2015 - What Happened in Roswell

In all, 2015 was a pretty amazing year for Roswell and much of North Fulton.  Walkability was in fact king in 2015 and I think it will continue to drive development in 2016.  We saw numerous developments and proposals work their way through the area that enhance walkability.  That said, not all change is welcome and there was a clear and expected negative response to a number of projects in 2015. 

The Riverwalk Village, Vickers Village and Sassafras projects received significant opposition and there was a notable cadre of ground troops that organized a fierce anti-density campaign that was quite successful if not always accurate.  This opposition came at an opportune time as our City Council elections occurred just as these three developments were working their way through the process.   Fortunate timing and significant legwork by the team that formed around the three winning candidates, Horton, Palermo and Zapata, resulted in a significant shakeup at City Hall.  

Now, before I get too far, I would like to say my peace on this.  I believe Horton, Palermo and Zapata will be fine stewards of our city and I believe they support walkability and building places people love.  I do think they collectively have a little to learn on what is necessary to build truly walkable and lovable places.  However, it's not rocket science and they will figure it out.  

One thing that troubled me was the amount of mis-information floating around about incumbents, the big controversial developments and the people behind those developments.  The number of Chinese Whispers flying around town was shameful.  I've heard that: 

  • Becky Wynn hates Roswell (She doesn't and I think we should leave the character assassinations to state and national politics.)
  • Rich Dippolito was in bed with the Sassafras developers (He wasn't)
  • The Sassafras developers were swindling widows to sell their property (They weren't)
  • Vickers Village is going to do all apartments (They aren't)
  • Sassafras was going to be a high density senior living facility (It wasn't)
  • Riverwalk Village would crush property values (NOTHING could be further from reality)
  • Sassafras is High Density (GREAT rhetoric but just not true.  5.2 units per acre is NOT HIGH DENSITY and even when they lowered it to 3.7, opposition continued to say it was high density.  If that's the case, then Roswell Green 4.8, Orchard Lake 3.3, Crabapple Lake & Parc 3.6, all subdivisions within walking distance of Sassafras, would probably fall into that "high density" bucket.)  

The list can go on but you probably get the point... A lot of mis-information was flowing out there...

I'm also puzzled by the the fierce opposition to developments like Vickers, Riverwalk and Sassafras that are truly groundbreaking for our city while other garbage developments continue to work their way through the process with little to no opposition.  We have several Townhome Without A Town developments that are steaming piles of monotony.  We should be killing those developments and welcoming unique projects like Vickers, 

Now that I've said that, let's get into the projects.

Riverwalk Village

We saw three different site plans for Riverwalk Village in 2015. Each one becoming more and more diluted than its predecessor.  Ultimately, the developers pulled the project.  We won't see this get realized and we are now poised for another 5+ years of nothing happen on that site.

Another great aspect of the plan was the early off ramp idea to get traffic off 400 before Holcomb Bridge and into the planned Riverwalk Village development got killed by GDOT due to 5 mph.  RDOT needed it to be 30 mph design speed and GDOT insisted on 35 mph.  Another good idea down the drain.

Vickers Village

Ultimately, Vickers Village had to shrink a bit and couldn't go to four stories.  They received approval in November and we will likely see construction start in late spring if things go as planned.  As of this writing, a few people are still trying to kill Vickers Village on technicalities which is unfortunate but expected given the amount of opposition this project saw throughout the process.  

They will need to go to a higher level appeals court though if they want to pursue it further.  Who knows, maybe the bid to derail Vickers will work but ultimately something mixed-use and walkable with 3 stories is going to eventually get built on that land and whether you like it or not, that is the right type of development for that spot.  An interesting fact on that property is that it has been zoned for 3 story development since the early 1970's.  

Goulding

 image: Frontdoor Communities

image: Frontdoor Communities

Goulding raped the land and that was shameful. That said, we did get a renovation of a historic home and road connectivity. I'm not sure it's worth the damage to the canopy but what's done is done and I always like to look for the positive.  

Surprisingly, 109 Goulding, pictured above, is already under contract which says something about Frontdoor's renovation job and their overall project plans given the ~$1.5 million price tag.  The single family houses are selling well with all three that are under construction reportedly already sold.  We'll see if the townhomes sell as robustly and only time will tell whether the project enhances the neighborhood. Personally, I think 10 years from now, this will grow into a very nice part of downtown Roswell.

Sasafrass

 Revised site plan that removed townhomes and reduced overall density to 3.7 units per acre.

Revised site plan that removed townhomes and reduced overall density to 3.7 units per acre.

We lost out on a very innovative development when Sasafrass died its ugly death. Ultimately, the developers killed the project due to a groundswell of opposition to 'high density' development.  The diversity of housing stock and the connectivity it offered were too unique to succeed. 

I really liked this one because it mixed housing types within the same development which creates much more of a natural neighborhood feel than standard tract home development.  I also really liked the fact that it cut one superblock into three smaller blocks and would have improved the walkability of a mostly car dependent area.

Roswell City Walk

 image: Lennar Multifamily

image: Lennar Multifamily

The Roswell City Walk apartments finished up and are now almost full adding some slightly more affordable housing options to downtown Roswell.  There is no arguing the fact that this project is light years better than what was there before. I firmly believe that this project will be the catalyst that drives the redevelopment of the Southern Skillet property. 

Forrest Commons

 image: Monte Hewett Homes

image: Monte Hewett Homes

Forrest Commons is wrapping up the foundation of the final building and should be complete and sold out sometime in 2016. 

Hill Street Commons

Just up the street from Forrest Commons is Hill Street Commons.  This project has pretty much wrapped up land preparation and looks ready to start building.  The sidewalks around the property look nice and wide and I'm sure the townhomes are going to be high quality.

City Green

City Green has been pretty much stalled in City Hall and there is some concern that the project may die as many don't think it is a priority of the new council. This would be a huge loss and a massive waste of time and money that has already been invested. More on this in a later post.

Southern Skillet  

There was finally some movement on the Roswell Plaza shopping center with the city purchasing the property for $4.8M. No plans have been made yet and there will definitely be some community involvement in the planning and ideation process.  To do this right, this will likely require 3-4 stories in areas and it will likely require some element of mixed-use residential over retail.

Roswell Antique Market

We got a good head fake from the Roswell Antique Market. The owners upped the rent and forced the antique market out. Word on the street is that we will see 24/7 paid parking at $5 a pop and another antique market to meet the insatiable demand for antiques from people willing to pay $5 for parking. So, rest easy Roswell, the most out of place building on Canton St will continue to live on. 

The Big Ketch

 image: ajc.com

image: ajc.com

These guys, Southern Proper Hospitality, did a fantastic job opening up their second location of The Big Ketch.  The owners of the building, Flying Pig Capital, spent a lot of time and money purchasing and renovating the property adjacent to Osteria Mattone but did a spectacular renovation on the old home there.  They fired up the HPC along the way as expectations weren't aligned to the reality of how much of the original structure needed to be removed in order to pull off this renovation even though they were executing on what was originally approved by the HPC.  Ultimately, this was cleared up and the outcome was excellent. 

South Atlanta Street Apartment Building

City Council inexplicably killed an awesome little mixed use building that would have had 14 apartments over office and retail at the southern end of downtown. 

835 Mimosa & Dolvin House

 Site plan for 835 Mimosa

Site plan for 835 Mimosa

Redevelopment of 835 Mimosa and the Dolvin House property on Bulloch was approved but the developer pulled out of the Dolvin project. One very resourceful concerned citizen even got President Carter to pen a letter opposing the development.  I'd love to see what was actually communicated to Jimmy about the project but that will probably never come to light.  It's too bad because this is exactly the type of smart, responsible infill development that can help preserve and enhance historic properties and districts.

 View of the proposed Dolvin House project from Bulloch Avenue.  Three new homes would have faced Bulloch and two would have been behind these facing inward on a small park that would connect to the sidewalk along 120.

View of the proposed Dolvin House project from Bulloch Avenue.  Three new homes would have faced Bulloch and two would have been behind these facing inward on a small park that would connect to the sidewalk along 120.

Bulloch Ave Pizza Parlor - Pizzeria Lucca

A new pizza parlor, Pizzeria Lucca, on Bulloch was approved and that project continues to progress.  The old building has been bulldozed and construction will start soon.  The owners have ambitious plans to be a world class pizzeria.  I'm looking forward to seeing what they cook up.

South Atlanta Street @ Big Creek

There was a GOD Awful apartment project proposed on South Atlanta St that thankfully was pulled.  To say that they didn't understand the area is putting it lightly. The name of the project was South Atlanta Street at Big Creek. They obviously didn't do their research on the name of that section of the creek. 

There is now a proposal in front of the Historic Preservation Commission to discuss townhomes in this spot instead of the originally proposed townhomes.  More to come on this project.

Vickery Falls

Vickery Falls was FINALLY resurrected. They are finishing the townhomes and building the condos with plans to add a retail building along South Atlanta Street.  This is a big win as that property has been sitting idle and incomplete for ~7 years. 

Village on Pine

The Village on Pine from Acadia Homes is wrapping up construction. It's nothing special in my opinion and missed several opportunities to enhance walkability in the area.  

UDC Connectivity Amendment

The lame duck council passed an amendment to the UDC that will enhance connectivity for future developments. In a city with fewer than 275 actual city blocks, any extra bit of connectivity added to the network is a plus.  This is a big win and will require at least a minimum level of connectivity for new developments.

Parkside at Strickland

 image: Birghtwater Homes

image: Birghtwater Homes

Parkside at Strickland by Brightwater Homes is progressing and five or six of the 14 approved homes have been built.  I'm still irked that they didn't create a small block by opening having two entrances but I guess that aforementioned UDC Connectivity Amendment will address that issue for future developments.  They did add some great sidewalk and trail components to the project.

Parkside on Canton

Not to be confusing, another development with Parkside in the name, is going up on the north end of Canton St. Parkside on Canton will be Townhomes and flats and should start finishing up in mid 2016.  

Yet to Be Named Hwy 9 Elementary School

 Just look at all those no parking signs.

Just look at all those no parking signs.

The new elementary school has opened to Esther Jackson students while EJE is renovated. The school looks nice if you can get past the 45 no parking signs and the chain link fence that surrounds the entire property. To say that this school missed the walkability boat is putting it lightly.

Brewery Mania

Three new breweries were announced in 2015 and a fourth pulled out.

Gate City Brewery took over the old Roswell Automotive spot behind Pastis and will start their buildout and facade renovations soon, assuming the feel like battling the gauntlet the city puts up to renovate anything in the historic district.. yes, even that corrugated metal siding building.

Abbey of the Holy Goats is putting the finishing touches on their spot off Old Roswell Road and their tasting room is starting to sound pretty good.

Variant Brewing was announced toward the end of 2015 with an expected opening in later 2016.  They plan to renovate a building along Norcross Street across from the Smith Plantation property.

Steady Hand was a short lived brewer proposal.  They proposed a pretty nice building along Green Street just behind the fire station but the application was pulled and I haven't heard the details.

Roswell High School Renovations

The facade at RHS got a much needed upgrade in 2015. I'm not sure if that had anything to do with the Hornets' march to the 6A football championship game but well designed architecture actually does impact one's state of mind.

The Walkability Grinch

I'm not sure why this property owner felt the need to do this but.. they did it.  What was a previously open walking path was fenced off and closed to anyone wanting to take an easy trek to Thumbs Up, Lucky's, Pure or even the bus stop.  Whoever decided that was a good idea gets the Walkability Grinch award.  

110 Woodstock (Watertower & Cemetery)

One of the most interesting development addresses in all of Roswell got started with land clearing in late 2015.  Being sandwiched between a watertower and a cemetery makes for giving easy directions to friends and visitors.  

1075 Canton St

This project received city council approval but I think there was a big miss from a connectivity standpoint.  But, it is definitely a good example of smart, responsible infill development that will update an empty historic building while adding homes behind it.

980 Canton Street

The Bill Plummer saga is through. He pulled his bid to bring his building to the street and create one new home over retail and bring in another restaurant which would have been an Ippolito's.  I wasn't a fan of the restaurant choice but I did like the building proposal.

Providence Phase 2

 image: Frontdoor Communities

image: Frontdoor Communities

Frontdoor Communities is wrapping up construction on the townhomes and single family homes that make up the second phase of Providence.  Take a walk down Webb St. and it's really amazing what has been done back there.

Long Circle Infill 

The Addition of four new single family homes on Long Circle is complete and they look great.  

East Roswell Library

The East Roswell Library opened in 2015. It's a super nice building but I think they missed the mark by setting it behind so much parking.  They should have brought it to Fouts Rd and put the parking along HBR to enhance the overall walkability and urbanism of the area.  

Alstead

Alstead by Weiland Homes finally came to life.  The original plans for the property, Centennial Walk, were much better as it was a true mixed use community but far to ambitious for that area. 

Fouts Road

A proposal to put in a cottage court development on Fouts Rd next to the Twelve Stones subdivision was approved but not without a fight.  This project is fantastic in my opinion as it adds a different housing stock, increases walkability around one of our city parks and creates a new city block.

The Radio Tower

The Radio tower went up in East Roswell Park and people flipped out.  

Townhomes Without A Town

We continue to see garbage Townhome Without A Town developments get proposed.  Fortunately, two that were proposed died in 2015 but one epic fail is now under construction off Old Roswell Road.  The Scott Rd project failed to get a rezoning approval but we may not have seen the end of that one.  The one along Hwy 9 across from North Fulton Hospital pulled its application.  However, the project that is under construction off Old Roswell Rd is the worst of the three.  

Storage Wars

We saw construction start on not one but two new storage facilities. Both east and west Roswell were able to get in on the action.

Sprouts

It was nice to see the old shopping center get a skin job and new anchor tenant.

Bull Sluice Trail Extension

 We finally received approval to extend the River Trail System all the way to the Chattahoochee Nature Center.  This is an AWESOME step in the right direction.  Construction on the new trail will start in 2016. 

Eves Rd Mixed Use Path

Eves Rd trail finished up and has added a much needed path along a highly trafficked road.

HBR/400 Interchange Updates

The city and GDOT finally got moving on some much needed updates to the interchange.  Construction is still active but should be wrapping up in early 2016

Sun Valley Connector

We finally committed to honoring our commitment to GM to build the connector.

East Roswell Park Connection

Much to the chagrin of some of our avid frisbee golfers, the city made a connection to East Roswell Park from Eves Rd making it easier to drive to the facilities at ERP from Eves Rd.  Given the completion of the new mixed use path along Eves Rd, I see this as yet another connectivity win.

2016

So, a lot happened in 2015 and I didn't even come close to covering everything.  There will be more proposals, more transportation projects and more controversies in 2016 and New Urban Roswell will continue to keep track of what's happening.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

Mixed-Use Mania on GA400

The market for mixed-use along the 400 corridor continues to be hot.  There are at least four major projects in some state of the development process at the moment from Roswell to South Forsyth.  Avalon has obviously been a major hit  and readers of this blog will no doubt be aware of Riverwalk Village here in Roswell.  There is also the City Center development in downtown Alpharetta as well as the HALCYON project in South Forsyth at the McFarland exit.

The trend toward mixed-use along the 400 corridor dates back to the mid-aughts when Charlie Brown brought forward the East Roswell project.  There was also the Prospect Park project on the land that is now Avalon that notoriously died after the land was cleared and some of the concrete was laid  for the parking structure.  There have also been proposals floated at Windward (Windward Mill) and at Haynes Bridge (MetLife) that have not really made it too far as of this writing.  We also have the Riverwalk Village project that has been over a year in the making in Roswell.  It's now on it's third version of the site plan and could see more updates.  Finally, the HALCYON development designed by Lew Oliver is making headway in South Forsyth.  

Each of these projects is ushering in a new era for the northern metro area by bringing a more walkable environment to areas that have historically been drive-only.  None of them is a panacea of walkability in itself, but together, they certainly signal a change in our development pattern.  Additionally, Riverwalk and Avalon would both connect with MARTA rail if the Red Line extension becomes a reality.  To say this would be transformative would be an understatement.  On top of that, both Riverwalk and HALCYON would connect directly with the Big Creek Greenway which would be huge for pedestrian and cycling on the already popular trail (now if Alpharetta can just connect their piece to the Forsyth piece).

I wanted to take a look at the legitimate projects that are in play; Avalon, Riverwalk and HALCYON and also compare them to the two legacy projects that made it the furthest through the development process; Prospect Park and East Roswell (aka Charlie Brown).  All of these projects combine all or some of the following; residential, retail, office, hotel, civic, greenspace.  I'll compare each of them in those areas and some others.  Here's how they stack up.

Housing

The top billing here would have been Charlie Brown (aka East Roswell) coming in at 2,975 units (primarily condos).  Next up is Riverwalk Village's most recent proposal (their 3rd, it's hard to keep track) with 1,186 units, 300 of which are senior housing.  The smallest proposed was Prospect Park with 464.

 One view of the Charlie Brown proposal.

One view of the Charlie Brown proposal.

Civic or Institutional

There really isn't much to talk about here for most of the developments.  Avalon will have a 45,000 sq ft conference center as part of its second phase and Riverwalk has signed an agreement with the Swift School which will be 200,000 sq ft.

 Rendering of the Avalon Hotel and Convention Center.

Rendering of the Avalon Hotel and Convention Center.

Office

The first iteration of Riverwalk was truly gigantic with 1.7M sq ft of office proposed.  It has since reduced that down to a 350,000 sq ft which is the smallest of any of the developments on the list.  Next largest was Charlie Brown with 750,000 sq ft proposed.  Avalon will weigh in at 655,000 sq ft when complete.

 Rendering of Avalon Phase 2 with office buildings and Avalon Hotel in the background.

Rendering of Avalon Phase 2 with office buildings and Avalon Hotel in the background.

Retail

Prospect Park would have reigned supreme here at 770,000 sq ft and Avalon has come closest to matching that at 590,000 sq ft.  The initial Riverwalk proposal was 17% smaller than Avalon at 490,000 sq ft.  They have reduced that to 155,000 sq ft which is about the size of one grocery anchored strip mall.  

 Prospect Park's proposed central green in front of the hotel.

Prospect Park's proposed central green in front of the hotel.

Hotel

Finally we get to mention HALCYON. They plan 2 hotels but only one has a room number estimated and that is 110.  Avalon plans a 325 key full service hotel that will be run under the signature collection brand.  Riverwalk initially proposed a 200 key hotel that would have been the largest in Roswell but has since reduced that to a 150 key hotel which will be smaller than the Doubletree.  

 Rendering of the central square and market area at HALCYON.

Rendering of the central square and market area at HALCYON.

Height

There is no competition here.  Charlie Brown proposed 13 low to mid-rise buildings with 4 of those being condo towers ranging from 24 to 27 stories.  The next closest is Avalon with a ~14 story office building (check that).  Riverwalk is proposing an 8 story hotel with all other buildings being 6 or fewer stories.

 Not too many renderings are out there illustrating the overall height of the Charlie Brown proposal but this one seems to provide the best view.

Not too many renderings are out there illustrating the overall height of the Charlie Brown proposal but this one seems to provide the best view.

 This rendering of Riverwalk provides some height context of what they are proposing around the central lake.  They have lowered their overall height request since these renderings were drawn so these buildings would likely be lower.

This rendering of Riverwalk provides some height context of what they are proposing around the central lake.  They have lowered their overall height request since these renderings were drawn so these buildings would likely be lower.

Here's the matrix to compare each of these in more detail.  Putting together this data was a challenge as old news stories were spliced together to form as complete of a picture as possible.  If there is any data that is incorrect, let me know and provide a source and I will update the matrix and the post.


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.

 

  

CNU Atlanta Monthly Meet-Up

For anyone interested in the true root cause of SnowJam 2014 and potential solutions, this month's CNU Atlanta monthly meet-up will be quite informarive.  The theme is "The Day We Lost Atlanta and Answers for Tomorrow."  Rebecca Burns will be discussing her widely circulated Politico article, The Day We Lost Atlanta, How 2 lousy inches of snow paralyzed a metro area of 6 million.  We will also have Charlie Harper, exectuive director of PolicyBEST and editor of Peach Pundit to talk about advancing the transportation discussion in a post-TSPLOST world.  

Event Details

 

  • What: CNU Atlanta T3 - Urban Talk Featuring Rebecca Burns & Charlie Harper
  • When: Thursday February 20th, 2014; 530pm - 730pm
  • Where: Steel Restaurant, 950 West Peachtree Street, NW, Atlanta

 

 

Get Social.. Follow NewUrbanRoswell on Twitter and Facebook 

image: CNU Atlanta

Be Afraid.. Be Very Afraid

The witching month is upon us and some local ghouls, pundits and politicians would have you believe that one of the most terrifying moments in Roswell’s history is looming.  They will have you believe the Unified Development Code (UDC) will cast a shadow of doom over our great city that will be wrought by our current crooked city council and their greedy developer cronies.  These oracles will try to convince you, the naive and credulous, that this new code will usher in smothering density, rampant apartments, skyrocketing crime, soaring infrastructure costs, high-rise buildings, dysfunctional schools, choking traffic and the most ghastly of all...  URBANISM!!!

The UDC does allow for increased density and apartments in certain areas.  Will it be smothering? Is Vickery Village in Cumming a smothering Place?  Are the Providence Townhomes on Canton St smothering?  How about the Bricks and Founders Mill?  What about Liberty Lofts?  I guess they’re right.  Density is unbearable.

Some local examples of Unbearable Density. Clockwise from top left; The Bricks, Founders Mill, Vickery Village, Providence

What about the apartments?  Our current apartment complexes are unmitigated disasters.   Most were not well designed, poorly maintained and thoughtlessly located.  They segregated residents by class and effectively created billboards of indigence.  Lessons have been learned, just take a look at the Canton City Walk plans.  We need new, well-designed apartments like these.

The latest renderings of Canton City Walk illustrate the power of a quality architectural scheme coupled with walkability.

Will we see skyrocketing crime? I have faith in the men and women in law enforcement here in Roswell and the laws we have in place to prevent criminal activity.  It’s just not going to happen.

Infrastructure Costs will soar. Hmm.. Developers pay a lot of infrastructure costs up front and a tighter development pattern reduces infrastructure maintenance costs.  The alternative is to continue a sprawl pattern of development which has proven to cost more to maintain in the long run.  

Evaluation of Urban Residential vs Suburban Residential development in Sarasota, FL. image: Urban3

They’re bringing high-rises.  It’s the ghost of Charlie Brown.  Seriously folks, we have to move on.  The parcel of land at 400 and Holcomb Bridge is too valuable not to redevelop.  The UDC will permit buildings up to 8 stories in that area.  Additionally, it will likely be a future MARTA station.  It’s coming.  Get over it.  It’s only 8 stories.  The next most towering height permitted is 6 stories at Hwy 140 & 9.  There are 6 story buildings all over North Fulton.  Several other areas permit a lofty 4 stories and the rest of the map allows up to 3 stories.  (Correction: 6 stories are permitted in most of the industrial areas North of Mansell along the hwy 9 corridor and east into the industrial areas.  I did not clarify that in the published column.)

Roswell East (aka Charlie Brown) is a little too intense for Roswell. The UDC isn't dictating that this type of development be built anywhere.

Density will destroy our schools.  Huh?  Transiency, poverty and social disorder kill schools not people.  If we build a place where responsible people want to live, regardless of whether they are renters or owners, we won’t have a school problem.  

We will Choke on Traffic.  Our Transportation Master Plan that was approved in September helps address these issues but I challenge anyone out there to name any thriving city that does not have traffic?  Cities and towns without traffic problems are dying cities and towns.  Detroit’s done a fantastic job solving its traffic problem.  

They’re mandating URBANISM!!! - Let’s set this straight.  Urbanism is a design philosophy covering the spectrum from low density to very high density.  Urbanism does not mandate Manhattan but it allows it, just as it allows single family residential. Urbanism promotes connectivity, proximity, mixed-use, walkability, bikeability, incremental change and value creation through effective and thoughtful land use.  

The transect outlines development patterns from Rural to Urban. New Urbanism does not mandate high density.

Canton Street, the Mill Village, Milton Crabapple, Historic Norcross and Marietta Square are all examples of good URBANISM.  So is Seaside which is the only place I can think of that consistently and genuinely has the idyllic “white picket fence” that seems to define the “small-town feel.”  So, how is it that the world’s preeminent model of ‘urbanism’ provides exactly the idyllic, small-town feel that these public agitators preach will be destroyed by said ‘urbanism’? Go sell your Revelations somewhere else preacher men because I’m not buying it.  (30-A stickers anyone?)


The process has been rushed!  I disagree.  Our 2030 Comp Plan was adopted in Oct. 2011.  Amongst other things, it aims to revitalize declining areas, add additional housing options and update existing codes to attract high-quality projects.  Our current codes could not easily accomplish this task and in May 2012 the city brought in Code Studio to assist with the mammoth effort of updating and simplifying them.  A stakeholder committee was formed and has worked diligently over the past 16 months to get to this point. There have been over 40 meetings since the process began and all of them have been open to the public. The process has been well documented and open to the public.

All legislation should have a clear purpose.  The purpose of the UDC is to aid the city in implementing the 2030 Comp Plan and its Strategic Economic Development Plan.  Those that proselytize against the UDC have no plan, they just don’t like this one.  Some of their concerns have some merit but to spout off every worst case scenario to sack legislation is immature and disingenuous.  The bottom line is that Roswell has a plan that was created through a very open process with SIGNIFICANT and UNPRECEDENTED community input and the UDC helps implement that plan.

The kicker is that almost everything the UDC allows could be done today but it would take a lot more effort between the city and developers, builders & property owners thereby wasting taxpayer money and sending a discouraging signal to anyone wanting to do business in Roswell.  The UDC will help Roswell execute on its vision by reducing red tape, clarifying the vision and enabling the private sector to more efficiently and effectively put capital to work.

The Devil’s Advocate likes to say the Devil is in the Details.. I say the Devil is in Delay... NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO AGREE WITH EVERYTHING IN THIS DOCUMENT.

 

Let your mayor and council know that you support the UDC by sending them an email at  RoswellMayorandCouncil@roswellgov.com

Stacked Flats Coming to Roswell

This is a cross-post from my monthly column, Community Design Matters, in The Current.


You can call the project whatever you want; apartments, stacked flats, too dense, gentrification, revitalization, progress, catalytic.  But, no matter where you stand, it increasingly looks like we will soon see the first major redevelopment in Roswell’s historic district under the new Groveway code.  Lennar Multifamily is planning on dropping $43 million+ into the parcel of land where the Frazier Street Apartments currently sit and the Roswell City Council allowed Lennar to take a major step forward last month when it approved the site plan by a 5-1 vote.  It should come as no surprise to readers that I am a proponent of this project.  I actually purchased a home in April that quite literally backs up to this project, not in small part due to my strong convictions about the project’s value to the surrounding community.

That said, there have been no shortage of arguments made as to why this is a bad idea.  These tend to center around six main themes; Density, Mix of Uses, Cars, Schools and Displacement.  If you were able to attend the May 13th City Council meeting you would have seen Chris Cassidy, Regional VP, Lennar Multifamily, address these concerns with the council and audience.  Here’s a recap with color. As far as density is concerned, this project will be 32 units per acre (320 units on 10 acres) which is an increase from the roughly 16 units per acre currently.  Given the cost of the property and need for profitability, this is the optimum amount that Lennar believes is suitable.  Additionally, people living in close proximity to amenities is what creates truly walkable places.  

Another big concern was that it did not adhere to the Groveway code because it was not mixed-use.  First, there are many varieties of mixed-use from vertical to horizontal.  Second, not every building or parcel in our historic district needs to be mixed use and the code does not require that.  All mixed-use all the time is a nice vision but realistically, it doesn’t always work.  Putting space for retail on the ground floor doesn’t magically bring a business to fill it. Ideally, these apartments will provide patrons for what should eventually be a vertical mixed use parcel right next-door where the Value Village and Southern Skillet strip mall currently sits.  These apartments will be the spark needed to finally get that parcel redeveloped.  

Probably the single biggest concern centered around the car.  Yes Roswell, we are preoccupied with our cars, but not just our own cars.  We are preoccupied with everyone else’s cars and what they do with them.

The evil twins of Traffic and Parking came up numerous times and were addressed well by Mr. Cassidy.  On parking, Lennar feels that the number of spaces they are requesting (a variance, as they are requesting fewer spaces than our minimum parking reqs. require) is appropriate given the usage in other similar properties.  They have found that they require approximately .9 spaces per room in similar projects.  This means that the 420-445 that they are considering would be appropriate and they will tweak the # of spaces to meet the number they feel is appropriate.  Big concerns were raised by councilman Igleheart as well as others in the audience that this would not be enough and the “what if’s” were flying.  But, you must remember that apartments are rarely 100% leased, people vacation, take business trips, work at different times and some don’t even have cars (some).  The point is that you don’t build the church for Easter Sunday and we shouldn’t build our parking lots with excess capacity.  It’s a waste of space and money.

It’s as simple as this.  Lennar and Mr. Cassidy understand apartment parking needs far more than an ordinary citizen going off their gut feelings.  If Lennar isn’t interested in doing more projects in Roswell, it would be shocking considering they are putting such a sizable investment into the heart of our city.  Gambling on parking requirements and upsetting the city seems like a losing deal for them.  Additionally, we want walkability in this area.  NOTHING kills walkability more than the blank expanses of surface parking lots.  Mr. Cassidy referred several times in his presentation to the Highlands of West Village project in Smyrna as being a good comparison for what they are looking to construct here.  The parking allotment there is roughly the same as what they are looking to do here without any significant issues.
The car dominated another discussion which was about what cars do when they aren’t parked.  Arguments were raised that the traffic counts would be unbearable and that we would grind to a halt in that part of town.  The city’s traffic studies suggest otherwise (these are the same people that were crazy enough to suggest that the round-a-bout would not be a total disaster).  Lennar had the most conservative analysis possible done.  They did not remove the Frazier St Apartments traffic from the count and added the estimated traffic from their project on top of that.  The models showed increased traffic but not significant enough congestion to warrant concern from DOT. 

The concerns raised about the impact to schools would normally apply.  The only problem is that the demographic that Lennar is targeting generally won’t have kids or won’t have them living with them.  Thus, Fulton county’s estimates of 168 to 265 students borders on absurdity.  The true number will be much lower than that and comparable properties say that the number may even be in the single digits but it is more likely between 10 and 20.  That does not account for the displacement of the school age kids that are currently living there which could end up with an overall reduction to Roswell North, Crabapple Middle and Roswell High.

Another concern raised, which I agree with, is that the current conceptual name is not appropriate.  Canton City Walk tries to play on the success of Canton Street and the fact that the target demographic will desire walkability.  However, it just doesn’t sit well with most people who hear it.  That said, the name is conceptual and will be reviewed by Lennar.  I have even heard that they may be open to suggestions.

Finally, there were some folks in the audience who were appropriately concerned with the designs.  The initial concept was exactly that, a concept.  Lennar has worked extensively with our city staff and their team of architects and advisors to put together a project with a design that will reflect some of the history and vernacular of Historic Roswell while also incorporating a new feel.  Mr. Cassidy stated that the designs had “significantly changed” since they were initially released.  Having seen them, I can agree.  The new designs should go before the Historic Preservation Commission for final approval on July 17. 

It is exciting to see a project that increases walkability, brings unique residences and cleans up the heart of our city coming to us in the near future.  if all goes well, we could see construction begin toward the end of this year and we might have some new neighbors sometime next year.  Once that happens, the true power of proximity and walkability will start to be realized in our historic district.

 

Who Is Speaking for the Trees?

I feel like the Lorax here but I thought the language of HB 501 being voted on tomorrow in our state legislature was interesting enough to share...
To amend Article 1 of Chapter 6 of Title 32 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to general provisions regarding the maintenance of public roads, so as to require the Department of Transportation to remove all trees in the public right of way that are capable of falling on an interstate or limited-access highway; to provide for the department to designate the removal of trees by a third party after a competitive bidding process; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
I could not find anything that told me whether this was:
  1. Cost Effective? - How much would cutting every tree that meets this definition cost?  How many are there?  How long would this take?
  2. Necessary? - How many crashes, injuries, deaths per year are caused by a tree falling on a road?  I'm sure there are some and don't want to sound insensitive to those people who have lost loved ones to an unfortunate accident of this nature but I'm just not convinced that there isn't lower hanging fruit out there.
  3. A Legitimate Safety Concern? - It sounds to me like a way around the Supreme Court case regarding trees covering billboard views.  The last sentence in the bill "All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are repealed." made me think that might be the case.
You can send an email to your legislature through this link if you are opposed to a wholesale cutting of all trees meeting this definition.  Here's the link.
http://protectgeorgia.net/editalert-ckbox.asp?aaid=6990

Out with the Old.. In with the New

In yesterday's NUR Update, I mentioned that there is a vote this week on whether a demolition request will be approved for the old red building that sits vacant at 647 Atlanta Street and the old shed structure that sits behind it on Maple Street.  This is the first step toward realization of an incredible vision that was proposed by Andres Duany in the Historic Gateway Master Plan.  Please take the time to contact the Historic Preservation Commission if you are in favor of approval of this demolition and consider attending the meeting on Wednesday at 6pm at City Hall.  We need all the help we can get in order.  

Local resident and world renowned architect, designer and town planner, Lew Oliver, issued a call to action to ensure those who are in favor of progress are heard.  Read Lew's Letter.  The key point that Lew makes is this:

The issue is not that the structures are historic…they are in fact.  They contain 19th century materials and traces of the past.  They are, however, very much compromised, obscured, to use preservationist jargon.  The larger issue is that they are in the direct path of progress.  The progress I am referring to is not as it has been in our recent past, where great buildings, streets, or the environment are sacrificed for the sake of a degraded landscape, which currently surrounds and in fact forms the spine of our City.  The progress I am referring to is the implementation of the Andres Duany (DPZ) scheme for providing Roswell with a real heart, a commercial and civic realm with no equal in North Georgia.

Below are some images of the current situation versus what has been proposed and what is the vision that the land owners have in mind.

Current Structure

This building has been empty for 10+ years.  The one behind it on Maple St has been vacant much longer.  At some point, it's time to admit that this building has realized all of it's potential and it's time to move on.

Current versus the Master Plan Vision

The red shaded area is the space that the two buildings occupy.  As you can see, this spot is critical to realizing the overall vision.

The Master Plan Vision

This is the vision of what we could see.  This is looking south from Oxbo.  The property in question would be part of the development in the upper right of this rendering.

 

 

tsp-LOST.. Where Are We Now?

image: FakeMARTAWell, that was fun.  I'm glad it's over.  My $99.00 grocery bill won't become $99.99.  That's what I was really worried about.  I hope I never have to hear the horrid TSPLOST acronym again.  You'll hear a lot of post-mortems over the coming weeks and this one is in no way comprehensive but it's representaive of where I stand.

TSPLOSTs got thumped around the state and that should tell you something.  The fact is that the legislation sucked.  It was drafted under a gold dome that didn't want anything to do with a functional transportation bill.  It took a last minute deal in 2010 just to hammer something through and finally break the multi-year deadlock.  

They effectively punted the responsibility to the citizens by telling us that if we want infrastructure improvements, we will have to design a project list ourselves and then vote to pay for it ourselves.  Oh yeah.. if you don't vote for it, your state local match for road projects will be cut from 90% to 70%.

Apparently, we don't like having to compromise with our neighbors and we really don't like being told that we will have to pay for it and be penalized if we don't.  TIA was riddled with flaws ranging from how the project selection would take place to how it hamstrung MARTA as the ONLY transit system in the state that was not allowed to directly benefit from the tax revenues.  It did not create a region-wide transportation system and it left too many vagaries as to how the funds would be managed, spent and accounted for although there were provisions that feigned oversight.  Unfortunately, the devil was in the details and the devil was teased out over time.

So, we're back to the drawing board.  What's next?  That would be the enigma that is "Plan B." I'm sure you will see a dozen new Plan B's over the next month or so and each one of them will push more roads growing ever wider. EXACTLY WHAT WE DON'T NEED.  In fact, the governor already has one... and it's said to be pretty top-down just like those wiley, patriotic liberty loving Tea Partiers like it.

Why did it fail?

Regardless of what the naysayers say, this didn't fail because of the project list.  It didn't fail because there was 52% transit versus 48% roads.  It failed because of the structure of the legislation and VERY poor messaging by its supporters.  It failed because of a massive conservative led and stoked distrust (in some cases well founded) in the government which is ironically overwhelmingly conservative run at the moment.  Let's not forget that the legislation (intentionally?) set the vote for what would be a Republican dominated state primary with a historically low turnout of just the type of voter who would vote for a tax increase.

Many of those who voted no had no idea what was on the project list.  They were ideologically against tax increases.  Additionally, there was a pervasive misunderstanding that this was going to be an $8.5 billion bailout of MARTA which would ultimately result in trains, crime and density in the suburbs.  

You can't combat that level of ideology and misunderstanding with an alternative ideology. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the UntieAtlanta campaign tried to do.  It failed miserably. The ad campaign was opaque at best and never resonated with any faction of the electorate.  It relied on people doing their own research.  You have to be OUT OF YOUR MIND to think that the average voter who already feels they are over-taxed is going to check out a list of 157 projects and then sift through local news or municipal websites to find their local share projects.  Most people didn't even know there was a 15% local share.  The marketing was a collosal waste.  

Oh yeah... let's not forget the hot lane and GA400 disasters that were so well timed ahead of this vote as well as the crazy Agenda 21 nuts that started coming out from the fringes this year.  The horrid acronym that became attached to the Transportation Investment Act didn't help either.  TSPLOST just sounds like a monster waiting to get voted down.

This was a perfect storm that swamped the TSPLOST.

Last but not least, I can't really blame the asshole who stole the one Vote Yes sign that I put up the day after I put it up but that was just wrong.  I'd like to assume it's the same asshole who stole the lone Vote NO sign in the neighborhood the day after I sent this email to my neighborhood about it. But it was probably dueling sign bandits. Interestingly, only TSPLOST signs seemed to be disappearing though as the other signs were still there. Odd.. Do signs really even influence votes anyway? 

If I thought it was bad legilsation from the get-go, then why did I support it?  

I play with the cards I'm dealt.  All in all, the project list was solid and very compromising for the region.  I prefer to see action rather than inaction.  An imperfect plan that ultimately gets the job done is better than no plan at all.  It's also better, in my opinion, to start now with a plan that works than wait years into the future to see if a perfect plan comes along.

Any real visionary action in our region has now been pushed 4 years down the road.  That's FOUR YEARS if we are lucky.  That's the same amount of time it takes to get a college education.  That's A LONG time.  I'd rather get to work than sit and wait for politicians to come up with something else that may or may not work.  Maybe I'm just too impatient.  

What's Next?

I will continue to advocate for places that enable people to drive less and enjoy life more.  The new Roswell Gateway Master Plan is just that and we will continue to work to bring awareness of its benefits.  Unfortunately, the $20.4M that would have funded the critical Hwy 9 redesign that would have helped bring the master plan to fruition just got tspLOST.

Here's what we can expect to see around the region in exchange for that penny.  

  • Lots of one sided Plan B's
  • Lots of fragmented local projects that don't help the 65% of us that commute between more than one county
  • Lots of people saying this is a mandate that we ONLY want road expansion in the Atlanta region
  • More toll road proposals
  • More toll road proposals... so get your PeachPasses
  • Increased Local Share Responsibility on Road Projects (10% becomes 30%)
  • No Transit Expansion up 400 or into Cobb or Gwinnett or out I20 or into Clayton
  • MARTA Cuts
  • GRTA Cuts
  • Fewer sidewalk projects
  • Fewer bike lane projects
  • Increasing commute times
  • Increasing air pollution
  • The list goes on.....

I don't know if penny pinching feels so good when I see that list but at least my $99.00 grocery bill is still $99.99.

 

TSPLOST Letter to the Neighborhood

I figured I'd share a letter I sent out to my neighborhood earlier this week with the NUR readers since it might pertain to some of you...  

Hi everyone!  When I got home today, I noticed a vote NO sign sitting at my neighborhood entrance.  It surprised me to have a bold NO shouting at me before I even walked in the door.  That is generally my 3 year old's job.  I attached another Vote NO sign to this email that makes me feel better.  


Up front, this email isn't for anyone who can't get past a no-tax ideology or an anti-transit bias.  If that's you, by all means, vote NO on Wednesday.
Seriously though, this is an important vote and the Mill Village is significantly impacted by the projects on the list.  It's easy to say no, but everyone should know what they are saying no to.  There are 157 total projects on the list that cover 10 counties.  The tax will raise about $8.5B over its 10 year life. The regional list will receive 85% of the total funds (~7.2B).  The other 15% will be divvied up by the region's municipalities for individual local projects.  See the Roswell list here.  Of the 85%, 52% will go to transit (that's bus & rail) and 48% will go to roads.  But, that's a little misleading since the road projects in many cases will qualify for matching state or federal funds.   So, it's more like 67% roads, 33% transit in addition to the 15% that will go to the localities which can be used as they please, primarily, from what I've seen, on roads and sidewalks. Here are some points everyone should know.
  • Public Input - Over 200,000 metro residents had the opportunity to give input.  Actually everyone had the opportunity but 200,000 participated in some way.
  • Local Control - 21 elected representatives from all around the region were tasked with putting the project list together.
  • Unanimous Agreement - Once the project list was whittled down, all 21 officials AGREED that it was a list that met the needs of the region. 21 Politicians AGREED on something?
  • Tax Sunset - This tax sunsets in 10 years or when the projected funds are raised.  An extension must be voted on by the region.  This is not another GA400 toll.
  • NO PLAN B - The real Plan B is the status quo. So, if you like the status quo, vote no. Anyone who says there is one is pushing their own agenda or they just have their own idea of a better plan.  
How does this directly impact Mill Village?

A YES vote will accelerate the timeline for removal of the reversible lanes on Atlanta Street by ~4-5 years.  This project is fully funded by TSPLOST.  So, instead of getting a safe road in ~2020-2021, we would likely have one by about 2016-2017.  That in itself is enough secure my YES vote.  If you are considering voting no, just remember that you will undoubtedly be locking yourself into 8-10 more years of the suicide lane.  This road project also complements the DPZ Master Plan that was presented to the public last night at City Hall.
 
Other major projects that will impact us here in North Fulton are the $48M ($23M TSPLOST + $25M Federal) to improve traffic flow at the Holcomb Bridge/GA400 interchange and a total of $450M ($112M TSPLOST + $337M Federal) to improve flow at the I-285/GA400 interchange.  There's also a ton of money in there for roads all around North Fulton such as Arnold Mill and Old Milton.  These projects will be accelerated with TSPLOST and may never happen without it.
 
There will NEVER be a list of projects that suits everyone and there may never be an opportunity like this again in our lifetimes.  Remember that a no vote gives complete control back to GDOT and the state and takes it away from the region and municipalities.  Let me know if you have any questions as
I've done a lot of research on this topic.  You can also check out my article in the Roswell Current here.
 
Thanks!
 
Mike Hadden
image courtesy FakeMARTA