growth in Alpharetta downtown - North Atlanta Business Post
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Updated Oct 20 @ 5:20PM
 

There’s still room for growth in Alpharetta downtown

Businesses see activity as a positive for city

Construction cranes and scaffolding mingle with established businesses on Main Street as Alpharetta continues to draw attention to its revitalized downtown.
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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Last week’s approval of a large housing development on Cumming Street was the final chapter in a flurry of residential building that has transformed Alpharetta’s downtown.

Taylor-Morrison’s plan to build 58 homes at the north edge of downtown is the capstone for a housing surge that could bring more than 2,000 residents to the city’s core.

And that’s not the half of it.

Over the past five years, downtown’s commercial portfolio has expanded to include more than a dozen new restaurants, multi-story office buildings and retail shops – all either built or under development.

While space for new residential construction has dwindled down to small lots, there’s still plenty of room for commercial and office in downtown, according to Alpharetta Planning Director Kathi Cook.

The potential lies primarily along Main Street, where parcels are available for live-work and mixed-use development.

Plan for growth

Less than 10 years ago, Downtown Alpharetta was a struggling center with a handful of restaurants and shops. Cook said the transformation took off with the 2015 revision of the Downtown Land Use Plan.

“The mayor and council gave us direction a few years ago to work on a Downtown Master Plan, and we went through that process for a year and a half,” Cook said.

In her 26 years with the city, Cook said, the document drew the most citizen involvement of any enterprise the city has engaged in. About 600 people participated in workshops to help draft the final document.

And with the recent additions of Main Street’s City Center and Avalon on Old Milton Parkway, Cook said interest in the downtown has spiked. So has building.

“We have people who like it, and we have people who don’t like it,” Cook said. “If people look at the plan – and while they still may not like it – there is a plan behind all this development that they see downtown.”

The change has been dramatic and positive for two longtime downtown businessmen.

View from the ground level

When Dr. J.C. Hines opened a one-man veterinary clinic on Milton Avenue back in 1973, he was two blocks away from the only traffic light in town. There was one bank, one high school, two barbershops and three restaurants.

Today, Hines’ Alpharetta Animal Hospital has eight veterinarians on staff and two dozen employees.

From his perspective, Hines said city leaders have followed a careful path toward prosperity.

“One thing that I will always be able to recall is that Alpharetta has always been blessed with dedicated people to serve on the city government,” he said. “Fortunately we had and still have visionaries which has made Alpharetta ‘The Place to Be.’”

Hines admitted traffic could become a concern, but he thinks the buildup in downtown will be great for business. Adding value to downtown, he said, will also benefit all residents by raising the tax base.

Longtime downtown business owner Larry Attig agrees.

“I happen to think that we’re on the right path and I like what we’re doing,” he said.

When he came to Alpharetta 40 years ago, downtown was alive and bustling for a small city. After operating a horse stable on what is now Old Milton Parkway for six years, Attig moved downtown in 1988 to run a flower shop on Main Street.

Then, as the town spread outward with subdivisions, the mall was built, big box stores arrived and downtown seemed to dry up, he said.

“I’ve watched the downtown literally become a ghost town,” Attig said.

He retired in 2006 but still owns property in downtown. Through the years, he has been active in the downtown business community, always pushing the dream to revive the district.

When discussions first began for a Downtown Master Plan in 2003, he saw it as an opportunity to jump start growth.

It didn’t happen – not for another decade.

In 2012, the city invested $31 million to develop City Center, a mixed-use project that included a new city hall and space for retail, office and residential.

Attig said he hears from people who are concerned about residential density and the addition of apartments. But, he added, the city has numerous restrictions on high density, and the city will never face the challenges of a Buckhead or a Perimeter, where apartment buildings can tower 40 stories.

As for traffic, Attig said he hails from a small town in Iowa that had one restaurant, one tavern and one bank.

“But, guess what? We don’t have any traffic problems,” he said.

He wants to see the city continue its plan to build downtown.

“I think if we put on the brakes right now, a lot of the people who have invested in the city are going to be sadly disappointed and at some point they’ll probably will not survive,” he said.

Even with the restrictions in the Land Use Plan, City Planner Cook said many people do not recognize the measures city officials go to in order to ensure orderly growth. Many proposals that come to her department never even find their way to the Planning Commission, she said.

Moreover, Cook said, the City Council has amended the Land Use Plan several times to address public concerns, such as increasing the minimum required residential lot size outside of the Milton Avenue and Main Street core area.

This month, the City Council will consider a proposed change that would lower recommended heights outside of the core area, she said. It will also consider incentives, such as allowing gravel parking areas and parking reductions, to encourage properties to preserve existing structures.

“We feel very confident with the plan we have,” Cook said. “That’s not to say we don’t go back and ask for changes.”

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