Alpharetta candidates weigh in at public forums

Alpharetta Business Association President John Ray, center, moderates a public forum for City Council candidates Monday evening at City Hall. Candidates, from left, Clifford Martin, John Hipes (Post 4) and Karen Richard and Katie Harding (Post 3) used the event to set out their views on growth, traffic and quality of life. The forum drew a crowd of about 50 people.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Candidates for Alpharetta mayor and city council got their first crack this week to plug their platforms and confront the competition ahead of the May 22 municipal election.

All six candidates vying for seats were at City Hall April 19 for a public forum sponsored by Bike Alpharetta. The four city council candidates reassembled at the same venue Monday night for the first of two forums sponsored by the Alpharetta Business Association.

Both events drew about 50 people, and, not surprisingly, growth, development and traffic were the marquis topics.

Mayoral candidates Jim Gilvin and Chris Owens, both members of the City Council until recently, spent a large share of their time discussing growth and what residents could expect under their administrations.

Gilvin immediately set out to distance himself from the recent growth spurt the city has experienced in residential, commercial and office developments, particularly in the Downtown District. He said he has been the lone voice on the council, voting to reign in high-density developments and apartments.

The fallout from this growth, Gilvin said, has been the city’s inability to keep up with traffic and other services. The problems the city now faces with traffic and pedestrian safety, he said, can be tracked to bad decisions the City Council made without calculating their impact.

He said he would encourage the City Council to weigh the cost of development on the city’s infrastructure and on its aesthetics before approving major projects that come before the council.

He was the only council member, he said, to fight against approval of a 168-unit apartment building as part of the downtown City Center project, a building, he added, that will obscure Alpharetta City Hall.

Owens countered that the numbers associated with additional traffic from new development are misleading. In many cases, he said, the actions by the City Council were tailored to actually reduce the amount of traffic the properties could have generated had they been developed for other purposes.

Owens, a civil engineer, also said he would employ his skillset to ensure Alpharetta kept up with infrastructure needs. During his eight years on the City Council, he said he has established a network of funding sources with the county, the state and federal governments to pitch in on road improvement projects.

Owens stressed that Alpharetta’s prosperity is linked to its ability to think to the future, and he supports citywide WiFi and 5G technology to maintain the city’s reputation as the Technology City of the South.

Candidates for two Alpharetta City Council seats met twice this week to respond to citizen questions.

Post 3 hopefuls Katie Harding, program manager with the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and sales consultant with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, is running against Karen Richard, a retired corporate executive and former member of the Alpharetta Planning Commission.

Both candidates said they are committed to preserving the city’s quality of life and would adhere to directives established in the Alpharetta Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Harding said her organizational skills and contacts with countless civic and private groups will help her tackle government business.

Richard said her time on the Planning Commission has helped her understand the complexity of zoning issues and how decisions can either erode or support citizens’ ideas for what they want Alpharetta to be.

Post 4 candidates John Hipes, a local attorney and former Planning Commission member, and Clifford Martin, a retired business executive, said they are both for smart growth but do not agree with all the development the city has presided over the past few years.

Martin said he objects to the numerous mixed-use developments approved, particularly in the Downtown District, that have strained roadway capacity and threatened pedestrian safety.

Hipes said he has poured himself into the city since he and his family moved to Alpharetta nearly 30 years ago. He said his track record on the Planning Commission proves his commitment to adhering to a land-use plan that keeps residents in mind.

The next candidate forum will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m., May 1 at City Hall and will feature the two mayoral candidates. That event is sponsored by the Alpharetta Business Association.

Alpharetta High School will host a debate with all the candidates May 4, and Appen Media Group has scheduled a forum for May 16.

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