Alpharetta raises concerns over downtown school parking



ALPHARETTA, Ga. — City officials are worried a new school planned for downtown Alpharetta may all but gobble up space at a $6.9 million parking deck the city is building nearby.

Three months after committing funds to build the four-level deck on Milton Avenue, the City Council learned that plans for a new science and technology school across the street include parking for fewer than a third of the anticipated enrollment.

The Fulton County Schools’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics center will begin construction this winter at the site of the old Milton High School on Milton Avenue.

Initial drawings for the campus show 440 parking spaces for students and another 200 spaces for staff.

School district officials anticipate an enrollment of 1,500 students.

Those numbers left City Council members with questions at their Oct. 16 meeting where school officials presented the plans.

Mayor David Belle Isle said the deficiency in student parking is greater than the number of spaces that will be available in the city’s new parking deck across the street. The parking deck will provide 263 total stalls and is expected to take nine months to build once final specs are approved.

“We just wrote a check for $6 million for roughly the same number of spaces you‘re short,” Belle Isle said. “That’s a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.”

The new parking deck is the city’s first step in addressing commercial and residential needs for parking in downtown Alpharetta. In the Downtown District alone, private interests are in the early stages of adding dozens of retail shops and restaurants, hundreds of apartments and homes and thousands of square feet of office space.

School Board member Katie Reeves told the City Council that the school’s parking plan conforms to that of other schools, and that traditionally about half the student population will take buses or be dropped off. She said the district has not yet settled on a bus plan whereby students would be transported to the new school.

“All I can tell you is that from our experience, with our parking lots, this is more than the typical [allotment],” Reeves said.

But, the mayor was not assured. If this were a zoning application, he said, the City Council would not approve it.

“Even if it’s 700 students that have cars, plus 150 staff, that’s 850, you’ve got 640 spaces – that’s 200 spaces short,” he said. “We just spent $6 million on 263 spaces.”

Councilman Chris Owens said another complication is that the school district charges students to park on the campus. Nearby city parking is free, he said.

As presented, the campus plan calls for keeping the existing baseball and football fields, although Reeves has said there are no plans for an official STEM sports team.

Councilman Jim Gilvin had his own concerns about the project.

Tearing down the old school is certain to generate a sizeable amount of debris, he said. He asked school officials to work with the city to map out truck routes so the area could be cleared without adding to the downtown traffic load.

City officials stressed that they were gratified to see Fulton County Schools embark on a project that focuses on setting students on career paths for the future.

They also said they appreciate the new building follows the traditional architecture the city is trying to enforce in its downtown.

Council expressed the hope that discussions would continue to make the school compatible with the goals the city has established for downtown Alpharetta.

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