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Planning Commission advances Johns Creek town center plan

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Since its inception, the City of Johns Creek has been longing for an identity, and its residents have sought a sense of place, but the search may be ending soon.

On Oct. 5, the city’s Planning Commission voted to approve a proposed town center plan which will now move to the City Council for review later this month.

The plan, introduced Oct. 5, has been a year in the making, Community Development Director Ben Song said.

The concept for a town center has been desired since the city’s incorporation in 2006. It was first accommodated by the city in 2018 when a location was identified in the city’s comprehensive plan.

The 192-acre proposed town center — which has been paired with the tagline “Imagine remarkable!” — would redevelop Technology Park into a “live-work-play destination,” using City Hall as an anchor for the project. The proposal recommends a phased approach for development over a 20-year period.

Five “overarching themes” were established for the project: arts, culture, wellness, sustainability and innovation.

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The city worked alongside consultants Pond & Company to develop the town center plan. The project manager is Andrew Kohr.

Community input was collected from November 2020 to August of this year through five technical advisory committee meetings, conversations with stakeholders, tours and events and an interactive map activity which garnered 160 responses with roughly 1,000 “likes” and “dislikes” registered, Kohr said.

Weighing all recommendations, Kohr said he and his team then developed the plan which is broken down into three phases.

Phase I, which Kohr estimates will take the first 10 years of the project, will focus on development and property acquisition. Phase II, years 10-15, will expand the core of the town center and work to develop waterfront commercial and residential spaces. Phase III, years 15-20, will include hotel accommodations and additional retail development.

Kohr highlighted existing ponds, which are being called Creekside ponds, in Technology Park as “unique amenities” and potential catalysts for continued development. Kohr said they would serve as a community draw and be crucial for stormwater management in the area.

During his presentation, Song addressed existing confusion about the timeline for the town center project.

“There are some misconceptions as to how quickly we can get up and started, but I think the first key point is through this plan is to set the vision, set the roadmap,” Song said.

By and large, the biggest hurdle facing the proposed town center is land acquisition. Currently, the city only owns 14 percent of the 192 acres.

“That’s not much,” Song said. “But there are programs that we could implement as a city with the proper funding to enable additional developments to come on board and to function as a catalyst development of some kind.”

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Kohr identified three projects he suggested the city take on now to begin establishing the area as a town center.

The first, is construction of an outdoor amphitheater and performing arts area for year-round use. The second project is an arts and culture trail, and the last is establishment of a quarterly outdoor food and artisan market.

Kohr and his team also developed a prioritization and action plan for the project which lays out a proposed order for development and rezoning.

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If the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax passes in November, some of the city’s share will be earmarked for the town center project, but more funding will be necessary. Initial funds will likely be used for identified catalytic projects like improvements to the Creekside pond, Song said.

Other funding sources could include the general fund of the city budget, Recreation and Parks funding, and grant programs, Song said.

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The Planning Commission approved the plan in a 6-1 vote with Commissioner Michael Katzin casting the one nay vote.

Although the plan passed, multiple commissioners expressed concerns with individual items in the plan including proposals for apartments, the lack of inclusion of the Legacy Center, the 20-year projected timeline and more.

The now commission-approved plan will serve as an overview, Song said. It provides a vision to follow but allows flexibility for changes to be made along the way, including potentially accommodating issues brought up by commissioners during the Tuesday night meeting.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the plan at its Oct. 25 meeting.

Reach Sydney Dangremond at 770-847-7404. Follow her on Twitter @syddang_.

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