Groveway Hybrid Form-Based Code - Draft Review

 

I had some time this week to take a look at the draft copy of the Groveway Hybrid Form-Based Code that is being reviewed by the city for approval.  At first glance, it's revolutionary for Roswell.  In 20 years, the Groveway Community as we know it will be almost unrecognizable and that's not a bad thing.  The reason I say that is this... What we will get is just plain better than the current mish mash of old houses, public housing and light industrial buildings that is currently there today.  

Overview

  • 2 districts - The area is divided into two distinct district types.  Those are Neighborhood Mixed-Use (NMU, red) and Neighborhood Residential (NR, blue).
  • Different Building Requiements and Approved Uses - Each area NMU and NR has a different mix of what can go there.
  • Intersection Focal Points - 6 High Visibility Intersections are to be focal points of development.
  • Maximum Heights - Maximum building height of 5 stories or 66 feet.

Let's start off with the few bad things that I could find...

Accessory Dwellings - This code doesn't seem to specificially permit Accessory Dwellings (granny flats) in either the NMU or NR.  I could be missing something but I couldn't find any mention of them in the permitted use section.  I think this may be an oversight becuase they are discussed in other sections such as the NMU Building Orientation section.  However, I think it would be best to define them outright in the building types section.  There's only one area in Roswell that I've seen that does these well and that is the Legacy Village subdivision off Woodstock.  If you want to see them put to much better use, you need to drive up to Vickery Village.  These should be standard development tools for single family lots in the Historic District.

Parking Minimums - It doesn't go far enough to reduce parking minimums.  In a truly walkable community, you just don't need them.  Nashville has gone as far as removing parking minimums in its downtown zoning code. If Nashville can get away with it, surely Roswell can.

Municipal Complex Grounds - This code doesn't really address the void that the inward facing City Hall and municpal complex create.  It does nothing with the grounds around City Hall... I think there is something creative that can be done to further engage City Hall and the municipal complex with the rest of the community.  I'm not referring to the area between the butt of City Hall and Atlanta Street wherethe new Walk of Valor will be.  Rather, I'm referring to the area along Hill Street and Forest Street that could undoubtedly be better used.  Additionally, instead of a big giant roundabout infront of the steps, that area could be turned into a plaza to be used more effectively for special functions and eventually become a central gathering place for the community.

Historic District vs Groveway District? - There seems to be some confusion as to what district a developer would be developing in.  This is a problem and is inherently confusing.  Why are we overlaying complexity.. We have existing codes overlapped by this code overlapped by the historic district.  If we were thinking holistically, the entire historic district from the River to Woodstock Rd would be part of the same code with slightly different architectural nuances for the different sections of the district.

What is Historic? - I think this is a question that many people have been asking.  How much are historic buildings protected and what exactly is historic? Is the AT&T building historic?  Should it be protected?  We need to better define what buildings NEED TO GO eventually and which ones should stay.  Don't preserve a shack just because it's old.  Think Spiced Right.. Love the food! Hate the building.  Should we be preserving those types of buildings?

Now, here's what I love about it...

Placemaking - This code really makes an attempt to create a place for people.  In turn, community and business will thrive.  This is ground up through a community charrette process rather than top down through a major developer (i.e. Avalon in Alpharetta).  The drawing below is just one of the visions that are detailed in the draft document.

Simplicity - It might be a little long but the key parts are simple.  Anyone can read it and figure out building requirements and really get a vision of what the area might look like in 10-20 years.  If all other codes were thrown away and this one were the only one that was applicable to the area, it would be a great step in the right direction.

Consistency - Buildings will be consistent but not identical.  This uniformity creates a sense of place.  Compare Canton Street to Alpharetta Hwy and you will see what consistent building typology and hodgepodge really does to an environment.  

Mixed-Use - The Mixed-Use district is huge.. wow!  This could truly be the heart of the historic district one day.  This only makes sense since it is the only area with a moderately functional networked road system.  One small concern is that too many uses have been labeled as conditional or prohibited.  This is especially true in the purely residential area which might be better with a few more uses permitted and a little bigger mix of single family and townhomes together rather than being segregated out.

Storefronts - Great care is taken in describing how stores and buildings should address the street.  Storefronts are required to have at least 60% transparency making them feel permeable.  This helps create a comfortable envirnment for walking.  If you've ever walked past the AT&T building or the Jail, you'll know what I mean.  Now compare that to walking in front of Roswell Provisions along Canton Street.  There is no comparison.  Those are two extremes of the spectrum but this code will prevent the negative side of the spectrum from invading the public realm.

Prohibited Materials - There's a place for industrial materials.  That place is not the heart of a city.  This code prohibits certain building materials in new construction such as mirrored glass, chain link fence and back-lit vinyl awnings.

Blank Walls are Prohibited - Again, think AT&T building.  There's nothing less interesting to walk by than a solid blank wall.  This code does a good job preventing that from happening.

There is still time to voice your opinion.  So, I suggest you contact the city council if you feel strongly about this.  To sum it up, there are a few things that I hope get worked out.  However, I would love to see this pass and it will be a great step in the right direction for Roswell. 

All Images from the Groveway FBC Draft via RoswellGov.com