Sacrificing Villages for a ‘City Center’

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[Editor’s note: The letter writer worked for Peachtree City’s major developer for two decades during the implementation of the city’s unique decentralized villages structure.]

A very good summary of where we are are as a city and where we may be headed with the possible abandonment of the city’s village concept in favor of a new “City Center” was presented logically and professionally by Cal Beverly last Wednesday in The Citizen.

His conclusion was more public input and full disclosure. That will probably be mine as well, but first a couple of nits to pick.

The signs directing traffic to the Developer’s “sales office” were in place from 1979–1996 first at Aberdeen Parkway and then at Westpark Drive. They were in fact illegal offsite directional signs but were given special exempt status at my request when I told city council that our Information Center which distributed free maps and community information deserved that exemption.

The alternative was for the city to perform these functions and pay for the maps and the salaries of the staff on their own. The city granted me the exemption for 1 year and renewed it annually for many years. A win/win solution and a perfect example of private/public collaboration.

The Information Centers in Aberdeen and Westpark and also the one at the PTC Sheraton Conference Center greeted and gave orientation presentations and van tours to thousands of people and distributed hundreds of thousands of maps over the years.

Sadly, all that ended when the signs came down because the developer refused to distribute free maps. An accountant with a sharp red pencil saved $10-15,000 in map expense and that cost the company the directional signs, considerable good will, thousands of customers and four dedicated employees lost their jobs. Bonehead decision. Should have been easy to avoid.

On to the village sign issue. Full disclosure — I was the one who paid for the first three Village signs from the Information Center budget (funded from residential and commercial lot sales) so I am hopelessly biased.

I was heartbroken when Nessie, the dinosaur-like mascot of Glenloch Village was knocked down and assumed a replacement sign would be forthcoming, but that was not to be.

Since this was at the beginning of our 12-year leadership drought, which I never expected to last for 12 years, I didn’t really pursue this until the One Peachtree City planning exercise, where it became clear to me that the city’s village deemphasis was a real thing.

The village concept was logical and sensible because we could live in a medium-sized city of 40,000, but intimately in a village of 10,000, which had 1 supermarket, 1 bank, 1 or 2 restaurants, 1 liquor store, 1 drug store, 2 or 3 apartment/condo projects, recreation center, elementary schools, churches, etc.

Kind of like the concept of pre-automobile America with a corner grocery store — but with golf carts. Made perfect sense and was comfortable.

We may have given that up when Planterra Ridge was developed, but certainly when Walmart and Home Depot showed up. So, that dinosaur has left (or maybe sunk into the tar pit).

Now onto the “City Center.” On one hand, I have no clue why this makes any sense at all. Buying out 2 churches for what? What are we getting? The same thing Jim Strickland proposed with his very fine redevelopment plan for the Aberdeen Shopping Center? Which desperately needs to be redeveloped.

Why not let him and the owners do that first with no public money and see how that goes? He and that redevelopment will do very well, in my opinion, and become an example of proper generational repurposing of 40-year-old space.

Of course on this same hand, I assume that everyone thinks exactly like me, votes the same way and values the very same things that I do. Many of these values were instilled in me by my “Greatest Generation” parents, my grandparents  and other relatives and friends who have excelled through strong faith, traditional education, hard work and — dare I say it — common sense.

Clearly I have to get over that now that I have been gobsmacked with the fact that there are more millennials alive than baby boomers. Should also be obvious that only millennials populate that coveted 18-35 age group that advertisers and politicians love.

That leads to the other hand where the City Center is envisioned by the millennials who will be using it. Here I see the future and can’t deny the millennials’ need for flexible housing choices (meaning rentals), mobility in job choices (never use the word career), walkable communities, love of new/old ideas like socialism and communal living and of course the-government-will-care-for-me approach to medical care and retirement.

That is the group that will populate and even dominate the next 30-plus years and it is from that group that their leaders will emerge.

Think about that for a minute. The 50th President of the United States could be sitting through classes at McIntosh High (or a similar school elsewhere) pondering his or her spring break options — which will be fully available for all to see right before the election courtesy of social media.

But before my millennial neighbors attack, I must say that the entire generation should not be portrayed the way I just did. Several examples of fine young people. Just last week I met one on spring break who had passed up the beaches of Florida to be with his family and he even brought some graduate and career-related study materials with him. OK, he also brought his girlfriend, so I was impressed by that millennial for sure.

Those of us swimming lemming-like into our 70s may not see the end result of this debate, but here are the choices: Cling to the past and try to force our beliefs upon the new generation or the current government which has the unenviable job of actually making this decision with taxpayer dollars, but thus far very little taxpayer input OR just let it go and let the millennials create and pay for whatever utopia they think can be conjured up via a transformed Peachtree City.

There it is — two ugly choices upon which it will be impossible to compromise, thereby alienating half the people who have strong opinions.

I honestly cannot decide which path is the right one for the city. It would be easy if it were just me, but when you have children and grandchildren, it adds a degree of difficulty that is hard to overcome.

It does lead one to another question and it is a big one: Should 3 or 4 people on city council and a couple of staff members and consultants be making this momentous of a decision, because we are quickly pursuing some grant money?

If the correct answer is probably not, then maybe it is time to dust off and actually read the report generated by the One Peachtree City study group or create a similar group to study the pros and cons of City Center vs. Villages.

If nothing else, the consultants taking our grant money should be encouraged to seek citizen input (from all age and economic groups) as part of their research.

Rick Schlosser
Peachtree City, Ga.

[Schlosser worked with Peachtree City Development Corp. for 20 years and another five years with “ex-development company partners doing rezoning in PTC.”]

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