Business leaders and planners are squaring off over a proposal that would restrict the types of establishments visitors will stroll past in Alpharetta’s revived historic downtown district.
A plan floated before the City Council calls for restrictions that would keep most businesses except restaurants and small retail from occupying ground-level property fronting Main Street. The idea is to create an atmosphere that promotes pedestrian traffic in a downtown that has been challenged since 1993, when North Point Mall opened.
The City Council was to consider the proposal last week but removed it from the agenda until residents could weigh in. As of Wednesday the vote had not yet been rescheduled.
Some business leaders like the idea, saying it will draw pedestrian traffic and give retailers the vibrant downtown they’ve been seeking. Others argue they don’t need government telling them where they can set up shop in a commercial district.
“What on earth makes you think that you guys need to jump into this and take our property and tell us what we can do with it?” Dan Miller vented at a Tuesday gathering with city planners.
Miller, who owns a multi-tenant commercial building. was one of about two dozen downtown property owners and business operators who attended the information forum at City Hall. Most said the city was eliminating close to 80 percent of the uses for commercial property and limiting owners in their search for tenants.
The debate over commercial occupancy comes as ground breaks on Alpharetta’s $30 million downtown renovation, a massive project to reshape the east side of Main Street.
The discussion also foreshadows decisions looming in Sandy Springs, where a $100 million city center is planned on Roswell Road. Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said there have only been preliminary talks on what sort of mix will occupy the core, but everyone seems to agree they want to see local businesses become a mainstay.
Alpharetta Community Development Director Richard McLeod said the intent of the proposal is to use the ground-level retail realm of downtown for businesses that will invite pedestrians.
“That area is kind of precious and those uses that evolve down there can either help each other or they can hinder each other in terms of generating more people downtown,” McLeod said. “[This is] certainly not meant to hurt anybody’s property rights, destroy their business.”
Planning for vibrant downtowns is more art than science. What works in some cities won’t work in others.
Suwanee spent $19 million to buy land and build a new City Hall along Buford Highway.
Rather than restrict business uses, the city designed its surroundings to suit small retail and restaurants, City Manager Marty Allen said.
“What we did is tell developers you’re going to have to build a building that looks like this,” Allen said. “By doing that, you get a certain street-level retail user.”
Alpharetta owns much of the property on the east side of downtown Main Street, but a variety of businesses occupy space on the west side, and property owners are edgy about anyone limiting their choices.
Jim Parsons, who owns downtown property he leases for office space, said he agrees with the city’s goals but not its method.
“The way they’re trying to do this will probably hurt property values,” he said. “A decrease in zoning would translate to a decrease in property values. There’s almost no appraiser that would say otherwise.”
Not everyone is opposed to the idea, though.
Larry Attig, a downtown business and property owner, said he thinks the plan makes sense in the long run and could be a way to jump-start the area. The measure only restricts the first 25 feet of space at ground level, so anything could operate above or behind that area, he said.
“We have got to do something to stimulate downtown Alpharetta,” he said. “We just don’t have that vibrant atmosphere where people want to stroll around and look at things.”
Under the proposed code for downtown Alpharetta, the following uses would not be permitted within 25 feet of the sidewalk on the street level of buildings within the Historic Business District:
Associations (clubs and lodges)
Carpet and rug stores
Grocery stores (except small specialty stores)
Congregate housing, assisted living facilities
Day care centers
Dry cleaning (except pickup only)
Pet day care
Schools or academies
Automotive service stations