I am a Peachtree City resident carefully considering City Council election choices. I’m sending this letter to each candidate directly, but hoped my thoughts could be included in The Citizen, as your newspaper recently put together a list of questions for the candidates.
I applaud the intention to have a standardized reference point for voters. I respectfully submit some expansions or clarifications related to these questions/answers to encourage accuracy on people’s platforms.
I have followed Peachtree City’s governance for the past 5 years as a citizen as well as a city planner by profession (I work in a different region, my views are my own).
Before settling here, our family moved to many different states and another country for the Air Force. We have spent the majority of our time living in the Southeast and have loved so much about the small towns, cities, suburbs, mountains, sea, and everything in-between that makes this part of the country special.
Of course we are not unique in moving to the Southeast; every city and town in which I have lived or planned has been experiencing pressures from and within metro areas. Each place, like much of the nation, is also witnessing, anticipating, and planning for changes in the economy and population.
Peachtree City recently conducted proactive planning through the recent update of the Comprehensive Plan that focused on existing and future demographic, socioeconomic, and land use conditions, needs and goals, over the next 20 years.
Indeed, planning has been paramount to Peachtree City since day one, as our home is one of the first planned communities in Georgia and modeled after the New Town Concept.
We have all benefited from the foresight of creating a city with villages, greenways, and closely located schools, offices, retail, and industry intended to provide residents everything they need, away from the intensity of Atlanta and inefficiency of sprawl.
However, all projects, even full communities, mature over time, requiring re-examination, maintenance, and updates to plans and implementation to ensure ongoing sustainability and performance.
The state of Georgia recognizes this need for updated plans through the 1989 Georgia Planning Act, requiring every jurisdiction to have a Comprehensive Plan that is renewed every five years and adopted by the elected body.
This plan is intended to be a tool for decision-makers to use to achieve goals and allocate resources, and must meet specific content and public participation requirements to be approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Peachtree City’s 5-year update was completed and approved by DCA in 2022 after meeting all requirements.
I wanted to focus on the Comprehensive Plan update because this topic has become a source of misinformation. I watched this process closely, as I have been part of many comprehensive plans as a citizen and planner.
Peachtree City’s process was the same as every other update that I have been part of, where I had the option to attend and watch meetings, take a survey, interact with maps, and comment on the document. Unfortunately, some local and vocal commentary seems to want to sow distrust of the plan and truly maligning the process and people involved.
In my experience, every community has limited success in getting wide citizen participation for plan updates, which is why professional planners/facilitators, a steering committee, and our elected/appointed officials also play a role. People living in our communities are busy and in different stages of life (e.g., constituents from the large millennial generation that want to participate in a public meeting may need to make the tradeoff of getting a babysitter, missing work, or evening activities).
A high survey response rate is also challenging, no matter how much it’s publicized and pushed. I am just as guilty, with many well-meaning organizations constantly flooding my inbox for 5 minutes of my time to tell them my thoughts.
As I’ve learned in my job, surveys are also challenging to write, and many default to very prescriptive questions/answers. I appreciated the open-ended questions on PTC’s survey and feel the wide variety of responses was captured and addressed in the comprehensive plan. All documentation and information about comprehensive plans is available publicly for anyone to view at Georgia Department of Community Affair’s website.
The biggest point of contention with the plan appears to be the new land use designation of mixed-use development in the Village Center Character Areas. Calling mixed-use a new concept has always struck me as ironic, where civilization has forever mixed uses for daily living (e.g. a baker’s family living over their store).
Admittedly, planners have been a major part of the last 100 years of separating uses in our communities, with both good and bad intentions (e.g.. stopping noxious uses next to residential areas, or excluding people of certain race/resources from certain neighborhoods). Today’s planning profession now recognizes that cities are complex systems and that traditional zoning classifications do not guarantee that places of enduring value and viability are built.
Incorporating mixed-use development into community centers is widely endorsed by researchers, educators, and practitioners as a best practice to create resilient places with long-term value and quality of life. With this land use option, infrastructure and land can be efficiently used through a variety of building designs to accommodate more people living/working/recreating in one area (and often has higher tax revenue and less infrastructure demand per acre than single-family lots).
The mixed-use zones are for specific places in our city that currently have a concentration of commercial spaces that range from thriving to defunct. Mixed-use is not designated on any greenspace, but in fact the opposite — this land use is directed for areas with unused parking space and one-story retail strips that could be made more productive, walkable, and attractive without eating up more land.
The mixed-use category is emphasized to have quality architecture and a maximum of 3 stories. This form and scale can bring 24-hour vitality to a village core, with retail or recreation on the ground floor and residential above (examples can be seen in downtown Senoia).
In a similar vein, the multi-family land use category is often misconstrued as an automatically negative development pattern that the city should always reject, stoking fear about density and urbanization.
Meanwhile, multi-unit dwellings can take on many forms, including aesthetically pleasing buildings that have compatible design and scale to neighborhood character. The key is having codes in place that enable high quality design, which Peachtree City strives to do through ordinances, staff review, and consideration and approval by elected and appointed public bodies.
The apartments that many of us are seeing in places such as Fayetteville can understandably give an impression that these massive structures could be similarly plunked down in this jurisdiction.
However, Peachtree City has entirely different codes and a history of permitting a range of multi-unit developments that have long been part of the community fabric. These buildings can meet the needs of people younger and older that cannot or do not want to afford/maintain a detached home and help reduce the jobs/housing imbalance.
I was fortunate that my mom was able to retire as a schoolteacher and rent an apartment near us, enabling her to have daily interaction with her grandkids and helping us with needed childcare to maintain our jobs.
I appreciate anyone who has kept reading through the rather dry details of comprehensive planning, though I also believe most of you truly do value having a proactive role.
I hope that the 2022 plan can be an opportunity for Peachtree City to embrace the needs of our population over the next 20 years, and not an opportunity to misconstrue public efforts to support single-family neighborhoods while increasing housing and amenity options.
We all want a prosperous community where every resident can lead a good life and where our children do even better. We and our elected representatives each need to focus on productive dialogue and accept that fear of change gets in the way of preparedness and forward motion, and also doesn’t stop change from happening.
It’s possible that some readers or candidates may think/reply, “If you want Peachtree City to change so much, or if you’ve been to so many great places, why don’t you just move?”
Indeed, I love Peachtree City and do not consider something like the Comprehensive Plan, the consideration of retrofitting outdated development, or finding other incremental ways to make spaces more productive or accessible to people of all ages and abilities as extreme.
I want to vote for the person who is aware and truthful of challenges/changes over the next two decades and is thinking through solutions that benefit people past their own families, fears, and frame of mind.
Post-script: I would love to include data on the demographic and socioeconomic changes and land use planning strategies I keep noting, but I know time is short. Here are some sources:
• Population projections through 2050 are available through the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget
• Information about today’s housing shortage (in terms of affordability and availability) can be found through AARP, as well as reading Governor Kemp’s recent initiative to increase workforce housing
• Professional land use planning sources: American Planning Association and the Georgia Planning Association, as well as community learning resources such as Strong Towns.
Peachtree City, Ga.