Walkability is King in 2015

This year is shaping up to be a defining year for the future of development in and around the North Fulton area.  In 2014, we saw the trend toward walkable development take a root with Avalon and Alpharetta City Center leading the way.  Smaller projects sprinkled around downtown Alpharetta, Roswell and Milton Crabapple are helping to create authentic places where people want to be.  Many of these will be wrapping up in 2015 and there are a number of additional projects, big and small, that we will learn more about. 

 

We will definitely hear more about Avalon’s phase II.  Judging by the crowds on the ice skating rink this holiday season, Mark Toro has hit a home run with the first phase and the development is only about a third complete.  There’s still a lot more coming on the west and east ends of the development.  The Monte Hewitt homes that will be going up will rival upscale developments on 30A, like Rosemary Beach, in design quality while the expansion of the retail and office on the east end will continue to expand Avalon into an attractive destination for dining and shopping.  Expect to see plans for a full service hotel and a convention center in phase II and Mr. Toro couldn’t be pushing harder for a MARTA train station at Avalon (AJC Op-ed Link Scroll Down).  Add in the Gwinnett Tech campus underway across Old Milton and things are really looking bright for Avalon.

You might think Avalon is enough for one city but in Alpharetta, things are really cooking.  The city just opened its new City Hall building in December as the first big piece of the Alpharetta City Center project which will bring a new Fulton County library, parking deck, park and mixed use development to the heart of Alpharetta.  There are a number of peripheral developments and business openings that are helping downtown Alpharetta evolve into a truly walkable and vibrant neighborhood. 

With both of these projects in full swing, Alpharetta is hot.  There’s even word of a planning effort that will work to design a walkable and bikeable corridor of development between Avalon and downtown Alpharetta.  

Not to be upstaged, Roswell is looking to get into the big mixed-use game as well.  The proposed Riverwalk Village would rival Avalon in size with just over 100 acres  on the south east section of the Holcomb Bridge / GA400 interchange.  The price tag is estimated to be in the $500 million range and the proposal includes over 1,500 residences, 1.7 million square feet of office and 500,000 square feet of retail.  Over 40 percent of the land would be preserved as some form of green space.  It will center on a small lake which will be the heart of the development with a 200 room hotel, Roswell’s largest, overlooking the lake.  The opportunity to connect this development to the Chattahoochee by trails is an incredible differentiator and unique in the region.  There will be much more information coming on Riverwalk Village in 2015 and if all things go as planned, ground could be broken before the end of the year.

Whenever large developments come up, traffic is always the number one concern (we do live in suburbia after all).  So, any discussion should also include what is being done doing to accommodate cars.  First and foremost, the answer to congestion is not more lanes.  Widening HBR or 400 or Old Milton will not resolve issues in the long run.  Widening roads can help in the short term but two better alternatives are distribution and options.  Distribution involves creating more connectivity while options give people different ways to accomplish what they are looking to do.  

Roswell and GDOT are currently working on some targeted projects at HBR and 400 to help remove some congestion points.  These are helpful but will do nothing to reduce the overall number of cars using that interchange each day.  The city is working on a long term, $50 million+, project to build the Big Creek Greenway which will connect Old Alabama and Warsaw and provide a much needed alternate route over 400.

Other big long-term transportation projects include widening Old Milton and the Roswell Historic Gateway which will remove the reversible lanes on South Atlanta Street.  There will likely be some progress on each of these but don’t expect to see any real progress for years.

The other long-term project that will get a little clearer in 2015 is the proposed Red Line extension of MARTA Rail.  Under new leadership, MARTA has had quite a turn around over the past 2 years.  They are expanding to Clayton County, the first new county to join MARTA since its inception and they are looking at three potential rail extensions; the Clifton Corridor, North Fulton and Clayton County.  These are obviously long-term, billion dollar+ projects but they are worth keeping an eye on.  The Red Line extension would add 5 or more stops all the way up to Windward Parkway giving a much needed option to drivers who sit in the soul crushing congestion on 400 each day.  They are also, implementing a number of initiatives to turn empty spaces and parking lots around stations into Transit Oriented Development.  Amanda Rhein is heading up that effort for the agency and was named one of the 20 people to watch in 2015 by CreativeLoafing.

Other interesting local and regional projects to watch in 2015 are; Golf Carts in Roswell, the Roswell City Walk Apartments, Grove Way redevelopment in Roswell, Riverwalk Trail extension to Willeo, the bike/ped bridge over the Chattahoochee, Canton St & Woodstock Redevelopment, Sun Valley Extension, GA400/I-285 Interchange, Path 400 in Buckhead, the Beltline Westside and Eastside Trail extensions, Ponce City Market, Atlanta Waterworks Park, Bellwood Quarry Park, the Braves and Falcons stadiums (new & old) and perhaps the biggest redevelopment out there, the Doraville GM Plant redevelopment.

As you can see, the future is bright for walkable and mixed-use development in North Fulton and the Atlanta area.  Get out for a walk, there are more options than ever before in our Region.