Sunday, December 02, 2007

Letter To The Editor:

I’m writing because the future of Crabapple Crossing is taking shape over the next month, and it seems that very few people are paying attention.

This letter is an attempt to fill in the blanks in communications about the process that takes to the future, the stakes in the decisions we are making right now, and to pose some critical questions that I believe must be answered before anyone can begin to make an informed decision on what we want for Crabapple.

I know going in that some of what I am saying is wrong. Where that is the case, somebody PLEASE correct me. I think we are all going to pay the price for the current confusion.

The Milton Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee (CPAC) held the first meeting on Nov. 19 to gather opinions on what residents wanted Crabapple Crossroads to be. All of 50 people showed up; a sizeable number of those were developers.

Two more meetings are to follow. The next, on Monday Dec. 3, is a “workshop” to fine tune the results of the first meeting. The final meeting, I believe, is to finalize what happened in the first two.

The deadline for completion of this phase is the end of January. That document will be come part of the Milton Comprehensive Plan, which is to be completed by the end of May.

Focus: the Crabapple Comprehensive Plan.

The focus of the meeting was the Crabapple Comprehensive Plan, which has had an unfortunate history. There are many twists and turns, but the short version will help create the baseline for what comes next.

The Plan was commissioned by Fulton County and created over two years by academics, professional planners with community input from two advisory groups and surveys. The objective was to allow development, but in a way that protected the character of the Milton area.

It was adopted by the Fulton County Planning Commission in 2003. You can get a sense of what it was supposed to be, by going to Crabapple Crossroads of the Northwest Fulton Overlay District (Scroll down to Page 40 for the Crabapple section.)

In the final hours before zoning authority was handed over to the new city of Milton , Fulton County approved 16 projects. The people who were on those original citizens groups say the projects were rubber stamped in total disregard of the Plan; density, architectural standards, traffic, green space – every thing that that was supposed to reflect what Milton is supposed to be. Nobody seems to want to talk about how it happened, what the 16 projects are, and who the developers are who have taken advantage of Fulton ’s last-minute benevolence or, as some say, revenge.

In 2004, Fulton County designated Crabapple as a “neighborhood node.” That means, I believe, that the entire area could have 100,000 square feet of commercial and retail, and 100,000 square feet of office space – commonly referred to as the 100,000/100,000 rule.

Here is where things get interesting.

All of that commercial/retail and office density has been used up by the 16 approved projects – about 25 to 30 percent of which has actually been built. The rest are approved and cannot be changed.

That essentially means that from now to completion of the entire Crabapple area (on the East sides of Birmingham Highway and Broadwell Road ), no more commercial/retail or office buildings can be built.

Milton has already turned down one proposed project on Mayfield Road on that basis.

So: the big issue is that much of what happens going forward in the remaining build out of Crabapple, depends on what happens to the 100,000/100,000 cap. Generally speaking, developers want to lift it; residents aren’t sure what it means.

Change or not to change

Milton now has two options: change the Crabapple Plan, which would likely affect the cap, or keep the Plan as it is. Option two would likely limit the ability to build new restaurants and shops, which people want. But it would also prevent the building of multi-story office buildings, which people don’t want.

First meeting, unfortunately, added to the confusion

Most people, including me, came away from the first meeting more confused than when we went in.

The presentation was given mainly by a planner from BRPH, the firm Milton has hired to create the Milton Comprehensive Plan.

Unfortunately, his Power Point presentation was made to be viewed on a computer and not a projection screen. It made very little sense to most of us there. It failed to address many of the questions that people have. Given the level of our collective knowledge at the time, I don't believe we knew the questions to ask.

The CPAG members repeatedly stressed that the meeting was for citizen input.

But to provide that input, these are some of the questions that most of us need to have answered.

What are the 16 projects already approved in both the Alpharetta side and the clear-cut section? What will it look like? What are the set backs? What is the amount of green space? How much commercial will there be? What kind will it be? Where will it be? What is the density of the housing? How will the things we can’t change impact what is to come?

My understanding at the meeting was that this information would be provided by link on the Milton site. I have not been able to find it.

Where exactly will the next phase of development be located? Again. My understanding was that this information would be accessible from the Milton site.

Who are the developers who are doing the 16 projects, where are they from, and how many of them want to built in the next phase?

Is the land available or for sale, or will there be legal battles?

Is the 100,000/100,000 rule a suggestion, a guideline, a regulation?

If Milton decides to abide by it, can it be challenged in court?

And if it is challenged, would it be challenged generally, or by individual zoning request?

Is it possible that developers who want to challenge the rule to get more density in the next
phase are among those who took all the density in the first phases?

Why do we have to move so fast on the Crabapple part of the plan (to be finished in January) when the Milton Comprehensive Plan isn’t scheduled to be finished until May?

Suggestion #1: slow down

We should not start the meeting on Monday assuming everyone there knows enough to make informed suggestions. Stop and answer the above questions and others that I am sure people will have.

Suggestion # 2: Show up.

A turnout of 50 people, many of them developers, is a sad representation of this community.

I realize that many don’t live near Crabapple. But this is our downtown. It’s going to be something special, or it’s going to be another jam-packed, soulless Atlanta intersection. It’s going to be something much better what we have seen in the high-density, architecturally jumbled first phase of development, or it is going to be more of the same.


Bill Ruffin
Six Hills

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