JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Voters will decide who will fill three Johns Creek City Council seats Nov. 5.
In total, 10 candidates are running, including one incumbent, Councilman Chris Coughlin. In Johns Creek, all City Council members represent the city at-large, and terms are four years.
Voters can check their registration and locate their polling place at mvp.sos.ga.gov.
To help inform voters, the Johns Creek Herald asked each of the candidates:
Q1: Over the past few years, the City Council has been slow to move forward on projects funded by the transportation sales tax (TSPL OST) in part because of a fundamental disagreement about whether the council has discretion to deviate from the project specifics presented to the public in advance of the referendum. The City Attorney and Georgia Attorney General have advised the council that straying from the original project plans could invite a lawsuit.
If elected, what would be your approach to TSPLOST projects?
Q2. Johns Creek is home to several music, theatre and dance groups, but has no dedicated performance venue within city borders. Instead, these groups typically perform in churches or outside Johns Creek. Activists have been working to create a multidisciplinary arts center for the city, which is estimated to cost $50 million to build.
What should be the role of the City Council in supporting arts in Johns Creek?
Q3. In 2018, Johns Creek passed a new Comprehensive Plan that emphasizes maintaining low-density residential use for the majority of the city while revitalizing existing shopping centers and Technology Park. According to the document, 12 percent of the city’s office space is vacant, 18 percent of the city’s retail space is vacant and 93 percent of Johns Creek residents commute outside the city for work.
If elected, what would you do to sustain or grow the city’s businesses? How would you balance the interests of businesses and developers with the concerns of residents?
Some of the answers below have been lightly edited for space.
Q1: The City was not ready for the TSPLOST vote when it came up in 2016. We did not have designs ready to build, nor valid cost estimates. We need to finish that work to determine what is feasible and prepare now for the next TSPLOST vote in two years.
Q2. The arts should be as significant a consideration in our parks and recreation program as physical sports. The city should enter into an agreement with the Cultural Arts Alliance, like we have with the Ocee and Newtown recreational leagues, to provide arts programs in the community.
Q3. I will listen to the business community to learn from them what the city may be doing wrong that is affecting their growth. I would balance the concerns of businesses and residents by refreshing our Strategic Economic Development Plan in a joint effort that is forward looking.
Q1. Focus on expediting the projects that are in the pipeline. Under Tier 1, we have about $69 million in projects, so start prioritizing the projects and move them into execution phase. TSPLOST funds collected are marked towards a purpose, but do not have to be specific to a project.
Q2. Johns Creek needs to have a unique identity and brand; it can be accomplished through arts and culture center. It should be a public-private partnership; City Council should play a key role in supporting this partnership and in execution of the project.
Q3. Focus on reviving half empty shopping centers, create a placemaking environment, attract more foot traffic. Bring more jobs into Johns Creek utilizing vacant office space. Work with universities in setting up a campus and with companies in setting up incubation center. These initiatives coupled with Johns Creek’s educational level, 66 percent residents with bachelor’s degree, will provide an environment for corporations to move into Johns Creek.
Q1. Prioritize the TSPLOST projects based on the needs of the citizens of Johns Creek. This will make a major impact on city improvement and quality of life.
Q2. The role of the City Council is to listen to the needs of the citizens, engage in productive conversations regarding funding of various projects, as well as research other metro cities’ role in addressing similar concerns expressed by the citizens.
Q3. I would encourage the council to attract viable businesses to John Creek by using some of the governor’s initiatives for small business to stimulate the economy by offering desirable employment and community partnerships to the citizens of Johns Creek. In addition, I would balance the interest of businesses and developers by promoting sale or lease of vacant office, retail space, and affordable housing initiatives.
Q1: Our City Attorney is correct: A tax collected for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose. We should first address “danger zones” where accidents occur and points of congested ingress and egress with traffic control devices.
Q2: The amount our city currently contributes towards the operational costs of the arts is zero. First, that must change so private donors will give funds to support the arts, including the construction of the Legacy Center. I am the only candidate advocating for a “public-public-private” fundraising effort where our city is first to contribute and other public as well as private sources join in.
Q3: The interests of residents and businesses need not be at odds with one another. We must initiate a concerted effort to attract businesses that Johns Creek residents need and want. To those who favor “no growth,” I say, “indecision is a decision” and the worst kind because you forfeit your opportunity to shape the future.
Q1. We need to immediately utilize the TSPLOST funds for Tier 1 projects. City Council needs to review these key items: does it meet the legal requirements of TSPLOST and will it ensure the continued safety of our residents and those traveling through our great city? If it does, get it done. Citizens have waited long enough.
Q2. We must support the arts the same way we support our parks. There needs to be a public-private partnership; the same as Ocee, Newtown and Autrey Mill parks are managed. The type of partnership has to be determined by City Council and the Johns Creek Visual and Performing Arts Center Task Force.
Q3. We need to cultivate our entrepreneurs and small businesses. Eliminate burdensome red tape and irrelevant policies. Create a public-private incubator in Technology Park that matches start-up businesses with volunteer mentors. Give support in business plan development, funding sources, and overall business acumen.
Chris Coughlin (I)
Q1. I created a process of evaluating and prioritizing each project based on costs, time to complete, magnitude of impact, benchmarks of success, etc., so I’ll continue to follow the data for maximum utility. Currently, we have 8 of 10 TSPLOST Tier 1 projects in an active stage (e.g., concept, engineering, right-of-way acquisition and construction) with disagreements remaining on the widening of Jones Bridge, which is likely to exacerbate congestion.
Q2. We (City Council) passed a resolution this year supporting an arts center in Johns Creek. I hope the city can continue to partner as the Legacy Center becomes a reality and an anchor for our arts community.
Q3. I’d like to ensure the city doesn’t become a burden to our businesses (I attempted to reduce permit fees and occupational taxes for businesses for this reason) and I’d follow the Comprehensive Land Use Plan to ensure the aforementioned balance.
Q1. The taxpayers already approved these projects and have paid $37 million since 2016 to pay for them. The council has only allocated $3 million to fund them. We need results, not more excuses when it comes to fixing our traffic problem. It’s clear to me a change needs to be made on the council to move these projects forward.
Q2. To move forward, three things need to occur: A clear plan on how this facility will pay for itself so taxpayers aren’t stuck with an outdated facility in 20 years, significant private investment so everyone has skin in the game, and a public vote where it’s clear our residents want to pay for a portion of this.
Q3. With over two decades in working with business owners and entrepreneurs, I have experience to build an environment where businesses know they can thrive. I do not support additional high-density residential.
Q1: As candidates, we are not privy to the same attorney-client privileged discussions to make an appropriate legal risk assessment.
Q2. We should support the arts with public funding. We are raising the brightest, most talented children, shuttling them from piano to dance lessons while showing them we do not value arts as a community. We are looking for an identity as a city, and we should harness the opportunity to be the center of arts and culture in the north metro.
Q3. An 18 percent vacancy rate is bad for business and our residents — we are losing commercial tax revenue! There is a misapprehension that developers are our sworn enemies in a zero-sum war of development. The council controls land use, not the developers, and they should support developers where their interests align with the residents — in building dynamic, walkable, profitable commercial spaces that the residents want and where businesses can thrive.
Q1. As I see it, if both the City Attorney and the Georgia Attorney General have advised against straying, I would not want to open the door for a potential lawsuit. The term “feasible,” in my opinion, becomes subjective after all the objective lenses have been applied.
Q2. The City Council needs to support the arts community. Without the support of City Council, it is near impossible to raise funding from grant sources. Once City Council decides to support (not necessarily monetarily) the Arts Center, avenues for funding will open.
Q3. I would want to work on developing a Master Plan for the City and include resident input such as the city did with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. This will be our “road map” if you will to help Johns Creek grow into its potential. A Master Plan will help guide developers, both business and residential, to bring what we want and need to our city.
Q1. I believe we do have discretion in how we use TSPLOST funds and that we would prevail in any lawsuit if a feasibility study doesn’t support the initial design. There is a precedent for this approach in our neighboring cities. Going forward, I would ensure more transparency throughout the decision-making process so that we can avoid this situation.
Q2. I fully support the arts, and I believe that the City Council should have a plan to develop a thriving arts community. The council should gauge public support to determine the combination of public and private funding. I will advocate for the arts in our overall long-term vision.
Q3. A robust business community is necessary for our city’s growth. I would encourage new businesses through incentives and a reduction in unnecessary regulations making it easier to do business in Johns Creek. Having more businesses to patronize would improve quality of life, reduce traffic, and lower the residential tax burden.