Much has been written in this space concerning the so-called ‘Roberts’ Land Purchase in Peachtree Corners. For those of you who are not aware of the land purchase dilemma, the debate has been centering on a 20.6 acre piece of property located across from The Forum on Peachtree Parkway. Just like The Forum across the street, this tract of land is a forest that has been begging to be developed the same way that the rest of Gwinnett County has been developed for the past 30+ years. Developer sees an opportunity and developer strikes a deal with the local government to make it happen. Certainly, development keeps in spirit with a pro-growth agenda that has made the Atlanta metro area so successful. Indeed, much has come with success in the form of increased traffic, fewer commuting options and pollution, especially on those extreme hot days. So, it is no surprise that several years ago, a deal was struck between local government and developers to turn that piece of property into a 250+ apartment complex. It took many years to get to this point with a rezoning request that was granted by the Northern District of Georgia back in autumn 2001.
As it became apparent that the apartment construction was going forward recently, citizens of the new city of Peachtree Corners have been concerned about how another apartment complex would impact the area including possibly increased traffic congestion to what could be school overcrowding. Indeed, there’s no crystal ball telling us just how bad traffic could get or how much more crowded the local schools could become with added residents in the area. After all, maybe a majority of those future residents would hardly drive or invite many guests to their homes. Perhaps those same tenants would not have very many children. On the other end of the spectrum, there could be two to three vehicles and/or kids per tenant thus making the traffic on Peachtree Corners Circle and Peachtree Parkway a nightmare. A recent Patch commenter intimated that Simpson Elementary School could probably handle the influx, but failed to mention that those same students could probably crowd the local middle and high schools. Again, it’s tough to make accurate predictions, but judging from past developments, there’s no doubt that traffic will increase with new apartments – just ask anyone who attempts to make the trek up Peachtree Parkway into North Fulton on a school-night-weeknight around 6 p.m. (on many nights, not all).
Obviously, citizens were not thrilled with the news of more apartments. Thusly, the question was repeatedly asked, “Why can’t the city stop this development?” Most of us know the answer by now: the deal was grandfathered – making the city powerless to call a “cease and desist order” on the development.
So, what’s a city to do in such with such a conundrum? Should the city sit and watch the apartment project go forward or should the city take a proactive approach? The city chose the latter by purchasing the land. City leaders are financing the purchase through a 10 year bond. This decision sparked a fiery debate. Former city opponents feel betrayed by their current leaders with this deal. In their opinion, the council and mayor abandoned their campaign promises and the ‘city-lite’ tenets of the charter -- thus expanding government’s size and scope while creating what they feel is an unnecessary debt burden. However, city proponents, feel that their leaders made a common sense decision in a tough situation by protecting Peachtree Corners’ quality of life. Those who are positive about the land purchase feel that it was done with only good intentions by sparing the community a potential problem which would impact its quality of life.
Just like when the cityhood debate raged on, city leaders call this moment a tipping point. I would call this a defining moment with this young city. The city government is defining its role in how it shapes our community. We now arrive at several questions – and we have seen a smattering of answers here on Patch. Just how should this new government look? Should its powers increase or perhaps decrease in these times? It ought to be remembered that just like any other government, this city government will be fluid and constantly reshaped by future leaders who will bring their own governing philosophies to the table. So where are we at? I would say that in this city we are not only at a defining moment, but on a collective mission which includes promoting the best quality of life we could possibly reach. This collective mission is what makes a democratic form of government unique in a free nation – varying opinions from those who are governing working for and in tandem with those who are governed, the citizenry -- better known these days as the taxpayer. The cynic would say that the aforementioned thoughts are false, but the optimist would agree that when mutual respect thrives, so does the collective mission. History has shown that respect for each differing viewpoint ebbs and flows with the times and so the optimist again says, respect will triumph over the cynic.
Thus, it must be said that it’s understandable in these tough economic times for those who are concerned with this local government’s growth and debt. But it must be noted that those skeptical folks are instrumental in shaping this city’s future just as much as those who have been deeply involved in promoting and building the city. Perhaps we ought to employ our own Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow 'Corners-ian.' As with this current debate and future ones, there are no easy answers, but we must remember that we’re all in this together.