Riverwalk Village: Roswell's Next Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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