Riverwalk Village: The Site Plan

I was able to get a copy of the site plan today for Riverwalk Village and it looks pretty darn good.  I'm seeing a lot more pros than cons as I dig in.  It utilizes the land and geography nicely and puts appropriate development in the appropriate place.  Here's the plan overlaid on Google Maps.

There are 16 different sections broken out into 7 different categories, each with a slightly different intent and purpose.  I think they have largely gotten these right.  Here are the descriptions for each according to the site plan along with my commentary.

  • A1-A2 - Office District - This area is well located along the western edge to place it closest to 400 which was an intentional decision by the developer to keep the residential and retail further away from the highway.  I'm curious about it being further south on the site though as there will be a lot of commuters driving through to get to the offices.  That could be a positive for the retail and it would be great to be able to get out of the office and walk to the river during lunch break.
  • B1 - Medium Density Residential (Townhomes & Single Family) - The residential is toned down from the East Roswell/Charlie Brown proposal from 2007.  In fact, there are roughly half the number of units coming down to 1500+ from 3000.  I don't see any single family on the site plan but the description calls for it.  We'll see if that happens.  I really like that this B1 parcel it is situated close to the river and what will eventually be more parks and trails in Riverwalk Village.
  • 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 town that currently has nothing at all close to a walkable urban street.  Or.. It could end up looking plasticy and contrived like Town Brookhaven.  It will hopefully take its inspiration from Serenbe, Downtown Woodstock and Glenwood Park.  I like that there will be a small bridge crossing the lake.
  • D1 (with alternate) - School or Alternate Residential District - This one is well played.  The developer has to expect that their largest opposition is going to come from Martins Landing.  This part of the property abuts 21 single family homes along Trailmore Dr & Trailmore Pl.  So, they place a school that will cater to children with disabilities on the adjacent property.  If for some reason, there is enough objection to the school, they have prepared option two which will be townhomes and multi-family from what I can tell. The one thing that seems a bit ridiculous is that the multi-family and the townhomes each have their own entrance/exit on to Old Alabama.  There should be street connectivity between the properties.
  • E1-E2 - Entertainment District (Restaurant, Retail, Grocery, Multi-Family) - Everyone loves entertainment.  The lone rendering which I shared in my first post on Riverwalk is, from what I can tell along the lake in what looks to be E1.  They've done an excellent job putting this area next to the lake and it appears they will utilize the water in an urban fashion actually building right up to it which differs significantly from most modern development which caters to the environmental memes of water quality protection at all costs.  (One reason we can't develop much at all along the Chattahoochee).  I'm thinking the water in the lake won't be as blue as the rendering depicts though. Whatever they've done, it sure does attract a lot of Rendering People though.  Be prepared to be Entertained!
  • F1 - Hotel District (Hotel, Civic, Multi-Family) - The articles and PR releases floating around are calling for a ~200 key hotel.  That would give this new hotel 28 more rooms than the Doubletree.  It will be positioned directly on the little lake.  Once again, well thought out.  Roswell needs this.  Period!
  • Greenspace - (Parks, Trails, Landscaping) - This is a huge plus for this development and I sure hope they get it right.  There is 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.  Wow!  I'd like to see the city jump on the opportunity to finally connect the Big Creek Greenway to the River by somehow extending the trail from Big Creek Park down through this project and to the River.  There aren't many details yet on the greenspace but given what they are doing with the rest of the property, I'm thinking this will be a win.

Our next post will take a look at transportation and potential traffic issues and after that, we'll hypothesize on what this means for Roswell and in particular, the Historic District given that it will have Avalon, Alpharetta City Center and now Riverwalk Village to compete with.

Initial Thoughts on Riverwalk Village

Image: Duke Land Group

The big news this week in Roswell is the $500 million mixed-use project called Riverwalk Village that is being proposed for the southeast quadrant of the Holcomb Bridge/GA400 interchange (paywall link).  Dunwoody based Duke Land Group announced on Tuesday that they will be seeking rezoning to allow for a massive development that could rival Avalon in size.  The AJC broke the story in Wednesday's paper with some details but little in the way of imagery.  

I've been able to find one rendering but have not been able to come up with a site plan yet (stay tuned).

Here are the high level details from the AJC article with my thoughts.

  • 1,556 residences, including active adult housing, single-family attached housing and multifamily units that could be apartments or condos.  - This is about half of what the Roswell East (aka Charlie Brown) project had proposed.  I see this level of density being a major problem for the vocal NIMBYs on the east side of town.
  • Nearly a half-million square feet of space for restaurants and retailers, including a grocery store. - This is a LOT of space.  I'm not sure what to think yet but it wil
  • 1.7 million square feet of office space spread across several mid-rise buildings. That amount of office space is slightly more than the total floor space of Bank of America Plaza in Atlanta.  - Again, this is a LOT of space but the 400 corridor is booming and I'm not doubting this can and would be filled.
  • A hotel with 200 rooms. - Yes PLEASE.  We need another hotel to compete with the Doubletree.  I would like to see one closer to the historic district though.
  • A Swift School campus, a private institution for children with language difficulties. - This is a nice addition and will be a good fit.
  • About 43 percent of the property would be preserved as green space with passive and active recreation amenities, such as walking trails that would connect to nearby neighborhoods and the Chattahoochee River. - I don't see that there would be any way to avoid this given the proximity to the river.  It will be a great addition.
  • An existing apartment community known as Marquis Trace would be demolished. - Great news.  That think is a big POS and significantly underutilizes the land.

I think it's ambitious but doable given that this is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in North Fulton.  I'm unsure of the developer's background but I'm optimistic.  My biggest concern is the vocal NIMBY force that will organize to once again defeat a project in that area.

So, that's the summary.  As this progresses, it will be one of the biggest stories in Roswell.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the project progresses and wish the developers luck in implementing what I hope will be a great addition to the city of Roswell.

The Looming Sprawl Bomb

Over 90% of the Atlanta region lives what is loosely called the suburbs.  So, if the overwhelming majority of people live in suburbia, it must be the right choice, right?  

Well, I wouldn’t call Suburbia the pragmatic choice.  Suburbia stretches resources and eats up land in ways that can’t be sustained in the long run.  Currently we are seeing suburbs attempting to become more walkable and significant development being focused on rebuilding our urban cores.  However, if you’ve looked around recently, there is a lot of suburban style development going up around the northern burbs.  That’s great economically in the near term but it might not be so good in the long term.  It brings more residents, it requires new infrastructure, it creates the need for all things that cities must provide.  These things cost money and often turn into long term liabilities for cities and municipalities.  

The organization StrongTowns has been illustrating the high costs of sprawl to cities across the country in an alarmingly effective way.  Their Curbside Chat is a bit like taking Morpheus’ red pill in the Matrix.  Their premise goes like this.. Our ability to grow by taking on more debt is waning.  Federal and State incentives for growth will become more scarce. The tax productivity of auto-dependent places is lower on a per acre basis than the pre-WWII city design.  Cities need to stop pursuing the short term prosperity that will result in long term liability.  They refer to the post WWII development pattern as the Suburban Experiment and compare it to a Ponzi scheme.  The suburban development pattern requires new growth to pay for long term liabilities.  Eventually, the growth stops and maintenance comes due.

They argue very effectively that the most financially viable development pattern for cities is one that resembles the way we designed cities prior to WWII, prior to the suburban development pattern.  If they are right, and our economic growth is stunted by sprawl, then why aren’t we doing anything about it?  

If we admit they are right, then we are saying we have been wrong for all of these decades.  We are saying that we sunk our national wealth into a development pattern that caused us to go broke.  It married us to our cars and our commutes and it drained our municipalities of cash to build and maintain roads that don't generate enough in property tax to maintain themselves and it unfairly burdened future generations with debt that was ultimately wasted.  It’s hard to admit when you made a wrong turn...  And that’s why we aren’t making wholesale changes to our development pattern.

So, if we are too proud to admit we mad a bad financial bet on an inefficient development pattern, will we do anything to protect the environment?  The suburban lifestyle seeks to create refuge in the environment but in it’s effort to create an idyllic home in the woods, it is actually wrecking the very woods that it seeks to be so close to.  According to a joint study released in July by the US Geological Survey and NC State University, sprawl in the southeast will increase by 110 to 180 percent between now and 2060.  The piedmont region between Raleigh and Atlanta will experience the largest growth.  By 2060, we could see a virtually uninterrupted stretch of development on that corridor.  This will have huge environmental impacts in a region that has some of the most biodiversity in the US.  I don’t know about you but I think developing generic suburban style development from here to Raleigh, is a travesty.  

Development as of 2009

potential development as of 2060

If we continue that direction our places could look like the suburban transect that planner Dan Zack designed to effectively illustrate the difference between Suburbia and the type of development that new urbanists advocate for.  In Suburbia, we divide uses and limit connectivity, while New Urbanist developments combine uses and encourage connectivity.  Juxtaposed, next to each other, it’s easy to see the difference.

 

image courtesy of Dan Zack, plannerdan.com

If we want to build more productive places, that reduce environmental and economic waste, we need to be aggressively building mixed-use, walkable places that follow the pre-WWII development pattern.  The New Urbanists have been doing this for over 30 years.  It’s time to get serious about it.

Developments Around Town

There's a lot going on in Roswell these days.  Here's a quick update on what's going on around town that I'm aware of.  If you have any additional items or details, let me know and I'll add them.

Active Developments

New Elementary School (Name TBD) - Our new elementary school on Alpharetta Hwy is moving along.  They are obviously working quickly to get it open for the 2015 school year.  The site has been cleared (you can't miss that) and there has been some pretty extensive grading.

Canton Walk Apartments - This one is going vertical and is starting to make good progress.  I've heard that they hope to start leasing toward the end of the year.  

Forrest Commons - This one is in full swing as well.  A number of foundations have been poured and as of this writing, there are three single family units that are framed.  There are 9 detached units and 13 townhomes slated for this one and prices look to be starting in the $580's.  This one is a Monte Hewitt project and you can find out more on their website here.

Providence Phase II - Lehigh Homes entered into a partnership with Frontdoor communities to build and sell the second phase of Providence which will have 17 townhomes and 3 single family residences. The site is being prepped and there is a lot of activity back there.  I'd suggest not driving back on Webb St to check it out.  These units are starting in the $580's and appear to be securely in the $600's for most of them.  For more info, you can go to www.ProvidenceRoswell.com.

image: Frontdoor Communities

Long Circle - Another project by Lehigh Homes, this one will be putting in three or four single family residences (unsure but will get clarification) at the southwest corner of Long Circle. The site has been cleared and is being prepped currently.  

The Porch Project - Not too far from the aforementioned Long Circle project, this is a single family teardown on Thompson Place that is being done by some friends of mine.  Check out their website to see how they have been working to do all of the work with local Roswell businesses.  www.theporchproject.com

image: Whole Town Solutions

Alstead (formerly Centinnial Walk) - This John Wieland project is in full swing.  The last I saw, there woudl be 80 single family homes, 29 townhomes and 17,500 sq ft of retail on just under 28 acres.  That may have changed. The site has been cleared which any East Roswell readers will already know as you can't miss the red clay as you pass by on Holcomb Bridge.  There is a tiny mixed-use component to this one which is better than nothing but the original plans for this were significantly better when you think about how little true walkability exists in East Roswell (sidewalks and trails do not equal true walkability).

The Village on Pine - This one is at the intersection of Chattahoochee St and Pine St just south of Barrington Hall.  I was never too happy with the overall design of this one as you can see here, but at the end of the day, it's happening.  Acadia Homes has cleared the lot and homes should be going up soon.  The price point on these is in the $400's but there isn't much additional detail available yet. (website)

Strickland & Valley - I'm not sure what the name of this one is going to be but the site has been cleared and at this point there's a bunch of red clay.  There was a lot of debate on the site plan and rezoning request for this one.  I personally feel we ended up with the worse option of the two for the site plan but man.. people can't have headlights shining in their windows.

Sprouts Buildout - For the organic food shoppers, the loss of Harry's to Avalon will leave a void.  I'm guessing that Sprouts will be looking to fill that void.  They are currently upgrading the anchor space in the shopping center behind Chipotle and Starbucks at Mansell & 9.  I'm not sure what the timeframe is for opening but it could be before the end of the year.

Roswell Manor - This one is another piece of land that was a victim of the real estate crash.  JEH Homes has resurrected it and this time around it's going to be built out as 73 single family homes.  This one will collect on to Old Alabama.  The address is 1580 Old Alabama Rd.  The website advertises its proximity to Big Creek Park but this development could have done so much more to foster bike and trail connectivity especially given that it sits between Big Creek Park and the planned Big Creek Parkway.  Prices start in the $300's.  

Weatherford Place - It looks like there is a little bit of construction underway on this long stalled development of uber-eco-friendly homes off Minhinette Dr.  These homes have all the environmental bells and whistles including solar systems and LEED certification. 

 

Proposed

Goulding - This project is a favorite of mine for the connectivity that it will add to our street network. Frontdoor Communities is billing it as the largest infill development in Historic Roswell and it likely is.  There will be 27 townhomes, 13 single family homes and a remodel of the existing Goulding house.  Prices will likely start in the $700k to $800k range.

 

The Watertower (name TBD) - This project is on Woodstock Rd between the water tower and the cemetery.  Lehigh Homes (builders of Providence and the Long Circle development mentioned above) is currently working through the approval process having had their neighborhood meeting and going before the Historic Preservation Commission and City Council in August and September.  This project will be more townhome product and should be an interesting addition to the historic district.

835 Mimosa - This is a very interesting development that could energize Mimosa Blvd.  The proposed plan will renovate or rebuild the existing home with a Neel Reed look and put 8 townhomes around the existing home.  The architecutre would be similar to the Bricks in the Mill Village and is being designed by Lew Oliver.

Canton Street Townhomes - I'm unsure of the name of this potential development but it is just starting the approval process.  It will be along Canton Street just between Woodstock Rd and Minhinette Dr. 

Townhomes at Creekview Condominiums - Not many details are available on this one but from the looks of it, the owner of the property surrounding the unfinished Creekview Condominiums would like to develop townhomes on the areas of the property where the two other condo buildings were never built.

Image: @ScottLong

Hill Street Commons - Another proposed development in the Groveway district.  This one looks to have 24 townhomes and will be on the lot on the southwest corner of the Myrtle & Hill St intersection.  

City Green - This one will be a long term project but I like keeping tabs on it.  The most recent news is that the design and engineering were funded with $587k set aside in the 2015 budget.  This is big news and we should expect to see more details in the next few months.  If you would like to show your support.. click here!

Kingswood Subdivision (12160 Etris Rd) - This is pretty standard single family home subdivision that ws approved for 25 lots.  It will add a tiny bit of road connectivity to the intersection of Etris and Kent Rds.

Traditions at Roswell (Hardscrabble/Crossville) - This one is about 14 single family homes on about 5 acres.  It's a pretty standard subdivision that does not add to road connectivity and opens up to Hardscrabble just east of the Crossville intersection.

Canton Street Walk Resurrected - I haven't heard much about this one since late last year but I'm keeping it on the proposed list until I hear otherwise.  This project that I wrote about here will fill in an empty lot within the Providence development.  

52 Sloan Street - The owner of this property is hoping to tear down the historic structure circa 1925 and build new.  The building is currently badly burned but the HPC is not sure whether it is in need of demolition.  More to come here.  Either way, with the fire and the loss of the large tree, this property has seen better days.

This Google Streetview image shows the house in better times. The building is now badly burned, the large tree to the right is now a huge stump but.. you'll be glad to know that the street signs are still there in all their glory.The proposed elevations look nice and if approved will be a quality addition to the street. They will definitely be an improvement on the charcoal facade that's there currently.

Rumored

Vickers - What I have heard here is that the property is under contract to be sold.  The dollar figures are well over $1M.  It'll be interesting to see what might go here.

Dolvin House - The word on the street is that a redevelopment of the property surrounding the Dolvin House (aka the Roswell White House) on Bulloch Ave bay be in the works.  I think a cottage court style development surrounding the historic home would work well here.  Given that the property is listed as under contract, I'd say there is definitely something in play.

image: Sonenberg Company

Dead Projects

Azalea Townhomes - This would have brought 22 townhomes and 2 single family homes to the lot at Azalea Dr across from Azalea park.  The owner was also planning on donating some land on the river side of the property to the city to build a new boat house for the Crew teams that operate on the river.  Oversimplifying, there were a lot of water concerns coupled with some vocal NIMBY opposition.  It would have been nice to see added connectivity for the neighborhoods to the north to get to the river which would have eased some of the traffic at the 9/Riverside/Azalea and Azalea/Willeo intersections.  Oh Well!

The Blacksmith House (1075 Canton Street) - This one is dead from what I understand.  It would have added four townhomes behind the house at 1075 Canton St.  

Holcomb Bridge @ Scott Rd - This proposed development has been fraught with challenges.  A couple biggies were the site which has some water and topography issues.  I was a big fan of the initial proposal which would have added connectivity into Martins Landing from HBR but apparently when solutions are proposed that will help alleviate traffic problems, the same people that complain about the traffic problems don't like the solutions... so a second proposal came back without the connectivity but as of last check, the developer has dropped their application.  

Just a Little Paint

I'm a big fan of the paint job they put on the old Chaplin's shopping center near the square.  The old green was just dark and depressing.  The new paint job breaks up the facade and will really help to bring attention to the tenants.  I'm sure Moxie Burer is pleased as they will be moving into the old Borocco spot soon.  

When Personal Preference Has Power

I have to say I'm a little jealous.  I throw out my personal preferences a lot here on this blog but honestly I don't have much influence.  That can't be said for the folks on our Design Review Board.  If you want to shape the city to your architectural preferences, that's apparently the place to be.  Take for example the saga of a Grove Way project that is currently somewhere in the design/approval stages.

The project was sent back to the drawing board due primarily to the personal preferences of individuals on the DRB.  We have a look at the before and after designs.  The second design is up for approval in next week's DRB meeting.  You be the judge.  Was it necessary to send the builder back to the literal drawing board?

Elevation 1 - Apparently NOT Appropriate for Roswell

Elevation 2 & 3 - To Be Determined Whether Appropriate for Roswell

View From Hill StreetView From Myrtle Street

As an aside, I'm much more interested in getting the street layout and geometries right than any particular architectural style.  The number one rule of Good Urbanism is to get the streets right!  

The East West Alley Master Plan

City council will be voting Monday on a proposal by city staff to hire POND & Co to conduct a master plan for the area that is being called the East West Alley.  I didn't know it had a name but apparently now it does.  The boundary map is below.

 

 

The Primary focus will be the Web St area from Canton St to Mimosa.  From the city memorandum:

The purpose of the master plan is to have a comprehensive development approach in the alleys built on consensus and good planning principles including land use, transportation and stormwater.

I sure do hope they adhere to the "good planning principles" piece of that statement.  A charette will be conducted at some point during the process and everyone who is interested should pay attention to that and participate if possible.  I will provide dates when they become available in a subsequent post.

Here are some things I would like to see in that area..

  • Mixed-Use + Parking - How about a mixed-use building to replace the Antique Market that would front Canton Street, have shops along Webb St and have a parking deck in the back.  Maybe a good use would be a hotel.
  • Playground - How about a small playground somewhere?  I've always thought the Canton Street area was lacking a high quality playground that parents could stop off at.
  • NO WIDE ROADS - part of the coolness of alleys is that they are narrow and cozy.  DOT, please don't ruin that with 10+ foot lanes.  Please.
  • Fill the Missing Teeth - in addition to the missing tooth that is the Antique Market parking lot, we need to fill in the missing tooth that is the space just to the south of the Board of Trade.  That spot is in need of a building.

What do you think should be emphasized in this master plan?

 

Town Green Meetings 3/13 & 3/18

I wanted to be sure everyone is aware that there are two meetings coming up this week and next.  The DDA is hosting them to provide additional information on the proposal.  Here is the info from their flier.  Try to get out to one if not both and show your support!!

If you'd like to sign the petition to support this project, please do so here..  Link

Here's the flier from the DDA for the upcoming meetings.

America.. One Big Aesthetic Crime Scene

Roswell and North Fulton have beautiful, spacious parks.  We rave about the river, playgrounds and the trails.  Several cities are working on new parks and squares around their city centers.  It’s evident that we care about our public space.  But.. we are forgetting something.

We are neglecting the most abundant public space we own.  We are neglecting our streets.  By sheer area, our streets and roads dwarf our parks and greenspace.  Some may say that our roads and streets are fantastic.  They are wide, well maintained and orderly.  I agree, when I have my driving blinders on but when you take a look around, you realize that once you get out of your neighborhood, you are driving on an enormous automobile sewer system.  

The Swiss would probably marvel at how focused our DOTs are on ensuring the streets are functional.  The hierarchy of local, collector and arterial is beautiful in its logic.  The potholes are usually fixed quickly and the streets are generally clean.  They get paved on schedule.  That said, order and proper maintenance does not build character and foster a sense of place.  Our lanes are too wide, our setbacks are too far and our street trees have become glorified weeds.  All of this has been done in the name of safety and standards.  

The roads and streets all around this country have become one gigantic aesthetic crime scene and they are only getting worse.  Road signs seemingly multiply like gremlins.  For goodness sake look at the number of signs adorning the historic square in Roswell.  We have Tree City USA signs, Yield ahead signs, road intersection approaching signs, duplicate no left or no right turn signs and they just seem to keep coming.  Cross into East Cobb from Roswell on 120 and the signs are like a heavyweight uppercut.  Power lines are everywhere but at least they aren’t proliferating.  Pay attention to all this incoherence and it will blow your mind.

Even policies that are supposed to be a good thing have become victims of over engineering and an inflexible focus on ensuring standards are upheld rather than ensuring that the design is contextually appropriate.  Who hasn’t seen a bike lane that abuts a 45 mph road? How about the fact that every turn lane off a state highway will now have at least one and usually two no parking signs.  I love the two no parking signs on the southbound on ramp to 400 from Haynes Bridge.  What about the fact that just before almost EVERY intersection you now see a big yellow sign telling you that that intersection is approaching.  EVEN WHEN IT IS IN PLAIN SIGHT!

Worst of all, we have no idea what the difference between a road and a street is anymore.  Streets capture value and roads get you from place to place quickly but what we have created across much of suburbia is a nasty STROAD hybrid that does neither well.  

We need to start capturing value with our streets again.  The people who built Canton Street knew how to do exactly that and they did it before zoning codes and red tape.  It’s the most well known street in North Fulton and the great part of it isn’t even a half mile.  Canton St didn’t become great because of wide lanes, road signs or bike lanes.  It’s great for many reasons but the narrow lanes, sidewalks and shorter building setbacks create a sense of place like an outdoor room that people in cars, on bikes or on foot just feel comfortable in.

Our focus on wide lanes, road signs, and tiny street trees is a crime committed against our places and ultimately against ourselves.  Our streets should be places, not sewers.  Our streets should have an overabundance of art, not an overabundance of signs.  Our streets should make us want to get out of our cars and enjoy the place that they shape.

Bring Back the Coca-Cola Sign...

While I was watching the Roswell circa 1942 video on YouTube!, I noticed that there used to be one of those old-timey Coca-Cola signs on the side of the building where Go With the Flow is currently.  I really think it would be cool to bring that back... or even put up a cool kayaking themed mural on that wall given that we are "a premier riverside community" and Go With the Flow is the top kayaking shop in the region.

Here's what it used to look like.. not sure who the man is but he probably never expected that his image would be blasted out on the interwebs in 2014.