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

 

Vickers Village Looks Like Good Urbanism to Me

There's been a lot of buzz about the plans for the old Vickers Automotive building and the surrounding properties at the corner of Woodstock Rd and Canton St.  The developer, Miller Lowry, has updated the plans once ahead of the first official neighborhood meeting last week and I would think more updates are coming given some of the neighborhood responses on the NUR facebook page.  Most of the objection centers around the scale of the building along Woodstock Rd and it being too tall.  There have been several positive comments on the section fronting Canton Street.

Here's my take on key areas of the project:

Walkability (A)- The fact that this is mixed-use with restaurant/retail on the first floor and residential (owner occupied) above is fantastic.  It builds on the blossoming walkability of our neighborhood.  The General Theory of Walkability states that a walk must be Useful, Safe, Comfortable & Interesting.  I think this one hits on all levels.  The last thing you want here is somethign single use such as an office park where 100% of morning and afternoon trips will be by car.

Scale (B) - The building setbacks are very appropriate for the area and it definitely does a good job engaging the sidewalks and the streets.  I'm not height averse but I do think the Woodstock Rd section should be terraced back a touch.  That said, one thing that height does is create enclosure which automatically tells drivers to slow down as they percieve more friction.  Slower, more cautios drivers make for safer roads which in turn improve walkability.  

Design (B+) - The renderings look to be high quality and would be notably nicer than the current buildings on the properties.  I personally love the look and think it would complement the area well.  If everything looked the same, we'd live in a pretty boring place.  The only reason I'm not giving this an A is the scale of the building along Woodstock.  Also, I'm not in the camp to preserve for preservation's sake.  If the new is improving significantly on the old, I'm all for it.  As Andres Duany is known to say.. "You have to break a few eggs to make an omlette."

Traffic (B) - I think the traffic fears are a little exaggerated. The retail is pretty light and there are 69 condos planned.  First, a lot of car trips will be foregone because of the inherent walkability of the neighborhood.  It would be great if the Corner Grocery was actually a "grocery" but maybe sometime it will be.  I'm not sure if the road on the west side of the development is still in the plans but it would actually be a huge benefit for those who live on Thompson Pl as they could avoid the left turn onto Canton Street that is a bit of a challenge at times.

Parking (A) - I love that a good deal of the parking for the residential will actually be underground.  There is still some surface parking but any effort to kill surface parking is highly desirable.  I'm making an assumption here but I'm thinking that if you take a story away from the development, it will kill the below ground parking and will give us more surface parking which would be TERRIBLE for our Historic District.  The lack of surface parking eliminates the missing tooth syndrome that so many downtowns suffer from.  Think of the parking lot at the intersection of Canton St and Magnolia at Pastis.  That intersection would be notably improved if we had frontage instead of a parking lot.  Once again, the Vickers Village is doing a lot to improve walkability.

Ultimately, this will be a signature project for the north end of the Historic District and it is important that it be done right.  Again, I think it get's a solid B in my book and I'd be happy to see this development right up the street for me.

Here are the most recent renderings from Miller Lowry.  Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Looking north from Canton St

Looking SW from the Woodstock/Canton intersectionLooking east from Woodstock Rd

 

Event: A First Look at Riverwalk Village

Town Hall | Roswell is an unique forum to learn about our city.  Listen to local, regional and national voices discuss important topics and how they impact Roswell.  Add in a little laid back socializing, have a drink and enjoy.
Our topic this month is Riverwalk Village.  Hear from the group behind this $500 million development slated for the southeast quadrant of the GA 400/Holcomb Bridge interchange.  The proposal includes over 1,500 residences, 1.7 million square feet of office and 500,000 square feet of retail. Over 40 percent of the land will be preserved as some form of green space and it will center on a small lake which will be the heart of the development with a 200 room hotel, Roswell’s largest, overlooking the lake.
Kevin Sloan of Kevin Sloan Studio will lead the presentation.  Per his Wikipedia Entry…
Mr. Sloan is a landscape architect, urban planner and writer with international scope, located in Dallas, TX.  He is the founder and director of Kevin Sloan Studio, a design studio principally concerned with the urban design and landscape architectural problems generated by the metropolitan city and its new and unprecedented formation.
Recent projects include master planning the 270-acre South Campus at Syracuse University in New York; the urban design at Vitruvian Park, a 100-acre mixed use development in north Dallas; the master plan for a dense urban addition on Lake Carolyn in Dallas; and the master plan for the Southern Methodist University’s winning submission for the George W. Bush Presidential Library.
Admission is free this time around and will be limited to the first 250 people.  You will need to reserve your tickets quickly for this one.  RSVP Here
Town Hall | Roswell is brought to you by RoswellNEXT in partnership with Roswell Inc.

 

Walkability is King in 2015

This year is shaping up to be a defining year for the future of development in and around the North Fulton area.  In 2014, we saw the trend toward walkable development take a root with Avalon and Alpharetta City Center leading the way.  Smaller projects sprinkled around downtown Alpharetta, Roswell and Milton Crabapple are helping to create authentic places where people want to be.  Many of these will be wrapping up in 2015 and there are a number of additional projects, big and small, that we will learn more about. 

 

We will definitely hear more about Avalon’s phase II.  Judging by the crowds on the ice skating rink this holiday season, Mark Toro has hit a home run with the first phase and the development is only about a third complete.  There’s still a lot more coming on the west and east ends of the development.  The Monte Hewitt homes that will be going up will rival upscale developments on 30A, like Rosemary Beach, in design quality while the expansion of the retail and office on the east end will continue to expand Avalon into an attractive destination for dining and shopping.  Expect to see plans for a full service hotel and a convention center in phase II and Mr. Toro couldn’t be pushing harder for a MARTA train station at Avalon (AJC Op-ed Link Scroll Down).  Add in the Gwinnett Tech campus underway across Old Milton and things are really looking bright for Avalon.

You might think Avalon is enough for one city but in Alpharetta, things are really cooking.  The city just opened its new City Hall building in December as the first big piece of the Alpharetta City Center project which will bring a new Fulton County library, parking deck, park and mixed use development to the heart of Alpharetta.  There are a number of peripheral developments and business openings that are helping downtown Alpharetta evolve into a truly walkable and vibrant neighborhood. 

With both of these projects in full swing, Alpharetta is hot.  There’s even word of a planning effort that will work to design a walkable and bikeable corridor of development between Avalon and downtown Alpharetta.  

Not to be upstaged, Roswell is looking to get into the big mixed-use game as well.  The proposed Riverwalk Village would rival Avalon in size with just over 100 acres  on the south east section of the Holcomb Bridge / GA400 interchange.  The price tag is estimated to be in the $500 million range and the proposal includes over 1,500 residences, 1.7 million square feet of office and 500,000 square feet of retail.  Over 40 percent of the land would be preserved as some form of green space.  It will center on a small lake which will be the heart of the development with a 200 room hotel, Roswell’s largest, overlooking the lake.  The opportunity to connect this development to the Chattahoochee by trails is an incredible differentiator and unique in the region.  There will be much more information coming on Riverwalk Village in 2015 and if all things go as planned, ground could be broken before the end of the year.

Whenever large developments come up, traffic is always the number one concern (we do live in suburbia after all).  So, any discussion should also include what is being done doing to accommodate cars.  First and foremost, the answer to congestion is not more lanes.  Widening HBR or 400 or Old Milton will not resolve issues in the long run.  Widening roads can help in the short term but two better alternatives are distribution and options.  Distribution involves creating more connectivity while options give people different ways to accomplish what they are looking to do.  

Roswell and GDOT are currently working on some targeted projects at HBR and 400 to help remove some congestion points.  These are helpful but will do nothing to reduce the overall number of cars using that interchange each day.  The city is working on a long term, $50 million+, project to build the Big Creek Greenway which will connect Old Alabama and Warsaw and provide a much needed alternate route over 400.

Other big long-term transportation projects include widening Old Milton and the Roswell Historic Gateway which will remove the reversible lanes on South Atlanta Street.  There will likely be some progress on each of these but don’t expect to see any real progress for years.

The other long-term project that will get a little clearer in 2015 is the proposed Red Line extension of MARTA Rail.  Under new leadership, MARTA has had quite a turn around over the past 2 years.  They are expanding to Clayton County, the first new county to join MARTA since its inception and they are looking at three potential rail extensions; the Clifton Corridor, North Fulton and Clayton County.  These are obviously long-term, billion dollar+ projects but they are worth keeping an eye on.  The Red Line extension would add 5 or more stops all the way up to Windward Parkway giving a much needed option to drivers who sit in the soul crushing congestion on 400 each day.  They are also, implementing a number of initiatives to turn empty spaces and parking lots around stations into Transit Oriented Development.  Amanda Rhein is heading up that effort for the agency and was named one of the 20 people to watch in 2015 by CreativeLoafing.

Other interesting local and regional projects to watch in 2015 are; Golf Carts in Roswell, the Roswell City Walk Apartments, Grove Way redevelopment in Roswell, Riverwalk Trail extension to Willeo, the bike/ped bridge over the Chattahoochee, Canton St & Woodstock Redevelopment, Sun Valley Extension, GA400/I-285 Interchange, Path 400 in Buckhead, the Beltline Westside and Eastside Trail extensions, Ponce City Market, Atlanta Waterworks Park, Bellwood Quarry Park, the Braves and Falcons stadiums (new & old) and perhaps the biggest redevelopment out there, the Doraville GM Plant redevelopment.

As you can see, the future is bright for walkable and mixed-use development in North Fulton and the Atlanta area.  Get out for a walk, there are more options than ever before in our Region.

North Fulton School Redistricting

The public input process for the upcoming North Fulton school redistricting is almost over.  You have until midnight tomorrow (12/14/14) to submit your comments to the county.  With any school redistricting, there are going to be some PO'd people and I'm one of them.  Unfortunately, our nation has a public school system that is anything other than free market and democratic.  If you live in a certain spot, your children are going to a certain school regardless of whether that makes the best sense for the end consumer, end of story.  

The new elementary school on hwy 9 has created some pretty big shifts in Roswell at the elementary and middle school levels.  High schools in Roswell are largely unchanged.  However, there are some notable shifts that will happen with elementary and middle schools on the west side of Roswell.  Proposed maps for elementary and middle are below. (click on the image for the full map).  Black lines show existing boundaries and colors show the proposed boundaries.

 

You will notice that the new school pulls from Roswell North and Mimosa primarily which was to be expected.  I live in Liberty which is next door to the new school so there was no getting away from the fact that my elementary school kids would be going to the new school.  What I didn't expect was to get pulled away from Crabapple Middle in the process.  As the crow flies, Crabapple is right at a mile from our house and our new middle school, Elkins Point, is right at 2.5 miles. 

Neither route would be particularly walkable or bikeable for my kids but the Elkins Point route takes us across two main arteries (HBR and Mansell) causing a significant increase in time by either car or bus.  I can plainly see that Fulton County is trying to keep the feeder system as clean as possible but I really don't know how in Historic Roswell has any meaningful affiliation with Mountain Park when it comes to middle school aged children.  But, alas, we are in suburbia where playdates are planned and parents chauffeur kids from one end of the city to the other by car to

Keep supporting our car dependence for everything Fulton County.  My solution.. build smaller neighborhood focused schools from elementary through high school rather than the standardized education factories we have now.  Who knows, maybe another redistricting will occur before my kids are in middle school.  One can dream... I'll have plenty of time when I driving to our new middle school.

What's Going Here? - Woodstock & Canton

The demolition request public notice signs are up all over the place around the old Vickers Auto Repair shop and the surrounding buildings.  King Lowry Ventures/Miller Lowry is the name on the petition requests and they are looking to consolidate four parcels at the corner of Woodstock Rd and Canton St totaling roughly 1.75 acres.  There hasn't been much detail released about what will go here so I'm going to speculate.

This is a prime parcel at the lesser developed end of Canton Street.  The pricetag to assemble these four lots was likely in the $2M+ ballpark given the $1.4M list price for the Vickers property.  Given that pricetag, this is going to need to be multi-story and with the trend toward mixed-use development taking hold in North Fulton, I definitely see this development headed that way.

I'm predecting some residential, retail and office in this one and it's going to need to be higher end development to make it in this part of town.  Miller Lowry has developed in Historic Roswell before.  You're probably familiar with this development just to the south of this new project.

I've always liked this building and the residential units upstairs with one exception.  That is the fact that it sits just a little too far back from the street.  It should be closer up to the street to help create the type of environment that is present on the south end of Canton Street.  I'm definitely hoping that the new development goes for a smaller setback.  

Another development that Miller Lowry has in the pipeline is at 1075 Canton St which is the old blacksmith property.  This one will tear down the shed behind the historic home and replace it with four townhomes and the plan is to rehab the house that fronts Canton St into (I'm guessing here) a restaurant space.  Here's the rendering that has been filed with the city for that development.

The townhomes look strickingly similar to the Sweet building just up the street.  I think this could be a solid addition to Canton Street but we need to be careful that all Miller Lowry projects don't look the same.  We don't want monotony on our most important street.

That said, I'm guessing that what we get at the corner of Woodstock and Canton Street has a similar feel and tops off at 3 or 4 stories with retail/restaurant on the main floor and some residential and office on the upper floors.  Also, there is plenty of land so don't rule out the possibility that additional buildings go behind the one that will front Canton and Woodstock.

Riverwalk Village: Roswell's Next Act

In November, news broke on a huge real estate development slated for 104 acres of the southeast quadrant of Holcomb Bridge Rd and GA 400 interchange.  It’s the biggest news out of Roswell in years.  It could be the biggest news out of Roswell since the last development was proposed in virtually the same area.  Many readers will recall the failed $2 billion Roswell East (aka Charlie Brown) proposal in 2007 that succumbed to significant neighborhood backlash before it had the opportunity to succumb to the real estate downturn.  the new project, Riverwalk Village, is still very ambitious.  What $500 million project isn’t?

There is simply too much to cover in one column but here’s the quick & dirty (and my previous columns here & here).  It’s much smaller than Charlie Brown but it’s still huge.  It could have up to 1,556 residences with some multifamily (renter and owner occupied), senior housing and single-family attached homes.  Office space could total 1.7 million square feet, a tad more than the BoA building in Midtown.  That’s on top of almost 500k square feet of retail and a 200 room full-service hotel.  The Swift School could open a new campus and about 43 percent of the overall site is reserved for green space and walking trails that would connect to the river and nearby neighborhoods. This project is quite simply a mixed-use behemoth.  

Under the current proposal,  the buildings will be low to mid-rise with the tallest proposed buildings being 10 stories.  Most of those taller buildings will be down the hill using the topography to create the illusion that the buildings aren’t as tall.  The hotel would be 28 rooms larger than the Doubletree, currently Roswell’s largest.  

The project is being led by Duke Land Group of Dunwoody.  They are seeking rezoning from the city and have presented a site plan that they believe works within the new UDC to provide the type of development that the city sees as contextually appropriate for that part of the city.  Asking around, this group seems to be well heeled and very capable of executing on the vision.  

The official announcement came roughly one week after the opening of Avalon another nearby mixed-use mega-project at Old Milton and GA 400 in Alpharetta.  This seemed very timely and no doubt was meant to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the opening of a high profile walkable mixed-use development.   The comparisons are bound to continue but Riverwalk Village will be strikingly different than what you find at Avalon.  First and foremost, Riverwalk has the Chattahoochee.  The only river that Avalon has next to it is the river of cars running up and down GA400.  Riverwalk is mixed-use and it’s roughly the same size parcel but Duke will be going for more of a village or neighborhood feel than an upscale shopping destination.

The current site plan calls for 16 different sections broken out into 7 categories, each with a slightly different intent and purpose.  For the most part, I think Duke has hit the nail on the head.  

  • A1-A2 - Office District - Well located along the western edge placing it closest to 400 keeping the residential and retail further away from the highway.  
  • B1 - Medium Density Residential (Townhomes) - I really like that this parcel is situated close to the river and will offer some of the best walkability options for residents who will be able to walk to shops, restaurants, office and a national park (and eventually a train station?).
  • C1-C8 - Mixed Use Development District (Residential & Non-Residential Uses, Such as Retail, Restaurant, Civic, Office, Multi-Family, Entertainment) - This one is a bit tough to envision but the obvious main point is that it will front what appears to be a Main Street that bisects the new development.  This could create a great walkable street on the east side of Roswell where nothing close to a walkable urban street currently exists.  The small bridge crossing the lake should be a great focal point.
  • D1 - School or Alternate Residential District - Well played.  This part of the property abuts 21 single family homes in Martins Landing, the most vocal opponent of Roswell East.  So, they make some options.
  • E1-E2 - Entertainment District (Restaurant, Retail, Grocery, Multi-Family) - Everyone loves entertainment.  From the initial renderings, they seem to have done an excellent job putting this area next to the lake, using the water in an urban fashion actually building right up to the water. Be prepared to be Entertained!
  • F1 - Hotel District (Hotel, Civic, Multi-Family) - Positioned directly on the little lake.  Well thought out and Roswell needs this.  Period!
  • Greenspace - (Parks, Trails, Landscaping) - A real opportunity to differentiate the development from virtually any other in Atlanta.  Mixed-Use with a connection to the Chattahoochee River and the Roswell Riverside Trail and potential MARTA connectivity.  

This project will increase a lot of things not the least of which are the tax rolls and traffic.  The first is obviously a win for the city while the second is going to make what is already a bad situation a bit worse.  There’s no sugar coating that.  The city and state need to step up and fix the HBR/400 interchange.  There are some small projects underway but much more is needed.  It sure would be nice to have the $48 million in improvements from TSPLOST but that’s spilt milk.  Proposal for HBR/400 Interchange Circa 2012Current projects like the early off ramp from 400N, the extended northbound turn lane to 400N from Old Alabama and the realignment of HBR eastbound to eliminate the lane switching before Old Alabama will all help but more is needed.  Mr. Acenbrak has some tricks in his bag I’m sure but we’re going to need money to make them happen.

Now that I’ve given you most of the facts, it’s time to share some of my thoughts.  

  • If the developer is truly going for a village feel, architecture and street design are critical.  Modern corporate architecture does not jive with a village feel.  Don’t try to be Avalon.  Take inspiration from some of the award winning developments from metro Atlanta such as Serenbe, Vickery Village and Glenwood Park and incorporate the designs seen in our historic district that make Roswell great. 
  • Roads should be as NARROW as humanly possible and connect as much as possible.  Villages and wide roads don’t mix. Villages and fine grained connectivity do.  Also, let's finally connect the greenway to the river. 
  • Figure out the MARTA solution now rather than later.  Everyone will be better off for it.  I’ve heard an underground solution might be necessary due to the incline from the river.  How cool would that be to enter Roswell by subway and walk to the River?
  • Old Alabama Avenue - OA should be turned into a grand tree lined avenue in the European style from HBR all the way to the river.  DPZ gave us a fantastic model in their Historic Gateway Master Plan.
  • Gigabit.  It’s a must.  Avalon has set the standard.  If we are serious about attracting business and entrepreneurs, we must have the fast speeds that they require.

Wishing Duke all the best.  If all goes well with permitting and approvals, ground could be broken in Q4 2015.  One thing is for certain.. a lot will change between now and the finished product.  Look forward to more coverage of Riverwalk Village by The CurrentHub and check my blogwww.NewUrbanRoswell.com for my thoughts and opinions.