What New Urban Roswell Stands For... and Against

I've taken a lot of heat lately for my support of several developments that have attracted the ire of some.  I've been very vocal about the merits of Vickers Village and the proposed development at Chaffin and Hembree.  I've been mixed but more positive than negative on the Goulding development.  I've argued my point that these developments are good in the long run for Roswell.  All three of them increase connectivity, improve walkability, add unique housing stock and either mix housing types or mix uses.  These are all critical components of building truly walkable cities and we need them everywhere not just in the historic district.

The Facebook world has gotten interesting (I guess it always has been) with some serious and not-so-serious debates going on.  Some have called me out as a hypocrite and a fake for daring to drive my car.  Do I support building a more walkable city where we all can make fewer trips by car?  Yes.  Does that mean that I have to walk everywhere I go?  That doesn't seem reasonable to me and Historic Roswell isn't exactly a walker's paradise yet.

I've been told to move out of Roswell because I referenced developments outside of Roswell that I think are remarkable.  I think everyone has been to places or seen places that they would like to see emulated in some way in their hometown.  Places that aren't Roswell that I really like: Seaside, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, Charleston, Savannah, Serenbe, The Waters, Hampstead Village, Vickery Village, Virginia Highlands, Grant Park...

I believe I have stayed consistent in my message but I want to clarify.  New Urban Roswell exists to bring attention to good and bad development while poking some fun at some of the ridiculousness that finds its way into the built environment.

Here's what New Urban Roswell stands for.

  1. The Charter for the Congress for the New Urbanism - "We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy." Read the full charter
  2. Building More Walkable Neighborhoods that Reduce Our Dependence on Cars - New development should have connectivity requirements and give people the opportunity to walk or bike for at least some of their daily needs.
  3. Mixed-Use Development - Where appropriate, new development should have a mix of uses either vertical or horizontal.
  4. Quality Architecture - High quality architecture should be a requirement regardless of the type of building.  There is far too much garbage that gets built in this world and I view architecture as one of the most lasting and influential art forms.  I understand that not every development will be of Lew Oliver quality but that is my gold standard for our city and ultimately is my measuring stick.
  5. Supporting the Expansion of MARTA Rail into North Fulton - It's time.  Even if funding were secured and the effort started today, we wouldn't see a station at Holcomb Bridge for another 8-10 years. It's time to get started.
  6. Adding Street and Trail Connectivity - Building more connections will make getting around our city a more pleasurable experience by car, bike or foot.  Adding trails along our creek beds and continuing to complete our Roswell Loop network should be top priorities for the city.
  7. Narrow lanes and Safe Streets - Narrow lanes make streets safer.  We should adopt a 10.5' maximum lane width for any street with residential uses.  Additionally, we should adopt a 25mph speed limit for any street with residential uses and offer exceptions for some streets to 30mph.
  8. Quality Zoning - The UDC is a step in the right direction. It by no means gets every parcel right.  We should continue to move toward more of a form based code.
  9. Historic District Master Plan - This city should have a master plan for the historic district.  The DPZ plan was accepted but not adopted.  We need to go further.
  10. City Green and Pocket Parks - The City Green should be built and placed as a top priority.  I also support having a pocket park within a 10 minute walk of every home in Roswell.  We have plenty of large destination parks but not nearly enough of the Sloan Street variety.
  11. Hiring a Town Architect - Our design by committee approach is a bit much.  There are far too many chefs in the kitchen when projects are discussed. Staff, Planning Commission, Design Review Board, Historic Preservation Commission and City Council could be involved in design guidance and in some cases mandates for projects.  A town architect would help drive coherence and consistency in the process and outcomes.

So, that's a solid list of what New Urban Roswell stands for. Now, there are some things that New Urban Roswell stands firmly against. I've heard, read and seen far too much hyperbole, misinformation, conjecture and flat out untruth about the developments I've supported.  There has also been a great deal of libel tossed out about the people behind the developments as well as the the people who represent our city on the city council.  I don't stand for that and I also don't stand for the following:

  1. Sprawl - Inefficient use of land is, quite frankly, shameful and I firmly stand against it.  I loved a comment from someone on my Facebook page that we don't need "urban sprawl" like the Chaffin/Hembree development.  I'd like to point out that you live in "urban sprawl" and that the Chaffin/Hembree development is actually less sprawling than the surrounding area and it's exactly the type of 'urbanism' that helps address the ills of "urban sprawl."
  2. Single-Use Subdivisions - We need to build a mix of uses into our places.  Otherwise, we continue to perpetuate the sprawling, car-culture that creates the mess we live in.
  3. Monocultures of Housing Types - Any single-use subdivision that lacks a diversity of housing types is a monoculture that adds nothing to the unique character of our or any other city.  What they do effectively do is make the production process easier and faster so that developers and builders can get in and get out quickly. 
  4. Townhomes Without Towns - Townhomes have a place.  They can shape streets in great mixed-use neighborhoods.  They can accentuate neighborhoods with a mix of housing types.  However, they should never be stand alone subdivisions inserted on a parcel for the sole intent of maximizing the residential yield of a property.  This happens way too much in Roswell.
  5. Gated Subdivisions - Yes, I live in one and would take the gates and fences down if it were up to me.  That said, they cut off connectivity and create dead zones and superblocks that hinder walkability and good urbanism.
  6. Cul-de-sacs - We have over 1300 Cul-de-sacs or Dead Ends in Roswell.  This is a significant contributor to our notoriously bad traffic because of a lack of connectivity between neighborhoods.  Cul-de-sacs should be allowed where geographically appropriate but nowhere else. 
  7. Uninformed Opinions Masquerading as Fact - It's okay to oppose something because you don't like it or to oppose something because there is factual data to support your decision.  However, opinions masquerading as fact are non-starters in my book.  If you say something will kill property values, prove it.  If you say a development will cause additional traffic, tell me how much.  If you say a new development will lower your quality of life, umm... you may want to reevaluate some things.
  8. Redundant and Unnecessary Road Signs - I almost forgot my Stop the Madness campaign. We need to rid our city of all the ridiculous and unnecessary signs that are polluting our landscape.  

So, there you have it.  I'm in favor of building more lovable places with a diverse mix of housing types and uses that are safer for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians where people don't have to get in their cars to live their lives.



Are You Red? - Are you Sure?

The opposition to development in Roswell is getting pretty heated right now.  There are actually (I know some of you can't believe it) several projects active or planned that I find appalling.  However, I had to take some time to call a recent article (if you can call it that) concerning opposition to a project in Roswell out as pure tabloid garbage.

Let's not pretend that this Red Shirts on the Move rant in the Alpharetta - Roswell Review & News is remotely close to journalism.  This post is hysterical (in more ways than one), factually inaccurate, aside from it's portrayal of the opposition to this project, and logically inconsistent.  I just couldn't resist digging into some of the meaty morsels of journalistic integrity..

"..more than 225 residents who gathered to express concern, frustration and anger over a rezoning proposal for a 113-unit subdivision to go up in the middle one of Roswell's most attractive and livable neighborhoods. If approved by the city, the new development will replace nine single-family homes on 21 acres at Hembree and Chaffin Roads, with mainly townhouses and small cottage homes."

Seems straightforward at first glance but it implies that the new "subdivision" is replacing a "neighborhood" and that the new "subdivision" wouldn't be "attractive and livable." For those who aren't familiar, the developers are proposing a project inspired by Vickery Village in Cumming which is one of the most attractive neighborhoods in the Metro Area and HIGHLY Livable.  Additionally, the developers live in two of the nine existing homes and plan to live in the new development.  

Site plan with a mix of housing types and street connections that help disperse auto trips more effectively whil also adding walkable connections for neighboring properties to more easily and safely walk and bike around the area.

Site plan with a mix of housing types and street connections that help disperse auto trips more effectively whil also adding walkable connections for neighboring properties to more easily and safely walk and bike around the area.

This development is trying to create a natural neighborhood feel that has different types of homes next to each other.  This is a novel idea for the suburbs but it's actually the way human civilizations were built for centuries before we went off the deep end with cars and zoning.  I think the statement "Mainly townhouse and small cottage homes" omits some key details of the plan.  There are actually four 'main' types of homes in this development that deserve mention.  

There are 15 lots facing Hembree and Chaffin which will be single family and will have architecture that tries to achieve a transition from the neighboring properties as you work your way into the development.

Homes that would line Hembree and Chaffin.  Worthy of Red shirts?  Not my personal style but insanely better than what's there today.

Homes that would line Hembree and Chaffin.  Worthy of Red shirts?  Not my personal style but insanely better than what's there today.

There are 23 internal lots that will be single family homes.  These will be inspired by architecture in Vickery Village and what you would see in Serenbe, Historic Norcross or Glenwood Park.  

A sample of the single family homes on the interior of the development.  This is more up my alley.  Red shirt worthy?

A sample of the single family homes on the interior of the development.  This is more up my alley.  Red shirt worthy?

The cottage courts or court yard homes would total 55 and would be similarly inspired as the 23 internal lots.

A sample of what the courtyard homes could look like.  I think some people wearing red might actually like moving into one of these when they decide to downsize a bit.

A sample of what the courtyard homes could look like.  I think some people wearing red might actually like moving into one of these when they decide to downsize a bit.

Finally, there would be 20 townhouse units.  I guess 66% could qualify as "Mainly townhouse and small cottage homes," but leaving out the other 34% is a bit one sided.  

Pretty standard townhome product but this is just to illustrate the concept.  Nothing overly bad about these.

Pretty standard townhome product but this is just to illustrate the concept.  Nothing overly bad about these.

Moving on...

"The proposal was made possible by changes in Roswell's zoning code with the adoption of the UDC (Unified Development Code) that was voted in by the City Council in 2014."

This is downright false.  UDC or no UDC, the developers could have proposed this project.  What the developers are requesting is outside of what the UDC zoning allows.  HENCE the rezoning request.  This statement makes it sound like developers are emboldened by the UDC to request higher density and then implies that the City Council is to blame for making this possible.  REALLY?  The City Council votes a UDC in that keeps the zoning largely the same on these properties and is now being blamed when a developer asks for a zoning variance.  That's shameful and eliminates any journalistic integrity that existed.

Still in the third paragraph..

It has ignited a strong firestorm among residents who believe that high-density housing in established neighborhoods with no capacity to expand infrastructure to support that level of runaway growth threatens to alter the character, quality, and value of all of Roswell's neighborhoods.

This statement starts off fair enough but ends taking the reader on a trip to fantasy land.  First, let's look at the "high-density" statement.  Current zoning allows about 1.5 homes per acre.  This request would yield a little over 5.  That is 'higher-density' but it's a far cry from any rational definition of "high-density."  Higher-density does not equal "High-Density."  

Second, let's look at the "no capacity" claim.  Is there anything to support this type of hysterical opinion?  Traffic studies on this project showed an increase in trips (that's obvious) but no significant increase in congestion.  The road network can easily handle this level of development. EASILY. The city looks at impacts to infrastructure and schools and will make informed recommendations to the developers and to the council on what needs to be done to address any real concerns.  Reds need to stop deluding themselves that our city is doing nothing and sitting back getting railroaded by developers who then get a pass from our 'density-thirsty' city council.  I am constantly amazed by how much pushback developers get from the city staff on the details of projects before there is ever even a public hearing.  These details are vetted and they are vetted in EXCRUCIATING detail.  It would be enlightening to see just how many projects don't even make it to the public meeting portion of the process exactly because our staff IS paying attention to these details.

Third, there is a "level of runaway growth" threatening to "alter the character, quality and value of all of Roswell's neighborhoods."  Well, we are in the middle of a development cycle and fortunately we live in an area where businesses, investors and developers want to put capital to work.  Would it be better to live in a place where people didn't want to put money to work?  A lack of quality redevelopment is what the author and Reds should be concerned with when they say this might threaten the character, quality and value of ALL of Roswell's Neighborhoods.  Seriously, how could you print a statement like that?  The only thing that could be classified as "runaway" here is the author's imagination.  JUST WOW!

Some residents were quick to point out that three City Council seats will be decided in local elections November 3, that the two incumbents running voted yes for UDC, and it was this vote that makes projects like this rezoning possible.

This resident is quick to point out that pigs don't fly, leprechauns aren't real and that dragons don't exist.  The logical implication of this statement is that the UDC is allowing this request and that if we oppose this project as well as 'run-away high-density' development then we should punish the council for voting for the UDC by electing Horton and Palermo.  

The funny thing is...


It is preventing developers from building density in areas that aren't zoned for it.  They have to ask permission.  This is no different than previous zoning codes.  Rezoning requests weren't invented by the UDC and they aren't prohibited by the UDC.  That type of zoning would not hold up in court and quite frankly it would be un-American to prohibit a property owner from asking for a variance, rezoning, etc.  

What I find so interesting about the fierce opposition to this project is the fact that the reds are cutting off their noses..  The current homes on the property in question are largely unmarketable and are currently investment properties or stand to be in the next 3-5 years given their demographics while these homes would be new, high-quality and unique to the area.  

If this rezoning doesn't get approved, there is a distinct possibility that no development will happen which essentially means this section of Chaffin and Hembree could soon be lined by investor owned properties that will not be redeveloped for years.  The properties aren't attractive for redevelopment under the current zoning and investors don't quickly kill their cash cows.  So, you might not have any additional traffic but you might get some stubborn investment properties that don't juxtapose so nicely with neighboring subdivisions. Be careful what you wear red for.

If there is this much opposition to a quality development of this nature, then I've lost hope that any development of quality can be achieved outside the historic district in this city.  I guess it would be preferable to get a tract home developer to come in and scrape the land, build homogenous product at a lower density and leave us with another unconnected subdivision that makes zero effort to blend in with its neighbors.  But, that is the conventional way that we've come to know and love.  I'm doubtful we'd see any red at that neighborhood meeting.

CarBrain - Fulton County Schools Edition

Evidenced by the new elementary school along Hwy 9, CarBrain has undoubtedly taken control of our school designs.  I was first intrigued when driving by along Hwy 9, I caught a glimpse of a horde of Do Not Enter signs.  These are the same size and variety that you see plastered at the end of GA400 Off-Ramps.  So, one might think we had the risk of cars unknowingly cruising into an access controlled highway where oncoming traffic is hitting speeds upwards of 70 mph.   Not exactly,  this horde of signs was neatly clustered around the car pool exit.  The pavement even has neatly placed arrows showing the direction of car flow.  Here's a little montage of the situation.

Four Do Not Enter signs clustered at the end of the car pool lane.  Take no chances with safety here.

Four Do Not Enter signs clustered at the end of the car pool lane.  Take no chances with safety here.

The four (look closely) DNE signs here are set up in about the same way as those at the elementary school and they are the same size.

The four (look closely) DNE signs here are set up in about the same way as those at the elementary school and they are the same size.

You might think four DNE signs is enough at the school but our friends at the Roswell Recycling Center might up you another eight.  Leave nothing to chance and no one will question your patriotism.

You might think four DNE signs is enough at the school but our friends at the Roswell Recycling Center might up you another eight.  Leave nothing to chance and no one will question your patriotism.

You might think that marks the end of the DNE overkill but you'd be wrong.  The car pool lane does hold the title here for the most DNE signs but the bus lane got in on the game too with a double dose of DNE that once again could be toned down.

I'm not sure I'll ever quite understand the need for this much redundancy but maybe I'm not the target audience.  You'd have to be one hell of a confused driver to turn down the bus lane here.

I'm not sure I'll ever quite understand the need for this much redundancy but maybe I'm not the target audience.  You'd have to be one hell of a confused driver to turn down the bus lane here.

Now, CarBrain inflictions cause their victims to overlook common sense.  They are shrouded in a culture liability reduction by redundancy and cannot think past the confines of their automobile to see how this type of visual clutter is truly just pollution.  But what I found next might actually slap some sense into even the most difficult cases of CarBrain.   

As I explored, I noticed that there were some No Parking signs around the Do Not Enter signs.  The first thing I noticed was that they were a bit smaller than your standard NP sign that you see at virtually every turn lane in the world no.  However, upon further examination, I noticed that these little signs were placed really close together.  Like REALLY CLOSE.  So, I looked around a bit and saw something amazing.  

The DNE signs were not the real story here.  The NP signs were.  I started seeing them EVERYWHERE. I decided to count them from afar.  However, that didn't work because I lost count.  It was like trying to count the stars in the sky.

The No Parking signs at the school are about half the size of a standard NP sign.  These are definitely preferable to larger ones especially in low speed environments.  Kudos FCS!  Now, reduce the size of those DNE signs.

The No Parking signs at the school are about half the size of a standard NP sign.  These are definitely preferable to larger ones especially in low speed environments.  Kudos FCS!  Now, reduce the size of those DNE signs.

The bus lane is littered with No Parking signs.  Each one of those sticks is a No Parking sign.

The bus lane is littered with No Parking signs.  Each one of those sticks is a No Parking sign.

This picture looks almost as good as an architectural rendering.  However, no architect would ever pollute their rendering with all those road signs.  I had to get a closer look.

This picture looks almost as good as an architectural rendering.  However, no architect would ever pollute their rendering with all those road signs.  I had to get a closer look.

This truly is an enigma wrapped in a paradox.  RIDICULOUS!

This truly is an enigma wrapped in a paradox.  RIDICULOUS!

All told, there were 45 no parking signs on this school property that should not even exist.  The Red Curb says it all. It means No Stopping, No Standing, No Parking.  With the Red Curb, not a single sign is necessary.

HOLY F U C K I N G SHIT People.. this is insane.  

But wait... there's more (in another post).. but for now... Please.. Stop the Madness.

Alert: Epic Wrong Way Traffic Issue

Redundant signs at East Roswell Park

Redundant signs at East Roswell Park

We are glad to report that we should no longer experience any wrong way traffic on this one way gravel drive in East Roswell Park. Covering all their bases the city has ensured that confused drivers will no longer imperil other drivers in this area of the park system.  

On top of that, drivers will no longer need to worry about barreling int this median at 5mph as there is now a handy median sign warning unsuspecting drivers that there is a tree in their path.  



Maybe, just MAYBE, there is a need for one of these signs. That would be the One Way sign directing drivers to take a left.   



Pizzeria Lucca.. Coming to Bulloch Ave?

I'm interested in seeing what theHPC has to say about the proposed new structure for Pizzeria Lucca at their meeting this week.  The proposal is to demolish the existing structure at 96 Bulloch Ave and build a new barn style building to house the new pizzeria.  Not sure if we need another pizza place or not but that's not the question here.  Does the new building warrant tearing down an existing building in our historic district?  I think that's debatable but I'll admit that the existing building isn't a real gem.  So, what do you think?

Here are the images in the HPC packet...

View from Bulloch Ave

View from Bulloch Ave

View from 120

View from 120

Looking west at the building from their parking lot.

Looking west at the building from their parking lot.

Site Plan oriented with Bulloch Ave on the top and 12 on the bottom.

Site Plan oriented with Bulloch Ave on the top and 12 on the bottom.

Floor plan to get an idea of where you might want to sit :)

Floor plan to get an idea of where you might want to sit :)

The Wonky Side of Walkability

I've been thinking about this post for a while and finally had some time to get the pictures and numbers needed to get the point across.  Walkable cities and places prioritize pedestrians and make walking easy throughout the city.  Livable cities succeed in making life possible for more than just the healthy adult population.

The measuring stick of true livability should be whether an 8 or 80 year old can easily navigate around without the need of a car or chauffeur.  Most of our suburban and even urban environments in this country don't pass that test.  One of the biggest obstacles that impede livability is simply the ability to easily cross a street.  

I conducted a quick test to see just how long it takes an adult male, perfectly capable of navigating almost any city environment, to cross several intersections around Historic Roswell on foot.  My measurement stick was the number of steps it took to go from sidewalk to sidewalk.   

Crossing distances of some familiar intersections in Historic Roswell by steps.  30 steps for an entrance to a small condo complex is insane.

Crossing distances of some familiar intersections in Historic Roswell by steps.  30 steps for an entrance to a small condo complex is insane.

It's pretty obvious to tell which spots prioritize livability and walkability and which ones prioritize automobile traffic.  Now, let the wonkiness begin.  There are two primary impediments to walkability that are displayed in these examples.  One that was illustrated above being the Crossing Distance.  The other very geeky one is the Curb Return Radii (CRR). 

CRR is essentially the radius of the curb and impacts the crossing distance at intersections as well as the speed of turning cars.  The larger the radius, the faster you can negotiate the turn in a car and the farther you are going to have to walk to cross the intersection on foot.  Here's a graphic of the CRR at several intersections around town.  Which ones do you think are the most pedestrian friendly?


The smallest radii examples above are at Plum St and Canton Street and surprisingly at the NW corner of Norcross St and Frazer St.  The largest is the entrance to the Roswell Landings condos along Norcross St which is also roughly the same as the turn from Holcomb Bridge Rd on to Warsaw.  There's obviously a big difference in the type of traffic and the type of vehicle that frequently makes the turn into Roswell Landings vs the turn onto Warsaw.  

The point being, that our intersections need to be designed with the context in mind.  The Roswell Landings entrance is completely out of context with an entrance to a development in our historic district.  

Even the Institute of Transportation Engineers agrees... I think.  The ITE manual states the following about CRR:

General principles and considerations regarding curb return radii include the following:

  • In walkable areas, the first consideration is keeping crossing distance as short as possible. Consider alternatives to lengthening the curb radius first, then consider lengthening the radius if no other alternative exists.
  • Curb-return radii should be designed to accommodate the largest vehicle type that will frequently turn the corner (sometimes referred to as the design vehicle). This principle assumes that the occasional large vehicle can encroach into the opposing travel lane as shown in Figure 10.8. If encroachment is not acceptable, alternative routes for large vehicles should be identified.
  • Curb-return radii should be designed to reflect the "effective" turning radius of the corner. The effective turning radius takes into account the wheel tracking of the design vehicle utilizing the width of parking and bicycle lanes. Use of the effective turning radii allows a smaller curb-return radius while retaining the ability to accommodate larger design vehicles.

If we are to believe what the ITE is stating above, then I think we should be seeing either the maintenance of our existing crossing distances or the reduction of them over time.  However, I truly doubt that is happening, has happened or will happen.  Looking at the example of the Norcross, Frazer, Forrest intersection in the image below, you can see that the older corners on the NW and SE of the intersection maintain their low CRR.  However, the newer corners on the NE and SW have much larger CRR making it easier for cars to speed through turns and making it more difficult for pedestrians to cross the street.

I am making the prediction now that as the SE and NW corners of that intersection get redeveloped in the coming years, this intersection will lose it's form and become a typical intersection that gives priority to the car by increasing the CRR and Crossing Distances. 

This isn't just a problem at intersections along our streets and roads.  New developments are often required to have ridiculous CRR on their interior streets to accommodate larger vehicles such as fire trucks.  Here's an image of one of the new developments going in along Myrtle St in the Groveway district.  

Swooping curves like these do not belong in urban, walkable settings.  

Swooping curves like these do not belong in urban, walkable settings.  

The CRR pictured here are ENORMOUS.  They are larger inside the development than they are where the development meets Myrtle St.  What we are doing here is increasing the everyday danger of cars speeding through curves inside neighborhoods where people aren't expecting speeding cars in order to slightly improve the response time for First Responders in the off event of a fire.  

So, if the ITE says the first consideration is keeping crossing distance as short as possible, then WHY are our intersections getting harder and harder for pedestrians to cross.

10 Reasons to Love Vickers Village

We all know the arguments against Vickers Village.  We’ve heard them before.  You could pick the arguments off the shelf of any opposition to development that has occurred in the United States in the past 50 years.  The density is too high, the traffic will be unbearable, my kids won’t be safe, the schools will be ruined, my property values will plummet, the building is too big, it doesn’t fit with the neighborhood, it's not historic, I want redevelopment just not this….  The list goes on but in reality, opposition to projects is generally grounded in fear of the unknown and opinion while arguments are often supported by conjecture and hyperbole that isn’t grounded by fact.  

Now, I happen to think the density is just right, the traffic is coming regardless (are the 100% car dependent subdivisions being built off Woodstock Rd getting this same objection?), kids will be just fine, the schools will still thrive, property values will do just fine, the building is big but appropriate, it will fit into the neighborhood just fine… and I want redevelopment and I welcome this project.

So, I’d like to offer up some thoughts on why I really love this project.

10. It’s MUCH better than what it’s replacing – The modern historic preservation movement really gained traction when Penn Station was torn down to build Madison Square Garden.  The fight was fierce but the preservation minded architects lost and a beautiful building was lost to an eyesore.  This was a microcosm of a national problem.  Beautiful buildings were being destroyed and replaced with meaningless garbage for the sake of profit and modernity.

Penn Station image source: Library of Congress

To combat this trend, historic preservation organizations began to pop up all over the nation.   Unfortunately, Roswell did not officially have a commission until 1992, which may partially be why we have so much garbage, sprawl-style development throughout the 640 acre historic district.  

Now, Vickers Village is no Penn Station.  But it is light years better than the buildings currently on those properties.

9. It Will Increase Surrounding Property Values – During the recession, pretty much the only neighborhoods (anywhere) that held their value or increased were in walkable mixed-use communities.  This type of development gets us closer to true walkability.  The data says any concerns about property values declining are probably not based in reality.  From a recent study on walkable urban places in the Atlanta region (link)...

The price premium is much greater in for-sale housing (in walkable urban places). In the drivable sub-urban areas of the Atlanta region, homes are valued at $60.06 per square foot; in Established WalkUPs, values are 161 percent higher, at $156.46 per square foot.

Vickers Village won't hurt your value and if will probably drive your values higher. I could be completely off base here.  But... I'm not.  

Here's another graphic that drives home the point...  This shows quintiles of walkability based on the State of Place Index.  As you jump a quintile, you see notable increases in a number of areas...

As a homeowner in the historic district, I’m a big fan of a development like Vickers Village in key locations (and this prime intersection is one of them).

Also, taller buildings (I guess 4 stories is really tall in Roswell :) next to single family homes don't necessarily kill property values.  If the placemaking is done well and the area is desirable, which Historic Roswell is, there is no reason to fear juxtapostion of larger and smaller buildings.  

Rosemary Beach homes seem to be doing just fine next to a 4 story building.

8. It Breaks Up the Façade – By breaking up the façade with frequent variations in setback and height, it will create the feel of a building that is a collection of smaller buildings.  In this case, four stories truly is better than three stories because the additional floor gives the developer the flexibility to build these variations.  This project will provide 320 feet of frontage along Woodstock, 143 feet of frontage along Canton and 221 feet along Thompson.  There will be one, two, three and four story sections as you walk by.  This is MUCH more preferable than a solid three stores all around which is the most likely 'plan B' for the development team.

7. It Mixes Uses – The term mixed-use is way overused but it’s very true in the case of Vickers Village.  As proposed, VV would have condominiums, a restaurant, a coffee shop, several offices and a spa.  If you want to use land efficiently, that’s how you do it.  If you want to build a truly walkable neighborhood, that’s how you do it.  If you want to increase your property values, that’s how you do it!

6. It Balances Canton St – On the south end of Canton Street, we currently have what is undoubtedly the best stretch of authentic walkable urbanism in North Fulton.  Now, anyone who has been to shopping malls, knows that they don’t build them with just one anchor.  Mall developers were cued into human behavior much sooner than post WWII city planners were.  That’s why malls always have at least two anchors.  People want to walk from one destination to another and the retail in between thrives as a result.  Canton Street currently lacks a second anchor area to balance it.  Vickers Village will be that second anchor.

Vickers Village’s prime building frontage is amazingly close to that on south Canton Street.  Pastis to Salt measures roughly 360 feet.  Go With the Flow to Tutto measures 160 feet.  Provisions to the flower shop measures 210 feet.  Now, the retail frontage at Vickers Village will be significantly less than what we have at the south end of Canton street but the total linear feet is almost exactly the same (727 South Canton vs 684 Vickers).  So, in my mind, this truly is comparable in size and scale to the south end of Canton Street when you look at linear building frontage.  (I obvioulsy understand that VV is taller)  This is the anchor development that Canton Street has been looking for.

5. There’s a Plaza! – How many developments in Roswell in recent years have actually reserved space for a plaza or park that the general public will actually be able to use?  The only one I can think of is Sloan Street Park which was built when the Bricks were renovated.   This will be an incredible amenity and I really don’t think it happens without the fourth story.

Aerial view of the proposed plaza at the corner of Woodstock and Canton

4. It Has Underground Parking! – At between $10,000 and $20,000 a spot, underground parking is expensive.  It is generally twice as expensive as above ground structured parking which is five to ten times as expensive as surface parking.  The developer is doing the right thing here.  It’s the right thing to do for the project and it’s the right thing to do for the future of our historic district.  Nothing kills walkability like a surface parking lot.  Vickers Village really gets it right on this front with the residential parking buried underground and the retail parking covered by the residential and retail.

3. It Increases Road Connectivity – Although this is controversial because the drive would be within the buffer of the neighboring property, it is absolutely the right thing to do for the city.  

Cities and places with a finer grained road network are more walkable.  The more blocks per square mile that a city has, the more choices pedestrians, cyclists and drivers have to get to a destination.  More importantly, bigger blocks mean bigger streets and fewer streets.  This is critical for safety.  The bigger your block size is, the more likely you will see injuries and fatalities on your streets.  A study that looked at more that 130,000 car crashes over a 9 year period concluded that a doubling of block size corresponded with a tripling of fatalities in the 24 cities studied.  Now, this doesn’t’ mean that smaller block places can’t be dangerous but it does mean they are less dangerous.  What it tells me that the best thing we can do to increase the safety on our streets is to reduce our block sizes and create exactly those ‘cut-through’ streets that people seem to despise so much.

2. It Focuses on the Pedestrian – With the mix of uses, broken up façade, street trees, plaza, street connectivity, underground parking and wide sidewalks, this could be the most pedestrian friendly project ever proposed in Historic Roswell.  It has certainly made it farther along in the process than any other.  The only two that rival it are the Duany Plan and the Boutique Hotel on the Square.  Seriously, this four story plan is Better choice for the pedestrian experience as it embracing the public realm and caters to the human scale from the sidewalk.

View of Vickers Village looking north on Canton Street

1. It’s Freaking Bold – I personally think the design as is puts that land to its highest ;) and best use.  I think teh current proposal is award winning while the alternative will be 'just okay.'  We should get out of our comfort zones, embrace change and continue to build on the history of our historic district.  Be BOLD!

Vickers Village looking south toward the Canton Street and Woodstock Road intersection

Alas, it probably won’t make it with a fourth story due to a massive amount of community objection.  My prediction, city council approves the multi-family conditional use and the buffer variance but does not approve the height variance.  With that, I’m sure we will get a project that is good but not bold.  One that is much less interesting than the current proposal.

I think denying the fourth story is the difference between an award winning project that communities outside of Roswell will look to emulate and a development that’s nice but not special.

Ultimately, not everyone is going to be happy.  The immediate neighbors are probably going to be upset regardless.  As the saying goes, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.  I say we should give this building the 10 extra feet of height that it needs so we can have a bold, interesting building that will build on our history, create conversation and enhance our historic district.


If you would like to see this project built, let the mayor and council know by emailing them at roswellmayorandcouncil@roswellgov.com and try to make it to the city council meeting on 6/22. (I will unfortunately be out of the country but will be there in spirit)

Riverwalk Village: Revised Site Plan

The folks behind Riverwalk Village have filed a revised site plan with the city and it looks like they have reduced about 50% of the retail and office.  It reduces the height in some places.  I'll weigh in on some of the other changes at another time but in all, I think they reduce the overall quality of the project.  If you're going to build a mixed-use center.  Do it right.  PERIOD.  It goes before Design Review Board tomorrow night (Tuesday June 2) for it's initial review.

GDOT has also killed the early offramp from 400N which would allow traffic to this development to avoid Holcomb Bridge Road. That's completely, utterly ridiculous.  But, this is GDOT we're dealing with.  The body that is proposing an exit at McGinnis Ferry before they fix the HBR interchange.  Topic for another time...

Here's the new site plan.  


Hat tip to Scott Long Twitter: @ScottLong  If you like New Urban Roswell, you should follow Scott Long.  He has great Tweets.

South Atlanta Street... Changes are Comin'


The heart of our city is getting a lot of attention from developers of late.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve certainly heard about Vickers Village at Woodstock and Canton.  However, you may not have heard of a newly proposed development along the east side of South Atlanta Street south of Olde Towne Roswell townhomes and north of Creek View Condominiums at 425, 433 ad 453 South Atlanta St.  This new one is called South Atlanta Street at Big Creek (SAS@BC)

The Vickers Village development is an example of high quality urbanism that will improve the urban fabric of our downtown.  However, the same can’t be said for the proposed SAS@BC development .  As a supporter of infill development, I tried to like it.  But, unfortunately, it’s just not doing it for me.

The current plan calls for three story residential live/work units along S Atlanta St., which is not a bad thing.  However, it’s what lies behind this front layer that really kills me.  SAS@BC becomes one gigantic 4 story block when you move beyond the live work units.  

Now, you won’t notice the 4 stories much from the road as the buildings fronting the street will hide the bigger building and the topography steps down a bit as you move east toward Big Creek.  Now, as most readers know, I don’t really care about 4 stories versus 3.  It’s only when you start getting higher than 5 where I think context of the surroundings becomes crucial.  That's when buildings start getting taller than the tree canopy and become much more noticeable.  That said, the height isn’t the issue here.  It’s the style, site plan and building type.  Let's take a look...

As you can see, this is one massive 4 story façade with no height breaks or varying setbacks to create interesting visual experiences.  The footprint of this building when you include the enclosed green (Texas donut hole) and parking deck will be around 3 full acres.  Now, for those that think Vickers Village is large ad just over 1 acre of footprint, this single building is almost 3x the size.

Okay, so I'm painting a bad picture but it’s not all bad.  I love the fact that a developer wants to do a project here and I fully support redevelopment it it's done right.  So, here’s what I think it does do well:

  • Lining South Atlanta Street with the 3 stories is a good thing but I think light office over retail might do better here.  Or, as my hypothetical site plan below shows, it might be a good place for a 2nd & 3rd level parking deck that is masked well.  The noise from the road would be a bit much for residences right on Hwy 9.
  • It greatly improves the stretch of sidewalk along South Atlanta Street and that is a critical need in my opinion.
  • The road connection to the adjacent planned townhome development at Creek View is absolutely the right thing to do and kudos for them for adding that to the designs.
  • The fact that there is a parking deck is laudable but it’s poorly placed.  Even though it is masked with some greenery on the walls, it creates a terrible transition from the new Creek View townhomes..
  • Finally, it does hold true to the Allenbrook Village Residential vision from the 2030 Comprehensive Plan...
What is doesn’t do well...
  • Again, the Texas Donut apartment building is just not a winner in my book.  It's an efficient use of space but it is bad urbanism in this context.  If this were a block in midtown or downtown, it would work better (you'd need retail on the ground floor though).  That said, we're not in midtown and part of this property borders a national park.
  • It also doesn’t really help build a neighborhood as the Allenbrook Village vision sets forth to do.  Plopping down a big apartment building that has a common area walled off from the rest of the property and surrounding properties really isn’t neighborly.
  • The architecture that is shown in the renderings leaves much to be desired.  It needs some serious dressing up and even great architecture may not be able to save the bad site plan.
  • It doesn't help accentuate the natural beauty of the area in any meaningful way.  It takes more than it gives.

What would I do?

In the hypothetical world of New Urban Roswell, the possibilities are endless. But, ever the pragmatist, I'm going to try and keep parking, stormwater, profitability, etc in mind as I weigh in (traffic is a given).  First, lets compare the site to Glenwood Park, another mixed use village center in South Atlanta near Grant Park.

The developed area of this SAS@BC and Glenwood Park are both roughly 6 acres.

South Atlanta Street at Big Creek - Rough Approximation of Development Footprint of Site on Google Maps.Comparable area in Glenwood Park
In SAS@BC, we essentially get three buildings, while in Glenwood Park, there are 14 different buildings.  Looking at the architecture below, I think it’s obvious which one is more preferable…

The illustrations of SAS@BC earlier in this post should serve as a guide to compare to the following images taken from Google Street View of Glenwood Park...

As you can see, Glenwood Park has unique architecture across each of the buildings and divides the property up into small blocks that create an interesting and highly walkable heart to the neighborhood.  It’s easy to tell the difference between true Walkable Urbanism and an imposter.  All that said, here’s how I’d completely re-imagine this site.

Current Site Plan

NUR Site Plan (not to scale but close)

  1. Retail fronting S Atlanta with 3 level parking.  Parking deck frontage should be recessed from the street and covered by green wall.  Entrance cuts through the middle of building and opens to the central street of the development.  Parking on 1st floor will be for retail & upper floors will be for apt residents.  Walkways provide convenient access to apartment buildings for residents on upper floors.
  2. 125 for rent apartments (4 stories). First floor would have mix of retail/restaurant and residential along the main street.  Northern building would have ground level parking underneath residential where outlined triangle is.  It would also have a 2nd floor amenity deck (eastern most green triangle) and 3rd floor pool providing amazing views of Historic Roswell, Vickery Creek and the National Forest.
  3. 25 market rate townhomes (3 stories).  These would encompass the southern piece of the site and provide a seamless transition transition between the Creek View Phase 2 Townhomes and the new development.  
  4. Pocket park.  This could have a small playground or just serve as a neighborhood congregating area.  It would also complement the trail and bridge.  Potential to add a small playground here as an amenity for families.  Ideally, a restaurant on the first floor would open to the park area and provide great views.
  5. Potential pedestrian gate to neighboring Olde Towne Roswell townhome development for those residents to access new neighborhood.
  6. Walking/Hiking trail that would connect to the Mill and Allenbrook and go behind the Olde Towne Roswell, Mill Street Park and Creek View neighborhoods giving all three a link to the new development without having to walk along highway 9.
  7. Pedestrian bridge connecting development to Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.  This would be an amazing amenity not only for the neighborhood but for the city.  It would activate the park and complement the existing bridge at the mill.
  8. Planned Townhomes for Creek View Phase 2.  
Overall, this alternative plan would reduce the intensity of the project but it would help make this more of a neighborhood by incorporating a true mix of uses with retail, restaurant, civic and residential.

I will post more on this development as information is available.

Images: City of Roswell, Google Maps