Density and Mixed Use in Roswell

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I'm a supporter of mixed-use development as well as livable, context appropriate density.  We keep up with issues that are going on in and around Roswell and today, I came across an article in the Roswell Neighbor that I found interesting.  Essentially, the East Roswell Forum, one of the groups responsible for crashing the mixed-use/density party at Holcomb Bridge/400 the first time around, has decided to sound the alarm bells to the leaders of its member subdivisions about the potential resurrection of mixed-use and density at the HBR/400 intersection in the Roswell 2030 master plan.  For the record, I do feel that the proposal this group rallied against was inappropriate and I am glad it was not built.

That being said, this group obviously yields some power but I'm not sure just how representative they are of the community as a whole.  Unfortunately, the article did not link directly to the email that was circulated.  So, there is no way to determine whether it is representative and/or factually accurate.

Anyway, I have attended four of the Imagine 2030 meetings and have seen scores of residents come out to give input.  There is no effort to hide this master planning effort from the populace.  I even drove all the way out to East Roswell Park for the event held on the east side of town.  I found that it was well attended although not crowded.  Now, I'm not sure what section of town all of attendees live in but I can assure you that the meetings weren't attended exclusively by developers, politicians and realtors.  From my anecdotal discussions, most people were simply residents of Roswell who cared enough to take time out of their busy lives to attend.  Many of them were supporters of gradual increases in density and mixed-use but for the most part they wanted more walkability, bikability and less congestion.

Having said this, virtually every time something came up about the HBR/400 corridor, people wanted it cleaned up.  They dislike what is on the ground there.  I do too. I've actually posted on it before here.  I want something different and I'm going to guess that what I want will match the vision of a good number of our neighbors.  Here's a quick overview: 

  • Density - I'm not too concerned with the number here. I'm more concerned with the character and context.  You can have beautiful single family homes that can be in the high teens in units per acre while you can have ugly apartment complexes that are only 10-12 units per acre.  I think we're more concerned with what they look like.  If you've been to Paris since the mid-1800's, you'll notice that they pack an incredible amount of density into the city while still looking and feeling appropriate, beautiful, safe and relatively uncongested.  Below, you're looking at 384 units per acre mixed-use with transit and you wouldn't find significant traffic, crime or overall congestion. You could argue that the French are more civil than we are here in Roswell but I'm not buying it.  The design is the key... not the # of homes on an acre. 

 

  • Transit - Bus Rapid Transit first, then MARTA rail later (density of 10-15 units/acre can support heavy rail ridership needs). Anything built should be done so with the intent of connecting to rail in the future. 
  • Building Height - 5-6 stories.  No high-rises.  It's amazing what kind of density you can get even without looking like Hong Kong.  In some areas, Paris actually is more dense than Vancouver, one of the densest cities in the world. 
  • Programming - Residential (Townhomes, Condo/Loft, Apartment), Office, Retail, Hotel, Public Space. There might even be some room for single family on this parcel but I don't think it would fly with a potential developer and I'm not sold that Roswell needs more single family housing.  We could definitely use some more class A office space and retail given the number of aging strip malls and office complexes we have.  Not many employers are looking to Roswell these days.  This is a major opportunity to attract high quality jobs to our city.
  • Mixed-Use - Significant vertical (intra-building) and horizontal (intra-block) mixed-use.  We don't have to expound too much on this one.  Suffice to say that, on average, new residents of Atlantic Station reduced their overall vehicle miles traveled by more than 70% after moving into Atlantic Station.  They also have reported a high level of satisfaction with amenities like grocery and retail being nearby.  Say what you will about the look of the place but it's hard to argue with the results in the area of driving reduction and convenience.  Many people rail on MU because of the high profile failure of Prospect Park and the Streets of Buckhead but there have been significantly more failures in the single use area since 2007 than there have been in the mixed-use area.  The concept is not the problem, the timing, financing and hubris are.
  • Street Grid - Highly networked with two flyways over 400 to the north and south of the current bridge.  If designed properly, a road network coupled with an increase in density in the area could actually increase the mobility.  The key is getting people out of their cars at the peak commuter times and increasing the choices available to them.  If this land is to be developed, I believe we are only going to accomplish a reduction in congestion by building a network and coupling with with a transit component.   

 

The way I see development in this area should be akin to Glenwood Park off of I-20 in Atlanta... not Atlantic Station.  The city and developers may see differently but I think many of the residents would be happy with something that looks like this.

Now, we should not forget that what is on the table at this point is nothing but an idea of what could potentially go there that resulted from brainstorming sessions with actual Roswell residents.  Nothing is set in stone.  But, at the end of the day, we need to recognize that this parcel of land is extremely valuable and something will happen there.  Do we want it to be useful for the city and attract visitors from the region?  Or do we want a single use office park or 'lifestyle' center that is built to be obsolete in 10 years and does nothing to improve our community?

 

Images: YouTube! Guess the Housing Density | Dover Kohl & Associates