Former Mayor Brown: PTC Council may gut rule controlling big boxes

Tue, 09/11/2007 - 3:14pm
By: Letters to the ...

“Don’t call his (the big box developer’s) bluff” was the cry from one of the homeowners association presidents living adjacent to the proposed Kohl’s site on Ga. Highway 54 West.

To absolutely clear, I have a deep respect for the two homeowners association presidents who spoke in favor of yet another big box store in Peachtree City.

However, it was obvious at the September 10 workshop meeting that the two men swallowed the developer’s “I’ll make it really bad for you with the alternative if you don’t support the Kohl’s” warning. The fear factor is winning out.

Planning Commissioner Marty Mullins proclaimed the outcry against previous big boxes and the citizen movement that led to the city’s big box ordinance was invalid in the case of Kohl’s.

His reasoning was since the proposed Kohl’s is a better looking design than the existing Wal-Mart across the street, you, the citizens, do not oppose the Kohl’s plan.

Has Commissioner Mullins read the city’s big box ordinance? According to language within the ordinance, the Kohl’s is exactly the use the city was trying to prohibit to the letter.

Planning Commissioner Patrick Staples said the land on Hwy. 54 W. is calling out for another big box store. That is indeed strange since the city’s comprehensive plan specifically calls out for village style (non-regional) commercial centers. The Kohl’s will pull from the entire city and surrounding areas.

Even more strange still is the fact the Hwy. 54 W. planning task force, on which I participated years ago, never called for big box stores on the southern portion of the road. I have lots of paper with diagrams and text calling for something else entirely.

The Hwy. 54 W. Corridor Plan was approved by the Lenox administration and my council also with no big boxes on the south side. I remember all of the current City Council members campaigning to uphold the city’s current standards. So what happened?

Historically speaking, attending hundreds upon hundreds of meetings, reading decades worth of meeting minutes, examining city plans and data, I could always tell you the city’s general vision related to future growth at a certain point in time. Rarely did the vision shift in the last four decades.

However, I can honestly say today that I have no idea where the current Planning Commission and City Council are taking us. (In fairness, council members Kourajian and Plunkett have said we are being bullied by the Kohl’s developer, and they are correct.)

In 2006 to present day, Mayor Logsdon has been actively pushing big box development in various parts of Peachtree City. The main reason he cites is tax revenue.

Consult the “Fiscal Impact Analysis of Residential and Nonresidential Land Use Prototypes” report (Tischler & Associates, July 2002.). The study found that big box retail generates a “net annual deficit of $468 per 1,000 square feet.”

In contrast, the study found that specialty retail, a category that includes small-scale Main Street businesses, has a positive impact on pubic revenue (i.e., it generates more tax revenue than it costs to service). Specialty retail produces a net annual return of $326 per 1,000 square feet.

Other commercial land uses that are revenue winners include business parks, offices and hotels.

The two main factors behind the higher costs for big box stores, compared to specialty retail shops, are higher road maintenance costs (due to a much greater number of car trips per 1,000 square feet) and greater demand for public safety services.

The “Understanding the Fiscal Impacts of Land Use in Ohio” study (Randall Gross, Development Economics, August 2004) reviewed and summarized the findings of fiscal impact studies conducted in eight central Ohio communities between 1997 and 2003.

In seven of the eight communities, retail development created a drain on municipal budgets. “The concept that growth is always good for a community does not seem to correlate with the findings from various fiscal analyses conducted throughout central Ohio,” the report concludes.

It cautions cities not to be taken in by the promise of high tax revenue from a new development without also considering the additional costs of providing services.

The Kohl’s big box developer claimed he could not build on the site without a big box anchor store. I say look at The Avenue, the highly productive shopping area, without a big box anchor in sight.

Columbia Properties told our citizens they could not build on their site without a big box. I say they are now.

The new big box store cannot even be constructed unless the city sells city-owned land to make it happen. The city would literally be enabling another big box store to congest the traffic on Hwy. 54 W.

Oh, about increased traffic, the general response from the Planning Commission was, “The traffic will be bad anyway.” What about the logical argument of not purposefully making it worse?

There were rave reviews about the landscaping plan for the Kohl’s proposal. However, I pointed out to the Planning Commissioners that the same developer and same landscape architect did not follow through on the landscape plan that the previous city council signed off on for the developments on the north side of the highway.

In fact, the landscaping currently in place is not even remotely close to the landscaping plan that was approved for the Hwy. 54 W. overlay zone.

When the market is not good enough for the big boxes, they turn off the lights and leave. Less desirable things follow, like Big Lots, Goodwill Thrift Stores and other low-end uses.

It is easier to control the negative uses with our current big box ordinance, the one they don’t want us to follow.

The overwhelming majority of us moved to Peachtree City and Fayette County because of the great family environment and the less hectic pace. Absolutely, we could have moved, instead, to any number of places in metro Atlanta where big box stores were near by. A large number of us fled areas which were being attacked by big-box-style growth.

We are now seeing armed robberies and some out-of-town drug traffickers working the shopping center parking lots. The people who do not agree with the long-standing village style planning concept of the last 40 years will tell you such things are inevitable.

I will counter and say only if we CHOOSE to make it that way (or to allow exceptions to our ordinances to make it that way).

Do not forget if the roads clog on Hwy. 54 W., the intersection of Ga. Highway 74 and Hwy. 54 goes down with it. We have seen it before in the very recent past.

There are no funds in the broken county transportation SPLOST to amend that vital intersection if needed.

Would the granting of an exception for the Kohl’s create a precedent? Look at it this way: You will not find an area with more negatives for disallowing a big box store than Hwy. 54 W.

The new standard for granting an exception would be considerably lower. Also keep in mind that a judge from outside Peachtree City would make the determination based on the new lower standard in the event another big box developer filed a lawsuit wanting to get in (something that has happened in the recent past).

It is difficult for me to believe that former Mayor Joel Cowan would allow his land on Hwy. 54 W. to be used to hold our local subdivisions by the throat, but it is happening.

Many on the City Council think you do not care if they sell city-owned property to enable yet another big box store. If you do care, you had better let them know by emailing to city

Steve Brown

Peachtree City, Ga.

[Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City.]

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