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To Incorporate or Not To Incorporate...

To incorporate or not to incorporate: I have a few questions. A few random thoughts from this blogger as we get closer to the November 8th vote on becoming a city,

There's no doubt about it. Cityhood Fever has been spreading through the metro area for the past few years. From Sandy Springs to Johns Creek, suburbanites have been voting in favor of cityhood for the purposes of having local control, name identity and a superior quality of life. It's tough to argue against those wishes. Having set rules and regulations in place protects property owners from "dumb growth."  An example of "dumb growth" is when greedy developers knock down vacant buildings to make way for more retail or housing without considering traffic or environmental impacts. Living or conducting business in an incorporated area increases homeowner value and translates into profits for local companies, corporations and entrepreneurs. But, cityhood does not grow on trees. You get what you pay for and in the cases of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Johns Creek, property owners are committed to paying the price for control and beautification.

Many folks in Peachtree Corners desire the same destiny as its incorporated neighbors. The pro-city people feel that Peachtree Corners is at its tipping point. They feel that the nearby city of Norcross will annex the area thus resulting in high taxes and control from those who do not understand "our needs." City proponents point to Norcross' Technology Park annexation plans and "dumb growth" proposals which included a proposal to build a Walmart on Holcomb Bridge Road. While those plans did not come to fruition, still, those types of initiatives could be implemented if Peachtree Corners does not incorporate now, proponents say. 

Those concerns inspired community activists to tirelessly push for a November 8th vote to incorporate Peachtree Corners. Community town hall meetings have been conducted touting the benefits of incorporation. It's obvious that pro and against signs have been festooning the area since late summer. And the local blogosphere and websites have been bubbling up with arguments from both sides of the fence.

"So, what are you going to vote for?" people have been asking me. 

"I'm undecided until November 8th," I reply. "I'm still listening to all sides."

On the one hand, I don't see Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson coming over the hills like General Sherman with a cavalry ready to "invade" us with his city's identity, authority and taxes. On the other hand, I'm not too crazy about control coming from Lawrenceville. 

Name recognition is a good thing, but at what price? I'm on a budget. Those dollars that I would spend at the local Dick's Sporting Goods will instead go to the new city. I'm that cheap because I have a teenage daughter who is like a Hoover vacuum cleaner sucking away at my wallet. 

Sure, incorporating is like buying an insurance policy for my home or "investment," but at the end of the day, someone else is choosing my "insurer." 

We are told that the new city will have a better trash plan than what our county provides, but we do not have a set final price tag as to what that plan will cost. Will we have to buy special bags or cartons which may cost us more in the long run? Will there be draconian recycling rules in place? Asking these questions is not putting the cart before the horse.

Something interesting is happening here. It's no secret that Peachtree Corners is a majority politically conservative area. We are seeing conservatives versus conservatives in this debate. Cityhood proponents are going against the philosophy of less government versus opponents who argue that a city is another layer of government. Opponents point to their ideological leader in the late President Ronald Reagan, who they say, would be against imposing more taxes on the people. Proponents argue that President Reagan would say that this city would be good because it would be effective government that is closest to the people. 

Admittedly, this is not the best time to ask residents to pony up more funds for a new city. Most of us are watching our dollars, doing our best to be fiscally responsible. With the slow economy in mind, opponents say that no matter how much one slices this argument up, incorporation will cost us more than what we pay now. Their argument says that since the county government will not provide us with tax relief if Peachtree Corners incorporates, a new city is a tax hike. We will be shelling out more dollars towards more government, they say. This is a Tea Party philosophy that says, "It doesn't matter if we pay one penny more a year, it's a tax hike. Furthermore, a new city is another layer of government. The city will include a manager and council members who will be compensated for their time through taxes."

The opponents also point out that government grows. They say that there will be a time when the city will be asking residents to help pay for improvements through what it sees as revenue enhancements. Proponents say any mil increase will be put to a vote, thus ensuring democracy in action. Yes, but those who are against the city say that when these votes come up, those in favor of it will have a bigger voice in the matter through a well-funded campaign thus drowning out those who do not want new taxes.

If a new city is formed, one can only hope that its leaders will be working in the interests of the people.  Will these elected officials competently manage the area? Will city leaders be able to improve Technology Park and attract more business? Will it be possible for the city council to work in concert with higher governmental bodies to solve traffic problems and improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists? It might seem petty, but will those in charge negotiate a good trash plan? Will a new city know how to prioritize its needs? Are we going to be paying for a Paul Duke statue, a new city hall, and more flowers on Peachtree Parkway or are we going to be funding strong leaders who will be able to protect us from overdevelopment?

When you hit the voting booth next month, think of these questions:  Are you better off now than you were five, 10, 15 -- or in my case -- more than 20 years ago – and need this “insurance policy?” Do you feel that this area is at the tipping point and our quality of life is threatened? Are you willing to invest  more of your dollars in our area? The future is in your hands.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

AL October 11, 2011 at 07:20 PM
Is it true that a developer is proposing a 250+ unit apartment complex directly across from the Forum? If so, and if incorporating would prevent it from happening, then that's reason enough to vote "yes".
Robert J. Nebel October 11, 2011 at 09:12 PM
Good points, John. I first lived in Chelsea Park in 1989. I agree that there has been massive change in that corridor and Holcomb Bridge. There is no doubt that voting for cityhood is an investment, but like all investments, there is risk involved and it might be risk worth taking. Right now, I have confidence that intelligent, talented people will be in charge of the new city. Will that level of quality and low cost hold up over the years?
Robert J. Nebel October 11, 2011 at 09:13 PM
AL, I'm not sure about that, but if it is true, then yes, hopefully a new city would protect the area from such development.
John Schell October 12, 2011 at 01:05 AM
Yes, this is true. Roberts Realty is proposing 292 apartments on the land directly across from the Forum. Read about it here: http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2010/06/21/daily36.html A city of Peachtree Corners would prevent this from happening. Vote yes!
John Schell October 12, 2011 at 01:09 AM
Good point, Robert. However, I fear that if we don't take this risk of incorporating and seizing control, we will continue to see the area decline. Holcomb Bridge will look more and more like Buford Highway, and the Forum will begin to look more and more like Holcomb Bridge. The construction of apartments across from the Forum, and their subsequent impact on Simpson Elementary, will seal our fate. We don't have to accept this fate. Vote yes November 8 and preserve this great community.
Honest Ingine October 12, 2011 at 11:22 AM
My understandig is the developer had to go to court to get approval for the zoing, b/c UPPCA was fighting it. Just because the zoing is approved, DOES NOT,mean he is going to build apartments. The same zoing is needed, to do other projects to the land. Look at Brookhaven, where you have shopping, condo's, restuarants etc... Go to Brookhaven and imagine something that nice across from the Forum. Of course that is not mentioned in the pro city propaganda. Initally UPPCA was against the Forum being developed and now they are taking the Praise... go figure.. Why would that surprise anyone?.. Just saw where the city council will be pd 8k/ yr and the mayor 9k... the feasibility study calls for 5k. already they are giving themselves a raise and we haven't even gone to the polls..
Honest Ingine October 12, 2011 at 11:38 AM
John, thank you for this tidbit of information, that I might add is over 16 months old. Let me make it easier for the readers. Go to www.RobertsCommercial.com and see what developments they currently have done and are planning. Again, Just becaused it is zoned one way,DOES NOT mean he is going to be building apts. This zoning allows the developer to develop the property to its best use. Being a city will not stop or hinder any development. A developer would take the city to court and who would be paying for the legal battles? We would, ask Lilburn residents what happens when their city looses a law suit. It can happen here.
Robert J. Nebel October 12, 2011 at 11:54 AM
@Honest Ingine-Thank you for posting the Roberts website. Roberts has done some excellent development. I would think a live-work-play type of development across from The Forum on P'tree Pkwy would be a plus. Although, I would be concerned about increased traffic. Perhaps a live-work-play development would attract young professionals mainly without kids -- thus fewer students coming into the crowded school system...@Honest Ingine brings up good points about the cost of employing officials and possible future litigation.
Alex J. Wright October 12, 2011 at 01:33 PM
Mr. Roberts is in the apartment business. He builds apartments. Why would he buy a piece of land, zone it so apartments could be built and then decide to build something different then he usually builds? The reality is PC already has enough apartments. Almost 50% of our housing is multi family. The result is an overbuilt market (40 years of saying yes to any type of development will get you that it seems) resulting in declining rents which result in lower up keep because the revenue stream for the apartment companies are lower. What would be far nicer than a ton of apartments would be a nice open green space with some high quality commerical development ringing the green space. Look what Norcross has done with their open areas to create real synergies in their downtown area. With all the recent sidewalk enhancements in that area it would be very accessible by foot. BTW, before anyone spontaneously combusts I'm not advocating a new city of PC buy the property. I'm advocating that a new private development would include a nice green space with commerical property and no apartments.
Robert J. Nebel October 12, 2011 at 05:21 PM
@Alex I would love to see greenspace across from The Forum with bike trails.
David B. Manley October 12, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Alex, re: your comments regarding Mr. Roberts, the property across from the Forum, etc. --- for over 25 years I have represented single- and multi-family and commercial builders and developers; when you're Wright, you're right.
John Schell October 12, 2011 at 11:20 PM
Mr. Nebel, what makes you think that these apartments will age any differently than other apartments? What makes you think that they will be subject to different market forces? All over the Northside, regardless of location, aging apartment buildings are sources of blight. The story is the same in Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Roswell, and Peachtree Corners. May I reming you that Sturbridge Square, across from Panera, was at one time a very nice apartment complex. Now, it looks as if it will be condemned soon. May I also remind you that the 90s-era Ivey Brook Apartments, located at Holcomb Bridge and Peachtree Corners Circle, were once upscale. Now, they accept Section 8 renters. We do not need ANY more apartments in ANY part of Peachtree Corners, period. Apartments across from the Forum, whether part of a mixed-use development or not, would be a disaster for Simpson (and thus our home values), and would bring crime to the Forum. Might I add that as a relatively young person, there is very little (and shrinking) demand among young professionals for suburban apartments. They want to live in places like Buckhead, Midtown, Brookhaven, or Virginia-Highland. Peachtree Corners should focus on housing types that cater to the demographic that made it so desirable in the first place: families. Halt the decline: vote YES to Peachtree Corners!
AL October 12, 2011 at 11:46 PM
I echo Mr. Schell's concerns. Look, if I had my way that portion of land would remain undeveloped, but given it's value I realize that inevitably SOMEthing will be built on it. That "something" needs to be a very careful and wise decision. In whose hands do you want your fate, the people of Peachtree Corners, or the people who allowed extensive "dumb growth" to ruin this once great county? (BTW, I like Mr Wright's "nice green space with commerical property and no apartments" idea...sounds intriguing).
Robert J. Nebel October 13, 2011 at 03:20 AM
@John - I agree on the apt. decline, but we are where we are now. If a new city comes into existence, how would it handle "Apartment Row" on P'tree Corners Circle? Would the city get a permit to send renters packing and mow down the units? Also, let's say Roberts wishes to build apartments on that land across from The Forum. Is a new city prepared to litigate with Roberts if the company fights to develop it as it sees fit? @AL - I would love to see green space with no apartments, but would a new city be able to stop Roberts and recruit another developer to create this green space?
Jeanne Aulbach October 13, 2011 at 01:12 PM
Robert, I don't think anyone would "mow down the units". That would not make sense. We would only see that they were maintained to code, which would be the county code to start. Here is a link to that ordinancehttp://www.gwinnettcounty.com/static/departments/planning/pdf/propmain.pdf. Mr. Roberts can right now put in those apartments at any time he so chooses. That abiity will be grandfathered in if we become a city, so no further litigation would be needed. For the record, he and the the UPCCA are working together now on ideas for what would be the best use. I think we all agree, high density development would be inappropriate. But mixed use, with some green space, if it could be done with a profit in it for Mr. Roberts would be ideal. That same idea is what we hope for for the Sturbridge Square property. I have worked in past with the UPCCA on zoning issues concerning the area of Peaachtree Corners I live in. I can state for the record that their approach is to work with the developer and the community together to come up with a solution that benefits both parties.
Jeanne Aulbach October 13, 2011 at 01:12 PM
Opps, the link should be http://www.gwinnettcounty.com/static/departments/planning/pdf/propmain.pdf.
Mim Harris October 13, 2011 at 02:34 PM
Are you saying the City would have no control over the open land across from the forum because it is grandfathered in under county zoning?
Robert J. Nebel October 13, 2011 at 02:51 PM
@Jeanne - Apartment code enforcement is a great if good, competent leaders can follow through + enforce the laws on the books. Let's say that these apartments never comply with PC standards. How would PC handle the dilemma? On another note, once new city trash service is in place, will we get a refund from the county for time paid to our current hauler? I grew up with four levels of gov't, so I don't see the bad in a local gov't. Folks just need to know that this is indeed an investment that requires community involvement- which is a wonderful thing. There is no free lunch.
Alex J. Wright October 13, 2011 at 03:05 PM
The problem is not that there are not rules and laws on the books but the ones in place are not being enforced. I wrote an article about this back in late August. Gwinnett County has a total of 19 employees in their Code Enforcement office for a county approaching 1M people. I linked to an article that mentioned Gwinnett County has, in recent years, had up to 50k foreclosures. Many of these houses fall into disrepair. Another WSB article characterized the Gwinnett Code Enforcement office as "overwhelmed". The way PC would handle the dilemma is outsouce code enforcement so that our little area of 38k people will get far superior coverage than it currently is. At a recent HOA meeting Dan Weber (used to be State Senator for Dunwoody) talked about what a huge difference it made for Dunwoody in improving the upkeep and maintenance of its apartment complexes in particular by having its own code enforcement plan. We could have the same thing. Trash - why would we need a refund? If we go to a new plan that is cheaper then that plan would go into effect and the current one would fall off. Our current plan is handled through our property tax. Any differential from the savings for the balance of the year would seemingly just be calculated in for a modified tax bill for the next year. http://peachtreecorners.patch.com/blog_posts/the-big-three-can-peachtree-corners-do-better
Robert J. Nebel October 13, 2011 at 03:08 PM
With those points laid out, PC has a lot of hard work ahead of itself.
Alex J. Wright October 13, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Robert, Not following you regarding your comment. Can you expand on why you think PC has a lot of hard work ahead of itself based on my comments? Thanks
Robert J. Nebel October 13, 2011 at 03:49 PM
@Alex In general,it's obvious that running a new city will not be easy. I would like to echo Mim's earlier comment + get your thoughts on this: "Are you saying the City would have no control over the open land across from the forum because it is grandfathered in under county zoning?"
Alex J. Wright October 13, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Robert, Understand. I'm not a zoning expert but based on what we have seen with other cities when they incorporate it would seem logical that zoning decisions made under Gwinnett would then apply to a city of PC. That being said I think the term "no control" is a bit misleading. I think simply saying that existing zoning decisions would still be in effect. As much as I don't want apartments there I don't think it would be fair to a property owner to pull the rug out from under him by changing a zoning decision made in the past.
Robert J. Nebel October 13, 2011 at 04:31 PM
@Alex ..... Nothing against apartments, but the traffic impact + stress on the schools are two huge negatives that come to mind.....So, city or no city, apartments could be across from The Forum in a few years....On another note, what is the Tech Park vacancy? Do PC city fathers have a plan to work with the county + state to attract companies in the area? Tech Park is aging-any plans to upgrade the complexes?
Alex J. Wright October 13, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Robert, We are on the same page about apartments - we have plenty already and they do have a major impact on roads and schools. Its unfortunate previous Gwinnett zoning boards didn't do more to discourage overbuilding of apartments in our area years ago. You are correct that apartments could easily go in across from the Forum regardless of whether we are a city or not. However, Mr. Roberts is in the business of making money. Considering 1) that our area is already overbuilt with apartments and 2) he would want to have a productive working relationship with the city government I suspect he would be very open to listening to what the city council (and by proxy the people) would prefer in the area. Most successful businessmen (and he clearly is in that group) want to work with govt and residents instead of against them. City fathers...... well, since we don't even know if there will be a city yet we don't know who is even running for the council so the question about what city fathers would do is a bit hard to answer. Tech Park upgrades.... since that is privately held I think the answer to that question could only be answered with any certainty by the owners. My personal view is that investors always want to minimize uncertainty. If we establish a city that has a clear pro-business, pro-high end development plan that investors believe will stabiize our area then I think the "invisible hand" will bring about a lot of changes most of us would like to see.
Jeanne Aulbach October 13, 2011 at 05:23 PM
Robert, I believe Alex has addressed most of this. On Code Enforcement, there are penalities for not complying. I understand there is a rundown apartment complex on Winters Chapel that is now in Dunwoody and the owner has been sufficiently "motivated" to bring them back up to a good standard. As to a refund, there will be no overlap in service. You will not have to pay twice for the same time period. A city is an investment. It will take all of us working together to ensure our investment benefits all of us!
Jeanne Aulbach October 13, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Robert, existing zoning is respected. Any development done on a property that falls within the current zoning of that property has to be allowed. That means we will also still have the Love Shack. People make an investment in property based on the zoning in place at the time or make a request to change that zoning to more closely match their needs. It would pull the rug out from under people to change their expectations of the use of their investment. A decision like that would fail in a court challenge. One of the first things that will need to be done is to implement a Master Plan, like Norcross did (see my other blog). Once the Master Plan is in place, it becomes effective over time as changes in zoning are requested. Once the change is requested, the new zoning is applied to the property. We have a lot of other areas that are at risk. There are several undeveloped corners around me. There is also a strip of single family housing along Medlock Bridge between 141 and PIB that will be redeveloped at some point once the economy turns around. It would be good to have that master plan in place when the request comes in to change the zoning from single family to either commercial or high density residential.
Robert J. Nebel October 13, 2011 at 05:33 PM
@Jeanne - Yes, Alex answered the code enforcement plans - thank you..... @Alex - I hope that Mr. Roberts develops greenspace that will provide much-needed outdoor recreation in the area -- that is really what it takes to make a great community. Of course, greenspace cynics might say that it could invite some crime thus resulting in more police patrols. But, greenspace mixed with retail is still a more common sense vision for the area.
AL October 13, 2011 at 10:38 PM
Begging your pardon if I begin to sound "soapboxey", but I gotta vent here: Okay, I understand the zoning already in place and the grandfather clause clearing the way for Roberts to proceed with his plan city or not, but what I don't understand is this: why is Roberts allowed to build apartments in an area where apartments are not needed or wanted? And let's just focus on the "needed" part...there are many, many physical reminders nearby and throughout the county that clearly illustrate why we do not need any more apartment complexes. The traffic issue alone is reason enough not to build them across from the Forum. And I'd like to hear from any PTC resident who can seriously say "Why, yes, I think a 290-unit apartment complex across from the Forum is a lovely idea!". So why is Roberts allowed to build them anyway just for the sake of profit, without any consideration to the negative impact it will leave on the area and it's residents? I'll say it again, this is perfect example of the "dumb growth" that ruined this county, and it should not be allowed to continue. Thanks for listening.
Robert J. Nebel October 14, 2011 at 12:54 AM
@AL ...and the band played on...this is how the county has always played: "dumb growth." We can only hope that a residential cluster will not go in across from The Forum.

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