ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The City Council will settle a six-month debate Monday when it selects between three different plans to build a parking deck on the west side of Main Street in downtown Alpharetta.
About 70 people turned out Monday night to see the city’s latest multi-million-dollar proposal, a plan calling for two decks, each smaller than earlier versions that occupied single sites. The new proposal, the city’s third, is designed to accommodate both sides on an issue that has divided residents against the business community.
The City Council approved a site between Roswell Street and Old Roswell Street back in August. But city leaders backed out of that decision when about 50 residents appeared at the next council meeting to protest, arguing the deck would obliterate an area pedestrians now use to attend downtown festivals.
A month later, the city unveiled a second option siting the deck farther northwest on Milton Avenue near Rest Haven Cemetery. While many residents applauded, the downtown business community objected, saying proximity to parking is the life blood of retail. The added walking distance, they said, would be enough to choke off retail.
The third proposal presented at the workshop Monday would give each side a little of what they want. And, because the first two proposals were not on display at Monday’s open house, city leaders appear squarely behind door number three.
“I think it was well received,” said Mayor David Belle Isle. “There is a need to try to get as much parking in different areas of the city, especially in areas on the other side of Main Street. I do think this most recent plan preserves the event space and opportunities behind Smokejack because people are affectionate to it, and we can’t just disregard that.”
The latest plan carries a total price tag of $8 million, more than 25 percent higher than estimates given for the two earlier proposals. It also delivers more than 50 additional parking spaces and provides for future expansion of either or both decks.
Residents on hand Monday peppered the mayor and Bob Williams, an engineer with Pond consulting, with questions about the new proposal. Some questioned the total return of parking spaces – particularly at the Roswell Street site – for the money. They pointed out the site already has 88 spaces, and spending millions to add another 80, does not sound reasonable.
But the mayor argued the Roswell Street site will offer more than the simple number of stalls because parking will be limited to three hours. This, he said, will allow for greater usage and provide downtown businesses with a fluid customer base.
Belle Isle also said the time limits at the metered deck could be relaxed during major downtown festivals.
On the other hand, he said, the Milton Avenue deck will impose no time limits on parking.
Williams added that plans call for 19 parking spaces on the street along Milton Avenue in front of the deck.
Whatever the decision Monday, Alpharetta is on the verge of a major construction onslaught in its downtown area.
Work is set to begin by the middle of March on the next phase of City Center which will close down much of the street parking near the City Hall complex for close to a year. Park Plaza, which runs in front of the library and City Hall, will remain open and provide the only access to the existing parking deck on the east side of Main.
Though most residents seemed satisfied with the new plan, one longtime businessman and downtown property owner was not so impressed. Jim Parsons said the city needs to recognize the need for parking before major growth occurs. While the number of retail and restaurants in downtown has tripled over the past six years, he said, the amount of parking has hardly moved.
“We’re squeezing retail really hard,” Parsons said. “It’s not enough.”