Peachtree City Council Post 2 candidate Suzanne Brown provided these responses to questions posed by The Citizen:
1. What skill sets do you bring to the office?
I am candidate Suzanne Brown. During my 21-year career in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I was in a management or supervisory position for nine years. I wrote local policy and procedures that followed federal and state laws. My analytical skills helped me develop detailed department procedures for staff to follow that ensured they met legal requirements, national policies, and security regulations-based incarceration. That experience and my natural curiosity gives me edge on analyzing city ordinances before making changes, and to review variance applications, and zoning change applications to fully understand the details and how it will impact the citizens and the city.
I am committed to serving the citizens. In the last two and one-half years, I personally attended every City Council meeting but three. I demonstrated a greater level of engagement and commitment than other candidates. I don’t watch the live-stream or the video days later. I have a history of commitment to the city and have taken stands on defending our traditional land plans.
I read the full agenda packet and analyze each topic and know what questions to ask. When I see something that residents need to know, I organize some friends to go speak to affected neighborhoods about what is on the agenda.
I make neighborhoods aware of issues on the agenda and explain what they can do to help themselves. It’s not right for the City Council to make decisions affecting citizens when the citizens haven’t weighed in on the subject.
The local neighborhoods have expressed appreciation for my alerting them. I did this for several issues including: the Mill Farms rezoning this year that affected Wilshire and Foreston Place homeowners; a rezoning on Robinson Road that affected residents in The Estates; and the current 52-acre annexation east of the new Booth Middle School that affects residents on Stagecoach Road, and Carriage Lane.
2. Specifically, what differentiates you from your opponent(s)?
There are some clear distinctions in the City Council Post 2 race between my opponent and me.
For years, I have advocated publicly in our City Council meetings for ethical governance, promoting a return to our high land planning standards, and opposing the mass construction of apartment complexes across the city. I have alerted the public on suspect actions taken by the city government through letters to the editor and public comments at Planning Commission and City Council meetings.
As a retiree, I am not tied to any company or business that has any official dealings with the city. But Victor Painter’s employer offers loans for real estate developers and businesses which creates an ethical dilemma when they go the City Council for votes on rezonings, variances and annexations.
For years, I attended City Council meetings, Planning Commission meetings, SPLOST meetings, Comprehensive Plan meetings, and countless other Special Called city meetings and workshops. I am knowledgeable on a wide variety of issues that affect all Peachtree City residents and helped to compel some positive changes from the local government.
My opponent, Victor Painter, has spoken at only two City Council meetings regarding cut-through traffic speeding past his driveway on Terrane Ridge to bypass the 74/54 intersection. I commend Victor for looking out for the safety of his family and his neighbors.
I also support protecting the residents of Planterra Ridge, but Victor has done nothing on the biggest issues that affect every one of us. On issues where citizens from across the city rallied to challenge harmful development or unethical government behavior, Victor was nowhere to be found.
Voters have no real idea of what position my opponent will take on a wide variety of issues. His lack of a visible presence and public comments, except for the Planterra issue, leaves his positions completely unknown to voters.
You can search for my Letters to the Editor on important local issues published in TheCitizen.com using “Suzanne Brown” in the search box. There are no positions or participation on any important issues from Victor Painter.
Some of the topics I spoke about include:
• Having an opening prayer at the beginning of Council meetings
• The disenfranchisement of Rising Starr precinct voters in the 2022 Municipal election because they needed to vote at both Rising Starr Middle School and Braelinn Elementary to vote in the General Election and the Special Municipal Election. More than 440 of those who voted at Rising Staff did not go to Braelinn to cast their vote there. That is an issue that needs to be fixed.
• The cost for the 2022 Special Municipal Election was $133,000. I analyzed the invoice which contained what appeared to be bloated, unrealistic costs. They charged us $9,200 in November and $9,200 in December for 3 staff to work for four weeks, plus 20 hours of overtime for each worker to mail out, receive, and process absentee ballots. The problem is that there were only 126 Absentee ballots in November and only 28 Absentee ballots in December. After I outlined some what appears to be bloated charges for so few Absentee ballots in both November and December, the city negotiated the invoice down to $92,000, a savings to Peachtree City residents of $41,000
• Opposing the restrictive 2 minutes for Public Comment for citizens at council meetings. They only allow 10 speakers (the current 3 minutes is still too restrictive).
• Opposed the state legislature’s redistricting the Georgia House of Representative Districts that affected Peachtree City citizens, and split our voters so they have many different Georgia Representatives.
• Promoting the truth that census data does not support city staff’s claim that our population is “aging.”
• Researched and informed the public on the impact of annexation, showing how many single-family houses were being built monthly and over the most recent 12 months.
• Opposition to annexation for a residential development, exhausting city services.
• Made secretive changes to the city ordinances on variances public.
• Promoted the need to update Ordinance 1204 regarding Administrative Variances
• and yes, approving backyard chickens for large lots.
I spoke about many more topics, but I will stop there.
When all these issues were happening over the years, I was there.
My opponent was not.
I never saw Victor on issues supporting our Police, Fire and EMS personnel and how to keep them serving in Peachtree City. I was publicly involved.
I defended our traditional land planning against any variance application, zoning change or annexation that did not benefit the city. Victor has never done this.
If the best predictor of future performance is a careful and close look at past performance, Vic Painter’s absence and disconnection from the significant issues facing the city and citizens is a major distinguishing factor between the two of us.
On a personal level, I do not have a full-time job and young children requiring my full attention. As a retiree, I can fully engage, spend time with constituents, study the full agenda packets, analyze them, and address a myriad of current issues at meetings, in person.
I have been open, and all my positions made public. To date, there have been no positions on anything presented by Victor Painter. What little he does say is obscure and left up to interpretation.
3. List the top three problems facing Peachtree City and define exactly what you will do to solve those three problems.
A. Let’s discuss the “elephant in the room” … traffic. Our traffic woes affect what we do and when we do it, whether we are commuting, shopping, going to the doctor or going out to dinner. It makes us think about where to go, and when, every day.
So, what is the city doing about it? The current plan is to build displaced left turn lanes for the Highway 74 traffic. Doing that will allow a longer green light for the north/south traffic going straight through the intersection on Highway 74.
The current proposal will not reduce the traffic congestion on Highway 54. Even the Georgia Department of Transportation admits the congestion on Highway 54 will remain unchanged.
The mayor and several council members supporting this under-performing intersection project is disheartening.
If GDOT spends millions on Highway 74 displaced left turns now, they won’t be in a hurry to fund other improvements in the near future.
The viable solution to our problem is either a perimeter road around the city, or an overpass/underpass at the 74/54 intersection.
The perimeter road appears to be unrealistic based on development that has occurred over the last 20+ years where the road would need to be located. That would have been a great plan if they had worked on it a 30-years ago to ensure they owned the required land or easements.
If the perimeter road is not possible, then the overpass/underpass would be our best option to have a continuous flow of traffic on Highway 54 going east and west. Such a project was in the county transportation plan for years but the City Council never took action.
I’m in agreement with Councilmen Holland that alternate plans need to be outlined, discussed and analyzed both for cost and outcome, and that must happen right away.
The displaced left turn project is being done with leftover money in a GDOT fund. It is not being done because it’s best for us. We should not settle for a project that does not fix our problem.
We need to schedule a meeting with the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation as soon as the new Council is sworn in. We all need to insist that meeting gets scheduled, and for the City Council to fight for a better construction project for Peachtree City.
B. We lack adequate Industrial properties which provide tax revenue as well as provide good paying jobs and use a minimum of city services. To solve this, we must grow our property tax base by encouraging more corporate headquarters and light industrial growth and expansion.
Many vacant properties zoned General Industrial, or GI, are too small for the building footprint many corporations need for expansion or new industrial construction. We need to carefully evaluate annexation options to annex land that is currently undeveloped and bring the land into the city zoned as General Industrial land.
Our former City Councils annexed land along MacDuff Parkway but zoned it for residential development. The increases in residential development through annexation force us to expand and extend all of our city services, accomplished by consistently raising our taxes.
My solution is that as we move forward, I will remain firm in my commitment to keep all General Industrial land zoned for corporate headquarters and light industrial development only.
In general, I will not support the annexation of any residential property, because it fails to provide jobs and fails to bring in enough property tax revenue to pay for the extension of city services (including police, fire, EMS and paving). Annexations must benefit the city, not just the developer.
We must conduct an Annexation Study and update the Annexation Plan which was last done in 2014.
C. Another plan that must be redone is the 2022 Comprehensive Plan. I do not believe it truly represents the opinions of the citizens. There are too many ideas to urbanize the city expressed in it that are in stark contrast to the opinions citizens expressed when opposing the Livable Centers Initiative, the Great Wolf Lodge, and tearing down the Tennis Center to build apartments there. The citizens clearly do not want more apartment complexes as we have more than average now.
The changes to our land planning were developed by the Director of Planning and Development. She is not trained in survey development, writing unbiased questions and answers, or analyzing the data from a survey.
We were told there were 968 responses (out of 39,000 residents) to the survey; that was not accurate. There were two surveys, and the full survey only had 581 responses.
The raw data was not released to the citizen committee working on the revision until after the Director of Planning and Development had written the document and it was up for a final vote by City Council. I find this to be unethical.
I had to force the matter by filing an Open Records Request for the raw data; it was then released to the citizen committee and me.
I spoke about this publicly on several occasions because the Comprehensive Plan is something that gets cited when reviewing variances and applications for rezoning, etc. The most obvious issue contained in it that goes against what the citizens have expressed en masse in the past is the claim that people want mixed use “redevelopment” to add apartment units inside our Village Centers at Kedron and Braelinn. I don’t agree. That is not what people have told me.
I will move to revise our planning documents to be more representative of the wishes of the citizens.
4. The council has three holdover members: Mayor Kim Learnard, and council members Frank Destadio and Clint Holland. Based on your knowledge of the council, who will you likely be voting with most often in split votes? Whose side will you take on the issues noted below?
In 2021 and then in 2022, I worked on the political campaigns of Frank Destadio and Clint Holland, respectively. I liked the platform each of them outlined during their respective campaigns. During their time on Council their votes are mostly in alignment with what I support. I agree with their positions and the direction in which they are trying to move the city. I see myself voting in alignment with Councilman Holland and Councilman Destadio.
I have not agreed with Mayor Kim Learnard’s position on making radical changes to the city’s comprehensive plan.
I agree with Councilman Holland that the 74/54 intersection project is deficient and will not produce the desired results.
There is complete agreement between Councilman Destadio, Councilman Holland and me that there should be no residential development on Huddleston Road, especially multi-family housing. That would only make the traffic congestion much worse on Highway 54.
Obviously, there are many Council votes on routine city business that receive unanimous support.
So, ultimately, my full answer to this question is that if the Council is split, I will most likely be on the same side of issues as Councilman Clint Holland and Councilman Frank Destadio.
5. What is your exact position on allowing new multi-story mixed-use developments to be built or reconstructed in Peachtree City?
I feel mixed use developments have no place in Peachtree City. I have no desire to urbanize our city into a dense residential version of northern metropolitan Atlanta. Peachtree City has long been a proponent of green space and greenbelts to shield neighborhoods from each other and I will never vote to “infill” those areas with multi-family housing complexes.
Mixed use developments do not fit the character of our planned community. I oppose them. And the fact that the 2022 Comprehensive Plan claims that residents want them is a major reason why I decided to run for elected office [and] change the Comprehensive Plan back to its traditional planning format. I do not think the majority of citizens want mixed-use developments, or any residential units added into any of the Village Centers. I opposed the Aberdeen mixed-use redevelopment for the Partner’s Pizza complex.
We see municipalities all over the country trying to duplicate what Peachtree City has to offer. Why are a few people here trying to make such drastic changes to what others want to copy?
We do not need to cram 200 apartments or condos into the Braelinn Village Center by allowing the owner to construct them where the old K-Mart building is. That proposal benefits the owner/developer, not the citizens in Peachtree City.
I will oppose rezoning for “mixed-use” developments and the massive apartment complexes. But to successfully oppose it we need to revise the Comprehensive Plan back to what we had previously.
6. Does your definition of redevelopment of existing village centers include new multi-family apartments, or townhouses, or condominiums? If yes, where?
We have more apartments than average now. My definition of potential redevelopment of existing village centers would NEVER include putting apartments, townhouses, or condominiums in village centers. I oppose mixed use development because it fails to provide high paying jobs and in other municipalities “developers” promised to build the commercial and residential sections, but only built the residential because the profit margin was better.
Our village centers need to remain as commercial centers. We may need to encourage a wider variety of privately owned commercial sports or recreational options. My grandchildren would love to see a climbing wall, and I’m sure many adults would love the option of having indoor pickle-ball courts so they can play year-round in all weather conditions, if that is economically feasible.
7. Please name the village centers in Peachtree City and what you think should happen in each of those places.
I am abundantly aware of the five villages that exist. They are: Aberdeen, Glenloch, Braelinn, Kedron and Wilksmoor. The city’s Planning and Development Director made up two additional centers she called “Lexington” and “Wilshire” in order to promote more construction of multi-family apartments, townhouses, and condominiums.
Our Comprehensive Plan also outlines an “Industrial Village” on several maps. That consists of the remaining city property that is zoned for industrial use and development. It is not a true village or village center either.
Technically, neither Lexington, nor Wilshire were ever approved or designated by the city as village centers. When it suits staff, they routinely refer to Lexington and Wilshire as though they are village centers. Specifically, they use them to justify housing density issues.
As you move away from a village center the density should step-down. But technically, any reference to Lexington or Wilshire as a village center is an error. Thus, the map on page 44 of the 2022 Comprehensive Plan should not be there as it references “The Village Center Character Area Map” and includes both Lexington and Wilshire as though they are villages. I want to revise our Comprehensive Plan back to its original award-winning format.
Regarding what I think should happen in each of our current five village centers all should focus on commerce as originally intended. I do not feel there should be any “Mixed Use” zoning or the addition of any residential units inside the village center. There is no reason to go to that level of urbanization of any area inside Peachtree City.
I say this because we already have a higher percentage of high-density housing, such as apartments, than other similar size cities, and the rest of the state of Georgia. Currently, 11% of our housing units are apartments, 3% are condominiums, and 3% are townhouses. And 83% is single family housing units. That is a good mix.
Village Center retail shop owners should work with City Council to find tenants for all properties within our five village centers.
I do want to address Wilksmoor separately because the Highway 54 corridor continues to be a thriving commercial area. Maintain the highest level of occupied businesses. But, due to heavy traffic do not approve any residential structures to be permitted in the village center.
To summarize, each of our village centers should remain as they are currently zoned.
8. The city is nearly built out within its current borders: the Industrial Park has no big tracts left to develop, and residential areas are at or near their zoned limits. What is your plan for what’s next?
We need industrial growth and development to fully take advantage of the benefits to the tax base. We need the property tax revenue, as well as the better paying jobs they provide. Industrial facilities require a minimum of city services which makes them ideal for generating revenue.
Our need to increase our Industrial businesses is the only reason to look at annexation to bring in larger tracts that are needed for industrial expansion. Our City Council recently renewed their relationship with the Fayette County Development Authority which may be able to help us in several ways to find more land for new corporate headquarters and industrial growth.
In the past many valuable tracts of land ideal for a corporate headquarters site were rezoned to residential zoning. Those were huge mistakes, and it is very critical that we not repeat those mistakes.
9. Make your case for why you would support or oppose any annexations, and why citizens should welcome or oppose them.
We currently have several local industries that are expanding their operations and others needing to expand. A lot of potential sites were rezoned to residential to appease the real estate developers.
In general, light industrial property tax revenue is the highest due to the size of manufacturing and warehouse facilities. Plus, their demand for city services is very low. Those factors combine to make light industrial development the most beneficial revenue generator for the city. It puts corporate headquarters and light industrial properties in a league of their own.
I have spoken in favor of industrial growth and expansion at both Peachtree City Planning Commission and Peachtree City Council meetings, and I believe this should be the only reason to annex outside our current borders. Additionally, this type of development brings in greater numbers of higher paying jobs than many types of commercial development. If our goal is to reduce commuting, then more high paying jobs are needed inside Peachtree City.
As always happens, some local industries will become obsolete or need to leave the area. We must ensure to maintain the zoning and market those sites with the help of the Fayette County Development Authority and the state government’s economic development team.
We can initiate talks with the county government on creating some joint corporate headquarters and light industrial sites around our border, dividing the tax revenue and service delivery. Annexation would not be required.
In summary, as a City Council member, I intend to encourage industrial growth and expansion because it’s the best thing for Peachtree City. More high paying jobs, increased tax revenue and lower demand on services will be beneficial as we move forward by reducing the demand to raise residential property taxes.
I will not annex any property for residential development.
10. Place yourself on the political spectrum with 10 being far right, 1 being far left and 5 being the exact center. Yes, the office is officially nonpartisan, but every official ever elected to office occupies a spot on that ideological spectrum, whether the official admits it or not. We want to know where you actually are on that spectrum.
I make no secret of my being a “Constitutional Conservative” who holds two documents in the highest regard: the Bible, and the United States Constitution.
The oath of office for Peachtree City requires that elected officials uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, the Georgia Constitution, and the ordinances of Peachtree City. I will defend each diligently.
With no real metrics to go by on how to determine where I land on the proposed political spectrum, I would most likely go with “8.”
I am a firm believer in the less taxes the government takes from us the better. I prefer budget cuts or creating efficiency to raising taxes.
I favor limited government that does not over-regulate your life.
I push the rule of law and will never participate in loosening our standards on crime as many cities have done across the nation. If you commit a crime, I want to see you prosecuted.
Fiscal responsibility is something we need to strive for in Peachtree City. I think we should review the entire budget and ask each department director to find ways to increase value without increasing the budget.
I am not ashamed to be patriotic and I proudly display my love for our city and our nation.
All that being said, I will allow the readers to determine where I fall on the spectrum.
11. What else would you like to tell the voters of Peachtree City?
Peachtree City has a large number of well-educated citizens with a higher income level than many other municipalities. We enjoy the safety and security that our well paid, and well supported, police, fire and emergency medical services personnel provide. We also enjoy excellent parks and recreation opportunities.
We have people who grew up here, went off to college, started careers elsewhere, and when they start their families they want to move back to Peachtree City, to raise their children where they were raised.
We have a vibrant senior citizen community that wishes to remain here because you simply cannot go elsewhere and have what you have here.
We have businesses and corporations that want to do business within Peachtree City because of our commitment to our high quality way of life.
Our path system is the envy of communities that were built out before they decided they should have a path system and cannot “retrofit” a decent system.
I want voters to know my “default position” would be to not raise taxes, and to find a way for government to operate efficiently at a lower cost.
I was the only citizen who spoke publicly in opposition to the property tax increase you just saw in your recent tax bill. I wanted them to shave a small amount off the millage rate to acknowledge the struggle with inflation so many young families and seniors on fixed income are facing. They didn’t listen, but I tried.
Peachtree City is envied by many other municipalities in Georgia, and in other states, that want to be more like us. Thus, we need to resist the temptation for radical change and maintain our quality of life.
Many of us were shocked to see the list of attempts to build thousands of multi-family complexes across the city. It has been shocking to see our City Council changing the rules, forcing very limited public participation. We really need to turn some things around.
I intend to work to maintain the level of safety, security, and happiness we enjoy.
I would be honored to have your vote.