South Atlanta Street... Changes are Comin'

 

The heart of our city is getting a lot of attention from developers of late.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve certainly heard about Vickers Village at Woodstock and Canton.  However, you may not have heard of a newly proposed development along the east side of South Atlanta Street south of Olde Towne Roswell townhomes and north of Creek View Condominiums at 425, 433 ad 453 South Atlanta St.  This new one is called South Atlanta Street at Big Creek (SAS@BC)

The Vickers Village development is an example of high quality urbanism that will improve the urban fabric of our downtown.  However, the same can’t be said for the proposed SAS@BC development .  As a supporter of infill development, I tried to like it.  But, unfortunately, it’s just not doing it for me.

The current plan calls for three story residential live/work units along S Atlanta St., which is not a bad thing.  However, it’s what lies behind this front layer that really kills me.  SAS@BC becomes one gigantic 4 story block when you move beyond the live work units.  

Now, you won’t notice the 4 stories much from the road as the buildings fronting the street will hide the bigger building and the topography steps down a bit as you move east toward Big Creek.  Now, as most readers know, I don’t really care about 4 stories versus 3.  It’s only when you start getting higher than 5 where I think context of the surroundings becomes crucial.  That's when buildings start getting taller than the tree canopy and become much more noticeable.  That said, the height isn’t the issue here.  It’s the style, site plan and building type.  Let's take a look...

As you can see, this is one massive 4 story façade with no height breaks or varying setbacks to create interesting visual experiences.  The footprint of this building when you include the enclosed green (Texas donut hole) and parking deck will be around 3 full acres.  Now, for those that think Vickers Village is large ad just over 1 acre of footprint, this single building is almost 3x the size.

Okay, so I'm painting a bad picture but it’s not all bad.  I love the fact that a developer wants to do a project here and I fully support redevelopment it it's done right.  So, here’s what I think it does do well:

  • Lining South Atlanta Street with the 3 stories is a good thing but I think light office over retail might do better here.  Or, as my hypothetical site plan below shows, it might be a good place for a 2nd & 3rd level parking deck that is masked well.  The noise from the road would be a bit much for residences right on Hwy 9.
  • It greatly improves the stretch of sidewalk along South Atlanta Street and that is a critical need in my opinion.
  • The road connection to the adjacent planned townhome development at Creek View is absolutely the right thing to do and kudos for them for adding that to the designs.
  • The fact that there is a parking deck is laudable but it’s poorly placed.  Even though it is masked with some greenery on the walls, it creates a terrible transition from the new Creek View townhomes..
  • Finally, it does hold true to the Allenbrook Village Residential vision from the 2030 Comprehensive Plan...
What is doesn’t do well...
  • Again, the Texas Donut apartment building is just not a winner in my book.  It's an efficient use of space but it is bad urbanism in this context.  If this were a block in midtown or downtown, it would work better (you'd need retail on the ground floor though).  That said, we're not in midtown and part of this property borders a national park.
  • It also doesn’t really help build a neighborhood as the Allenbrook Village vision sets forth to do.  Plopping down a big apartment building that has a common area walled off from the rest of the property and surrounding properties really isn’t neighborly.
  • The architecture that is shown in the renderings leaves much to be desired.  It needs some serious dressing up and even great architecture may not be able to save the bad site plan.
  • It doesn't help accentuate the natural beauty of the area in any meaningful way.  It takes more than it gives.

What would I do?

In the hypothetical world of New Urban Roswell, the possibilities are endless. But, ever the pragmatist, I'm going to try and keep parking, stormwater, profitability, etc in mind as I weigh in (traffic is a given).  First, lets compare the site to Glenwood Park, another mixed use village center in South Atlanta near Grant Park.

The developed area of this SAS@BC and Glenwood Park are both roughly 6 acres.

South Atlanta Street at Big Creek - Rough Approximation of Development Footprint of Site on Google Maps.Comparable area in Glenwood Park
In SAS@BC, we essentially get three buildings, while in Glenwood Park, there are 14 different buildings.  Looking at the architecture below, I think it’s obvious which one is more preferable…

The illustrations of SAS@BC earlier in this post should serve as a guide to compare to the following images taken from Google Street View of Glenwood Park...

As you can see, Glenwood Park has unique architecture across each of the buildings and divides the property up into small blocks that create an interesting and highly walkable heart to the neighborhood.  It’s easy to tell the difference between true Walkable Urbanism and an imposter.  All that said, here’s how I’d completely re-imagine this site.

Current Site Plan

NUR Site Plan (not to scale but close)

  1. Retail fronting S Atlanta with 3 level parking.  Parking deck frontage should be recessed from the street and covered by green wall.  Entrance cuts through the middle of building and opens to the central street of the development.  Parking on 1st floor will be for retail & upper floors will be for apt residents.  Walkways provide convenient access to apartment buildings for residents on upper floors.
  2. 125 for rent apartments (4 stories). First floor would have mix of retail/restaurant and residential along the main street.  Northern building would have ground level parking underneath residential where outlined triangle is.  It would also have a 2nd floor amenity deck (eastern most green triangle) and 3rd floor pool providing amazing views of Historic Roswell, Vickery Creek and the National Forest.
  3. 25 market rate townhomes (3 stories).  These would encompass the southern piece of the site and provide a seamless transition transition between the Creek View Phase 2 Townhomes and the new development.  
  4. Pocket park.  This could have a small playground or just serve as a neighborhood congregating area.  It would also complement the trail and bridge.  Potential to add a small playground here as an amenity for families.  Ideally, a restaurant on the first floor would open to the park area and provide great views.
  5. Potential pedestrian gate to neighboring Olde Towne Roswell townhome development for those residents to access new neighborhood.
  6. Walking/Hiking trail that would connect to the Mill and Allenbrook and go behind the Olde Towne Roswell, Mill Street Park and Creek View neighborhoods giving all three a link to the new development without having to walk along highway 9.
  7. Pedestrian bridge connecting development to Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.  This would be an amazing amenity not only for the neighborhood but for the city.  It would activate the park and complement the existing bridge at the mill.
  8. Planned Townhomes for Creek View Phase 2.  
Overall, this alternative plan would reduce the intensity of the project but it would help make this more of a neighborhood by incorporating a true mix of uses with retail, restaurant, civic and residential.

I will post more on this development as information is available.

Images: City of Roswell, Google Maps