Downtown Alpharetta property owners irked by new rules

Would curtail uses on ground-floor properties

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Local business owners complained to the city July 30 about proposed rules that would limit the uses of buildings in downtown Alpharetta.

“The goal is to encourage and uplift downtown,” said Richard McCleod, Alpharetta’s Community Development director.

Given how the city has pushed for downtown to become more pedestrian-friendly, including beautification projects and an almost weekly list of events. Now the city hopes to force only retail and restaurant uses on the ground floor, restricting other uses, such as offices, to top floors or buildings more than 25 feet from the street.

Office uses do not encourage pedestrians and window shopping, McCleod said.

Many property owners felt differently, saying some of the banned uses – such as gyms and banks – drive plenty of foot traffic. Instead, the rules would restrict potential uses of what are now empty storefronts.

“By making the restrictions too tight we can kill the progress [in downtown],” said Dan Miller

Jim Parsons, who owns the building that houses Smokejack, said it doesn’t make sense to limit what businesses can go downtown.

“We don’t need to be denying anything,” Parsons said. “Let the market drive what is going on.”

The owners of Rivers Academy, a private school located within the boundaries affected, were concerned about whether their business could remain after they decide to retire. Schools are among the banned uses.

City officials said business uses that are currently in the district and are not retail or restaurants can continue as “legal non-conforming.” They would be grandfathered in. If the business shuts down or moves, that use would go away.

Another concern was parking. Despite a 250-spot parking deck to be built alongside the new city hall, the owners say there is not enough parking in the historic district to drive much growth. To force more restaurants would further squash parking, as restaurants require much more parking than office of retail uses.

“Our goal is the same,” said McCleod. “We want a successful, thriving economy downtown.”

He added the proposed regulations were only a first draft and would be modified to address some of the concerns.

“This is a first draft,” said McCleod. “There are many ways to skin this cat.”