ALPHARETTA, Ga. — As Alpharetta develops a strategy to address a pending parking shortage downtown, city officials are focusing on Fulton County Schools’ new STEM learning center as a potential problem.
The new school, set to open in 2020, is expected to draw some 1,500 students to the old Milton High School campus just a block west of Main Street and right across the street from the city’s new $6.9 million parking deck.
Early plans call for 440 paid student parking spaces on the STEM campus.
Meanwhile, the city deck will have four levels and 263 spaces which officials say they plan to offer free to downtown visitors and shoppers.
City Council members raised the issue Monday night and at another workshop Nov. 27 with Joel Mann, senior associate at Nelson/Nygaard Consulting, which is coordinating a parking management system for the city’s downtown.
So far, the city is weighing a number of options for parking management, including metered parking and time limits.
It is also calculating a per-space cost new or expanding businesses should pay if they are deficient in the number of parking spaces on their own property.
Turning to the school issue, Mann suggested one solution would be to institute validated parking for the garage, which would discourage students from using the deck.
Other patrons, he said, could get their tickets validated at any of the downtown businesses.
“Ultimately no one should be paying with this kind of validation program,” Mann said.
Councilman Mike Kennedy suggested keeping the deck closed until 9 a.m. – well after classes start – then opening it up for public use. However Kennedy said the school district hasn’t ironed out its curriculum yet, and no one knows whether students will be free to go in and out of the school throughout the day.
For weeks now, the City Council has been expressing concern over whether a facility it is funding and designing for public use will be swallowed up by students at a school they say is not providing enough of its own parking.
Mayor David Belle Isle has suggested the school – if it were under the city’s jurisdiction – would not pass zoning requirements for parking.
“I think it’s fair for us to be concerned because right now I’m not hearing any consistency in how they want to operate [the school],” Councilman Chris Owens said.
But Fulton County School Board Member Katie Reeves, who lives in Alpharetta, said she’s confused by all the commotion.
She said, when taken in totality, the school has 650 parking spots, 200 of them for staff, and that is well within the guidelines of the city’s Uniform Development Code.
“It seemed the City Council was hugely surprised that we were putting this school in there, and they didn’t know before they committed the dollars to the parking deck,” Reeves said. “We’ve always told the city that there would be a school there.”
She said the school district has updated the city on its plans for the STEM school every step of the way, even before the special schools sales tax was renewed in 2016 to provide its funding.
“We told them all about it,” Reeves said. “We even offered to partner with them on a parking deck.”
That offer was officially presented to the City Council a year ago when the city was considering sites for a new parking deck west of Main Street.
However, city officials at the time said the location was too far from the main Downtown District, and the city’s timetable for having the deck in place wouldn’t match up with construction of the STEM campus. Reeves said she thinks the current alarm is unfounded, adding that many of the STEM students won’t even be old enough to drive. Reeves said she thinks the current alarm is unfounded, adding that many of the STEM students won’t even be old enough to drive. She added that bus service for the school has yet to be determined.
At the same time, Reeves said it’s important that Fulton County Schools be welcome members of the community. She said school officials took pains to design the new school building so as to abide by the architectural recommendations for the Downtown District.
“It’s important to us that we have good relationships with all of the cities we do business with,” she said. “I want people to know we definitely tried to be as transparent with the City Council as possible.”
City officials say they are continuing discussions with the school district about the issue. More management proposals for downtown parking will be presented at a later City Council workshop.