JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – The Johns Creek City Council loved Johns Creek Technology Park’s plan for 19.4 acres on McGinnis Ferry Road just east of Medlock Bridge Road, but it wants to preserve its commercially zoned property more.
That is why it denied in a 5-2 vote (Councilmembers Kelly Stewart and Brad Raffensperger dissenting) a plan to put 53 single-family lots on the property.
Tech Park attorney Nathan “Pete” Hendricks noted the property at the 6900 block of McGinnis Ferry is fronted on the other side by residential, and all of the surrounding property on the site has been developed commercially.
“But this site is bisected by a creek that flows year round. It has been zoned commercially since 1983 and has not been marketed,” Hendricks said.
As late as 2008, Tech Park spent $1.6 million to make the property “pad ready” for development, and it has still had no buyers.
Rick Bradshaw, president of TPA Realty Services, said the property is kidney-shaped and has no access to Technology Circle. With the stream setbacks that would be required, there is just no economically feasible way to market the property for commercial use.
“We have tried for more than 30 years and spent $1.6 million to market the property. Tech Park has been behind the land use plan from the beginning, but this is just the odd piece out,” Bradshaw said.
Once allowances are made for the creek and its concurrent setbacks, there is not enough room for parking and a building footprint.
“The creek becomes an amenity when the property is marketed for residential use,” he said. “We have spent considerable time trying to maintain the land use plan and made extensive efforts to move this eyesore [as commercial] for the last 10 years. But this is the best plan for this property.”
But his appeals fell on largely deaf ears. Although the project had no community opposition, members of council said there has been considerable “shrinkage” of the inventory of commercial property converted to residential uses.
Stewart asked if the creek were the only obstacle to moving the property as commercial.
“It’s a matter of location, visibility and access,” said Bradshaw. “It does not have access to the interior road [Technology Circle], but physically there is no parking space – no functional space for the 80,000 square feet on the property. The physical constraints make it unusable for commercial.”
Asked about using multiple stories on the property, Bradshaw said that was not a viable solution. It just makes parking a more critical problem for the site.
Mayor Mike Bodker said he is a big supporter of Technology Park and what it has done for the community, but on this point he said he had to say no.
“I have seen in my 20 years in the community how residential creep has eaten away at our commercial space,” Bodker said. “The last 10 years especially have seen that land go. We have to look long-term now.”
Bodker noted the city has committed to a 720-acre central city study to create a master plan for its downtown area, of which Technology Park is a critical part – especially for office-commercial uses.
“We’re talking about changing the character area and the comprehensive plan,” the mayor said.
Bodker noted there was a 146,000-square-foot, single-story building next door to the property. That footprint could be redeveloped for multi-story use with the TPA property next door ready to be incorporated into its plan, perhaps as the parking deck.
Councilman Steve Broadbent said he couldn’t support changing the city land use plan after campaigning to abide by it.
Raffensperger said none of the arguments adequately address the creek and the unsuitability of the land for commercial uses. He would support the residential use.
But ultimately, the council decided 5-2 to deny the request because the city needed to preserve the commercial footprint of the city, which would ease taxes on existing residential properties.