Category Archives: Ed Thompson

Johns Creek Comprehensive Plan Observations: What Johns Creek DOESN’T Want or Need

The City of Johns Creek held a workshop intended to review the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) and Transportation Master Plan (TMP) on Thursday, June 1st, 2017. The workshop began with an opportunity to review boards with information and depictions of several options under consideration for zoning, development, and redevelopment, then followed up with a presentation by the two consulting organizations with whom the city has contracted to lead and facilitate this work, and finally opened the floor to questions from the workshop attendees.

The Comprehensive Plan is still a work in process, and this final workshop was meant to provide residents with a preview of the materials prior to presentation to City Council on June 19th.

The importance of these plans and the direction they propose for Johns Creek over the next 20 years cannot be overstated. The plan that is ultimately approved by City Council will dictate the character of our city beginning almost immediately upon adoption.

Those who attended the meeting will recognize the visual representations provided by the consultants, both on the boards that were set up throughout the meeting room, as well as from the Powerpoint presentation that was reviewed with attendees. It’s important to understand where the emphasis was placed as it is indicative of those proposals that are receiving the highest priority from the consultants. It’s equally important to understand that these same consultants were hired with a distinct objective in mind, and have certainly been given guidance from city staff with whom they work most closely.

The staff position with the greatest interaction with these consultants would be our Director of Community Development, Ms. Sharon Ebert. Ms. Ebert is an employee of CH2M Hill, the company to which Johns Creek has outsourced many administrative functions. Her previous experience includes a role as Interim Executive Director & Director of Planning and Development for the Housing Authority of Bridgeport, Connecticut (distinguished as one of the large American cities that had declared bankruptcy), Director of Planning and Development for the Housing Authority of New Haven, Connecticut, and Deputy Commissioner Planning & Development for the city of Yonkers, New York.

I highlight these previous roles to bring to light the vast difference of community character between those locations, and the historic character of Johns Creek: the former represents high density, urban communities while Johns Creek has traditionally been suburban and residential. Keep that in mind as you review the recommendations that appear to be forthcoming in the Comprehensive Plan.

The majority of the boards and presentation material focused on mixed use (read: high density, urbanization), and various “nodes”. The Transportation plan has closely aligned with the various T-SPLOST projects, and was heavily weighted toward road widening efforts (capacity), the development of inter-neighborhood travel options, and introducing a grid system for certain nodes (primarily around Technology Park, and the area formerly proposed to become “The District”).

Some may recall that the Comprehensive Plan sought input through the distribution of an online survey available at the ConnectJohnsCreek.com website. Those who participated in the survey may also recall that the survey was structured such that it was clearly driving to a foregone conclusion: increased urbanization, higher density, and wider roads.

After some vocal feedback from residents who recognized that the survey was constructed with a lack of options that would support the opportunity to preserve the suburban residential character of the city, the survey was changed to provide the option of selecting “None” from among the presented high-density options. At no time did the survey present a set of options that would retain the current character of the city. The results of this survey were cited as representing the desires of residents, and as a key input to the Comprehensive Plan.

What can be concluded from this workshop? First and foremost, the Comprehensive Plan presents a vision of a very different Johns Creek than what we have today. Another conclusion is that proposals that have come up in the past, but were roundly opposed by residents, are back.

Attendees of the workshop likely experienced a strong case of déjà vu. The District was proposed as a new City Center, located within Technology Park, representing a city-funded redevelopment effort. That plan was roundly opposed by city residents. Well, it’s back. The city has already purchased a building for a consolidated City Hall in the area. A linear park is proposed in the Comprehensive Plan as well as a project funded by the Parks Bonds. Proposed redevelopment of the surrounding area effectively resurrects The District without calling it by name.

Mixed Use is prominently represented in the Comprehensive Plan materials. That means density and urbanization. Mixed use also means provision for retail. Anyone paying attention recognizes that the retail industry, at least in its brick-and-mortar form, is collapsing. Does Johns Creek really need more nail salons, dry cleaners, and empty storefronts?

The Comprehensive Plan proposes to redevelop several existing retail zones. If existing retail is struggling, why does the plan include allowances for more retail?

The Transportation Master Plan includes a many road widening projects throughout the city. For those residents who thought that their voices were heard when they appeared in great numbers to express their opposition, and who were told that road widening proposals would see full consideration in front of the City Council with an up-or-down vote, recognize that this plan is going to approve those plans without the promised hearing. These plans are targeted to increase capacity – meaning accommodating more traffic – but without any required coordination with adjacent jurisdictions. Consider that the recently held traffic planning session in Peachtree Corners immediately south of Johns Creek revealed no plans to widen State Road 141 through their city. That means that we are bypassing other less intrusive options in the rush to widen roads that will meet an immediate bottleneck at Peachtree Corners. To what effect does this proposal benefit Johns Creek residents, and what damage will be done to the residential character of our city through these routes?

Make no mistake: the Comprehensive Plan is clearly advancing Johns Creek to a highly urbanized future marked by high density, increased traffic volume, and a drastically different character than what exists today. Nothing that was presented in the Comprehensive Plan spoke to retaining our residential character, or how we might improve our property values for existing residential properties.

I urge all interested parties to review the presentation material for yourselves and determine whether the plans as presented represent a future for Johns Creek that you personally desire for yourself and your family. We are at a critical juncture, with a vision for the city that does not seek to preserve Johns Creek, but instead, imposes a very different future. We need to decide whether that vision deserves our support, or whether we stand up and fight to preserve and improve the city we call home.

Review for yourself. The Comprehensive Plan presentation can be found at:

https://connectjohnscreek.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/johns-creek-workshop4_draftv3.pdf

Letter to the Editor: Reflections on the Johns Creek City Council Election

The Special Election to fill the Johns Creek City Council Post vacated by Bob Gray is now complete, and the results have been finalized.  Chris Coughlin handily won the support of 63.81% of voters in an election that saw strong voter turnout.

With over 10,000 votes in his favor, Coughlin won more votes in a single election than any other candidate in Johns Creek’s ten-year history.  That is a remarkable achievement, particularly in light of the fact that this was a Special Election held in April.

So what drove the high level of voter participation and delivered a nearly 2-to-1 victory to Coughlin’s campaign?  I would suggest that four factors contributed to this outcome.

  • House District 6 Special Election Interest
  • Coughlin’s Preparation
  • Grassroots Support
  • Dissatisfaction with Current Johns Creek Leadership

Let’s take them one at a time.

Special Election Interest

There is no denying the fact that there was a groundswell of interest in the Special Election to replace Tom Price’s District 6 seat in the House of Representatives.  Democrat funds poured into the race in an attempt to wrest control of this seat that Republicans have held for decades, spurred by the strategy of uniting behind a Democrat candidate while Republicans conducted the equivalent of a Primary Election.  Both sides pushed a Get Out The Vote effort in order to achieve their objectives (the Democrats seeking to exceed 50% in order to avoid a runoff election, and the Republicans seeking to deny that threshold to their opponent).  The interest in that race certainly brought more people to the polls.

Coughlin’s Preparation

Chris Coughlin is not a newcomer to Johns Creek politics.  He ran for and won an election to complete a stub term in 2015, and narrowly lost the election for the subsequent term while being outspent by the eventual victor who spent nearly 14 times as much money as Coughlin did for his campaign.  In the interim between the completion of his stub term and his election win this past week, Coughlin has remained highly engaged in local issues and has continually advocated his brand of fiscally conservative solutions to the issues our city must address.  This level of continued engagement resonated clearly with residents who met with and attended the various candidate forums as well as meet-and-greet opportunities leading up to the election.

Grassroots Support

There is a growing level of grassroots involvement in Johns Creek.  Some recent developments have heightened the awareness of residents who have been disappointed, or even angered by events such as the proposals to erect a 400 foot tall cell phone tower in close proximity to schools and residential neighborhoods, the arrival of invasive billboards, proposals to widen roads that have far-reaching impacts on residents and private property, the delegation of decision-making authority for eminent domain seizure of private property to unaccountable officials in Forsyth County, failure to adequately address the ever-present and growing traffic congestion in Johns Creek, advocacy for increased urbanization, proposed development of “The District”, and the ongoing promotion of high density housing development despite a majority of residents’ opposition.  The result has been a growing groundswell of grassroots support for candidates who will put the interests of Johns Creek residents first, rather than those of special interests, or in pursuit of a future vision for the city that is anathema to the suburban residential character that most moved here to enjoy.  Chris Coughlin’s platform aligned with that grassroots development.

Dissatisfaction with Johns Creek Leadership

The previous point highlights the growing perception of a disconnect between Johns Creek residents and some of our city elected officials.  To be more specific, Mayor Mike Bodker made this Special Election a referendum on his leadership when he came out in strong support of John Flores, officially endorsing Coughlin’s opponent.  He is quoted in The Johns Creek Herald as stating, “While council is making perfectly fine short-term decisions, they lead to bad long-term consequences.  Meanwhile, what has been lost is a vision for the future of the city.”  The article makes that statement, “Bodker said he is tired of people talking about Johns Creek as if it were a city that was fundamentally broken.”

By jumping into the election and endorsing one candidate while talking down another, the Mayor put a stake in the ground.  He was joined in his endorsement by three City Council Members: Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Broadbent, Councilman Jay Lin (Chris Coughlin’s opponent in 2015), and Councilwoman Cori Davenport.  Those familiar with the workings of John Creek City Council will recognize that the Mayor and three Council Members vote in support of each other the vast majority of the time.  What the Mayor was attempting to accomplish was to add another member to the Council who he thought would be more likely to align with his vision for the city of Johns Creek.  There is a strong case to be made that in their block endorsement of Chris Coughlin’s opponent, the Mayor and three fellow Council Members actually hurt John Flores’ campaign because the voters recognized it for what it was: an attempt to stack the deck with a perceived ally, providing the Mayor ample support to pursue an agenda that is not aligned with the voters.

Despite what was a serious strategic error, Mayor Bodker is an excellent politician.  He is in equal parts persuasive, knowledgeable, hard-working, and dedicated to his job.  There is also an impression that he can overly authoritarian and vindictive.  He certainly has a vision for Johns Creek.  However, the development of grassroots opposition to several of his positions, and the overwhelming success of Chris Coughlin’s election despite the Mayor’s and three City Council Member’s endorsement, there is clear evidence that we have significant dissatisfaction with the leadership in Johns Creek.

Summary

The Special Election is now behind us.  The voting residents of Johns Creek made a bold statement in their overwhelming support for Chris Coughlin, and they sent a message of rebuke to the Mayor and fellow endorsers of Coughlin’s opponent.  The Mayor’s seat and Councilwoman Davenport’s seat are both up for election in November.  Will they learn a lesson from this week’s events, and will they adjust their positions to better align with the will and desires of Johns Creek residents?  The tide is changing and time will tell.

Editorial: Johns Creek Public Works Holds Meeting to Demonstrate Their Disconnect from Residents

Johns Creek City Council hosted a Public Information Open House for McGinnis Ferry and Jones Bridge roads projects on Wednesday March 8th starting at 6:00 PM.  To say that the packed house left the session disappointed would be a gross understatement.

In preparation for the meeting, Public Works and City Management staff set up graphic representations of the affected roads and surrounding neighborhoods.  Tables were set up with the intent of hosting stations to address specific questions.  That intent, however, did not come to pass.

The meeting was called to order and facilitated by Public Works Director Tom Black, and Assistant City Manager Justin Kirouac.  Attendees quickly became frustrated by several conflicting statements, and a nerve was touched when the crowd was told (more than once), “You voted for this.”  It was at this point that the anger of the crowd ignited, and control of the meeting by Black and Kirouac was lost. 

City Council members Stephanie Endres and Lenny Zaprowski stepped forward to help address some of the questions being posed.  Councilwoman Cori Davenport was also in attendance, as was City Council candidate Chris Coughlin.  Conspicuous by their absence were Mayor Mike Bodker, Councilman Steve Broadbent, and Councilman Jay Lin.

Several meeting attendees expressed their anger, stating that they had been encouraged to vote Yes on the T-SPLOST referendum this past November after being advised by Public Works staff that the widening of McGinnis Ferry Road was a “done deal”, and that the only way to minimize the impact was to support the T-SPLOST referendum.  Then during the meeting on March 8th, they were told that final decisions on the McGinnis Ferry Road and Jones Bridge Road projects were within the power of Johns Creek to decide, and would be pursued since the public had “voted” to approve them.  Conflicting information was provided throughout the meeting with regard to just how much control Johns Creek will actually have on these projects, further frustrating attendees.

Another point of concern is the degree to which Forsyth County is controlling the design of the McGinnis Ferry Road project.  This project is being pursued based upon a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Forsyth County and Johns Creek, but delegates much of the design and decision-making to Forsyth County.  Johns Creek residents expressed their concerns that they perceive that their interests are not being adequately represented by our City Council and Public Works department.  Several residents are set to lose most of their private property, and over half of the value of their property if the project goes through as planned.  While there will be a direct impact on those property owners who will have at least a portion of their property taken by this project, there will also be an impact to the value of all property owners, to the extent of their proximity to increased road noise and other associated impacts that will negatively affect quality of life issues.

The Jones Bridge Road project was described as entirely within the control of Johns Creek.  Several residents commented that Jones Bridge Road doesn’t experience the congestion that would warrant a widening project, and that it seemed the project was being pursued as an adjunct to the McGinnis Ferry Road project.

Similar to a prior meeting to discuss the proposed widening of Medlock Bridge/141, residents expressed their concerns that our city seems intent on increasing road capacity due to traffic that originates outside of Johns Creek, and that the spending of our local tax dollars to accommodate that traffic comes at the expense of the quality of life in Johns Creek, and will result in a radical altering of the residential character of the community.

The two recent meetings to discuss road projects in our city demonstrate that our City Council and Public Works department have a significant disconnect between their proposed plans and the desires of the residents of Johns Creek.  I applaud the City Council members who attended the meeting to listen to their constituents.  It’s clear that the residents of Johns Creek expect the balance of our elected officials to make themselves accountable to the people who elected them, and to stop drawing false correlations between the desire to address traffic congestion, and what appears to be a wholesale effort to pave our way to some mythical traffic nirvana.  If we continue to purse that path, we’ll be left with a massive concrete parking lot surrounded by residential For Sale signs.