Yet again, the owner of the NW Corner of Birmingham Crossroads, Curtis Mills, is requesting variances from City Council. This is his 3rd time before council requesting variances. In his first two appearances, Mr. Mills was granted 12 variances. I advocated against granting any of these variances and I am advocating against the granting of the 4 variances that Mr. Mills is currently seeking from Council. (Tonight is the first presentation. The actual vote will occur at the next City Council meeting.) If granted, Mr. Mills will have secured 16 variances from Council, which I believe might be an ignominious record high for variances in Milton. In my opinion, the key problem is use intensity. Mr. Mills is seeking higher intensity use than his property can support under existing zoning. Accordingly, he is seeking variances (mostly related to parking) to key provisions of the Birmingham Crossroads overlay. If the variances are granted, the look-and-feel of the NW corner will deviate significantly from the other 3 corners of Birmingham Crossroads; I believe it will look much less attractive. I believe that no one in Milton should be above the law. Mr. Mills needs to be held to the same standards that other developers at the Crossroads have had to follow.
It is important to note that since 2018, at Birmingham Crossroads, Council has approved 28 variances in 4 separate hearings for 3 different properties. I strongly believe that not a single one of these variances was justified. Every variance should have been denied. The time in NOW to say NO to the promiscuous granting of variances in Milton.
Yet again, Paul Moore and ethics figures prominently in this issue. Given Mr. Moore’s previous entanglement with the development of the NW corner, good ethics would suggest that Mr. Moore recuse himself from deliberations and the vote on the variances.
Below is a letter that I sent to Council, the City Attorney, and the City Manager explaining 1) why Paul Moore should recuse himself and 2) why council should deny the variances being sought.
Mayor, City Council, City Manager and City Attorney:
I am writing about the request for 4 variances for the Crossroads NW corner. In summary,
- Paul Moore has conflicts of interest that require recusal from the discussion.
- All 4 variances should be denied by council.
Council Member Moore should recuse himself from discussion of variances at the NW corner. I believe Mr. Moore has obvious conflicts of interest. Minimally, Mr. Moore has perceived conflicts. And it is essential (to good governance) that elected officials avoid even the appearance of impropriety. This is especially true for Mr. Moore, who has recently been convicted (unanimously by a panel of 3 attorneys) of 3 ethics violations, which was upheld on appeal. Mr. Moore also recently, as a member of the “Election Feasibility Committee,” participated in designing elections in which he will presumably run in 2023. It is important to note that this election feasibility committee met half a dozen times in secret, without keeping any records of the proceedings. The questionable ethics involved in the committee’s functioning put further pressure on both Mr. Moore and the City to demonstrate Milton is a city that hews to the highest ethical standards.
I remind council that the current configuration of the crossroads would not have occurred without Paul Moore’s intervention. It was Mr. Moore that took Mr. Mills to one of the last Matilda’s concerts in Alpharetta, introduced Mills to the operators, and suggested the move to the Crossroads. This is not hearsay. Mr. Moore explained his central role in the Matilda’s move over dinner and drinks at my home in Milton in early 2018. In addition to me and Mr. Moore, 4 others were present and heard Mr. Moore’s story. Others in Milton were similarly regaled by Mr. Moore with the same story. At the time, Mr. Moore indicated he would recuse himself from the matter but did not. Rather, as chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr. Moore presided over a hearing on Matilda’s where the PC approved recommendations that exceeded even what the applicant was seeking. Mr. Moore drove the PC’s discussion. Never once did Moore reveal his conflict of interest in this matter. And later (in a debate during the 2019 election), Mr. Moore would deny his role in the relocation of Matilda’s stating he was merely a customer, not unlike he is a customer of Carl Black or Publix.
However, my understanding is that in the wake of Mr. Mills being granted a “festival” special use permit and 9 variances (and 3 more variances later in 2018), Mr. Moore was given the stage at 1+ Matilda’s concerts for campaigning. See the following photo sent to me by a concerned citizen.
Mr. Moore and Mr. Mills have long enjoyed a relationship that might be interpreted by some (I am one of them) that might influence Moore to advocate for special treatment that might militate against the interests of the community. I strongly believe Mr. Moore cannot and will not be objective in this matter. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions . . .
If Mr. Moore does not voluntarily recuse himself, I believe the City Manager, City Attorney, and City Council have an obligation to discuss this issue and articulate a clear position on the ethics of Mr. Moore’s participation in tonight’s discussion and vote about the NW corner. And I warn council that ignoring this issue or allowing Mr. Moore to participate might result in further ethics complaints and all that entails in terms of legal costs, bad publicity, diversion from important priorities, wasted resources, etc.
I recommend denial of all variances being requested.
Most current council members were not involved in the decision (June 2018) to allow Mr. Mills to bastardize a festival use permit with 9 variances. I doubt any of these newer council members understand the background involved in this matter. And an understanding of this background is necessary to making decisions tonight that will benefit the citizens and the community.
I remind Council that Mr. Mills has already been granted 12 variances for his property. He was initially granted 9 variances used to bastardize Milton’s festival use permit to locate a concert venue at the Crossroads. He later built a (second) parking lot under the power lines that was neither authorized by Georgia Power (which owns the easement and must approve such uses) nor the City. This required Mr. Mills to seek 3 more variances, which were granted without a word of scolding from Council.
Now, Mr. Mills is seeking 4 more variances for a total of 16 variances for his Crossroads property. I remind Council that Milton has a very stringent variance ordinance that requires variances satisfy the criteria of each of 4 tests. The applicant must demonstrate hardship, as defined in the context of zoning. No reasonable case for hardship can be made.
Let me get to the crux of the matter. Mr. Mills was granted some variances for the purpose of parking for Matilda’s. A parking lot is not a permitted AG1 use, but an exception was made for Matilda’s. Mr. Mills has mostly used this Matilda’s parking for his restaurant. To date, despite protests from citizens, the City has turned a blind eye to Mr. Mills re-purposing Matilda’s parking for his restaurant. Now, Mr. Mills wants to increase the commercial capacity of his commercially-zoned property, which is his right. However, it seems he wants to shift some/most of the parking from the commercially zoned property to the Matilda’s parking lot. Furthermore, he seeks to construct the parking in a design that does not follow the master plan/overlay for the Crossroads and therefore violates the look-and-feel that was approved for the Crossroads and which developers of the other 3 corners were forced to follow. It is fine for Mr. Mills to seek to commercialize his property and to maximize the return on his investment in his property. However, he needs to do so within the constraints imposed by the Birmingham Crossroads overlay. If parking is insufficient, then Mr. Mills needs to reduce the property’s intensity of use such that parking is adequate (and follows the Crossroads overlay) for the intensity of use within the commercial boundaries of the property and does not spill onto AG1 land. The City has been generous—overly generous, in my opinion—in granting Mr. Mills variances. Furthermore, to my knowledge, Mr. Mills has not provided the City anything of value in exchange for granted variances, which have enhanced the value of his property. Such “horse-trading” of variances for concessions is standard practice in other locales, but not in Milton.
In closing, it is important to note that both Mr. Mills and Mr. Moore were members of the Birmingham-Hopewell Alliance, which was instrumental in negotiating the current master plan for Birmingham Crossroads. At the time, neither Moore nor Mills had any interest—financial or otherwise—in the NW corner. However, both Moore and Mills now have personal/financial interests in the NW corner. This has resulted in their advocacy of variances that fundamentally undermine the master plan/overlay that both Moore and Mills helped to develop and promote. I trust the irony of this advocacy is not lost on you or, more importantly, the community.
Advocating for Good Governance,