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

 

Goodbye Old Majestic

I first heard about this tree a few weeks ago when a fellow RoswellNEXT board member who owns a property on Goulding Place shared the sad news.  The owner of the property on which the tree stands (not my friend) who is completely within their rights had decided, based upon an aborist's assessment, that the tree needed to come down as it was not in good health.  The news was not well received by the neighbors and others in the community.

In all honesty, if I lived in the house, I would have been terrified of one of the gigantic limbs that hung directly over the house.  That said, there is no arguing that up until the last year or so when trimmings appear to have started, this was an amazingly beautiful tree.  Google Streetview caught an incredible picture of it in a 2013 drivethrough (above) and I snapped one a few weeks ago while I was out on a walk.

Notice how much of the left canopy has been trimmed back even at this point.  I'm not sure of the history but man I hope it wasn't trimmed back to keep it away from the power lines.  To forsake a tree like this for shitty power lines would be a shame.  Also, notice how close this tree is to the street. It's almost IN the street.  Do you think this is dangerous or safe?  I'd highly doubt there has ever been any collision with or around that tree because it's perceived danger is exactly what makes it and that road very safe.

Anyway, over the past several weeks, a great deal of citizens came out to support Old Majestic by signing a petition to save the tree.  That petition was started by Donald McDonnell and has since changed to focus on creating a landmark tree ordinance.  There were 449 supporters who came to the digital side of the tree.  That's a lot of supporters for a tree on a sleepy street in Roswell.  It took us over 9 months to get 600 supporters for the City Green project.  News crews were out to cover it and Mike Pechenek of WSBTV did a segment and had several tweets (@MPetchenikWSB) on the situation.  Here's his piece from today as the tree was being taken down.

The real takeaway here is that the city probably should have a landmark tree ordinance to protect some of our oldest inhabitants and kudos to Donald for pushing it along.  I find it absurd that we have a Historic Preservation Commission that will prevent a business owner from putting up tasteful decor on their facade but when a tree that is older than any building in our city is set to be cut down, there is no one there to ensure it's a good decision.  Assuming an ordinance is protective to our old trees but subordinate to a landowners rights, I believe it could be a good thing.  

Goodbye Old Majestic.. I barely knew ye.

Riverwalk Village: The Site Plan

I was able to get a copy of the site plan today for Riverwalk Village and it looks pretty darn good.  I'm seeing a lot more pros than cons as I dig in.  It utilizes the land and geography nicely and puts appropriate development in the appropriate place.  Here's the plan overlaid on Google Maps.

There are 16 different sections broken out into 7 different categories, each with a slightly different intent and purpose.  I think they have largely gotten these right.  Here are the descriptions for each according to the site plan along with my commentary.

  • A1-A2 - Office District - This area is well located along the western edge to place it closest to 400 which was an intentional decision by the developer to keep the residential and retail further away from the highway.  I'm curious about it being further south on the site though as there will be a lot of commuters driving through to get to the offices.  That could be a positive for the retail and it would be great to be able to get out of the office and walk to the river during lunch break.
  • B1 - Medium Density Residential (Townhomes & Single Family) - The residential is toned down from the East Roswell/Charlie Brown proposal from 2007.  In fact, there are roughly half the number of units coming down to 1500+ from 3000.  I don't see any single family on the site plan but the description calls for it.  We'll see if that happens.  I really like that this B1 parcel it is situated close to the river and what will eventually be more parks and trails in Riverwalk Village.
  • 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 town that currently has nothing at all close to a walkable urban street.  Or.. It could end up looking plasticy and contrived like Town Brookhaven.  It will hopefully take its inspiration from Serenbe, Downtown Woodstock and Glenwood Park.  I like that there will be a small bridge crossing the lake.
  • D1 (with alternate) - School or Alternate Residential District - This one is well played.  The developer has to expect that their largest opposition is going to come from Martins Landing.  This part of the property abuts 21 single family homes along Trailmore Dr & Trailmore Pl.  So, they place a school that will cater to children with disabilities on the adjacent property.  If for some reason, there is enough objection to the school, they have prepared option two which will be townhomes and multi-family from what I can tell. The one thing that seems a bit ridiculous is that the multi-family and the townhomes each have their own entrance/exit on to Old Alabama.  There should be street connectivity between the properties.
  • E1-E2 - Entertainment District (Restaurant, Retail, Grocery, Multi-Family) - Everyone loves entertainment.  The lone rendering which I shared in my first post on Riverwalk is, from what I can tell along the lake in what looks to be E1.  They've done an excellent job putting this area next to the lake and it appears they will utilize the water in an urban fashion actually building right up to it which differs significantly from most modern development which caters to the environmental memes of water quality protection at all costs.  (One reason we can't develop much at all along the Chattahoochee).  I'm thinking the water in the lake won't be as blue as the rendering depicts though. Whatever they've done, it sure does attract a lot of Rendering People though.  Be prepared to be Entertained!
  • F1 - Hotel District (Hotel, Civic, Multi-Family) - The articles and PR releases floating around are calling for a ~200 key hotel.  That would give this new hotel 28 more rooms than the Doubletree.  It will be positioned directly on the little lake.  Once again, well thought out.  Roswell needs this.  Period!
  • Greenspace - (Parks, Trails, Landscaping) - This is a huge plus for this development and I sure hope they get it right.  There is 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.  Wow!  I'd like to see the city jump on the opportunity to finally connect the Big Creek Greenway to the River by somehow extending the trail from Big Creek Park down through this project and to the River.  There aren't many details yet on the greenspace but given what they are doing with the rest of the property, I'm thinking this will be a win.

Our next post will take a look at transportation and potential traffic issues and after that, we'll hypothesize on what this means for Roswell and in particular, the Historic District given that it will have Avalon, Alpharetta City Center and now Riverwalk Village to compete with.

Get With the Program Roswell: Town Green Edition

So, while Roswell has been busy putting money in its piggy bank, our neighbors around the region have been encouraging exactly the walkable lifestyle that we are saying we want.. Here's a tour of what our neighbors have done or are up to currently..

Alpharetta is building a town green in front of the new city hall. There will also be a new park, parking garage and library on the property along with mixed use buildings flanking the green.

Duluth's town green is part of their Livable Centers Initiative and has been around for about a decade and continues to drive walkable development in the heart of the city. image: Duluth Historical

Suwanee's town green is almost ten years old and is a model of walkable development in the heart of Gwinnett County. image: CaptureGwinnett

If one green in Alpharetta wasn't enough, we are putting this on one for effect. It is not publicly funded but it is publicly supported and it will be an iconic part of the Avalon development.

The Historic 4th Ward Park along the Beltline in Atlanta has radically improved the area just south of North Avenue and has spurred millions in redevelopment while also solving a nasty stormwater drainage issue. image: Historic 4th Ward Park Conservancy

Sandy Springs is moving forward on the master plan that they adopted back in 2012. This segment is where many of you may know as the old Target shopping center. As you can see, there is a nice public green that will be added next to a parking deck and office that may be the new City Hall.The city of Dunwoody is currently building three new parks as part of the Project Renaissance that borders the Georgetown area on the north. The park pictured here is Georgetown Park and will be surrounded by residential and some retail/restaurant.

Lillian Webb Park in Historic Norcross has been a vital element of that area's revitalization. image: wayfinding.comCentennial Olympic Park is obviously on a different scale but the past several years have proven the power of a civic space to attract development. In the next 6 months we will see the College Football Hall of Fame, National Center for Human Rights and Atlanta Streetcar all open on or near the park. Additionally the Sky View ferris wheel recently opened and who can forget the Aquarium and World of Coke. Coca-Cola is moving ~2k tech jobs adjacent to the park as well.. image: DeltaSkyMag

 

So, Roswell.. let's build the Green!

Let your leaders know you support City Green by adding your signature to our petition!  

http://www.change.org/petitions/support-the-roswell-city-green-project

Also, you can email them with your support at roswellmayorandcouncil@roswellgov.com

City Green Week!

This week I will be posting exclusively on the City Green project.  The DDA will be presenting its revised concepts to city council next Monday, May 19th at 6pm at City Hall.  Come see the new plans for where the War Memorial will go.  I don't have images yet but will post them when they are available.

Please try to make the meeting and wear green to show your support!!

 

For more info, go to: www.citygreenroswell.org

To sign the petition of support go to: http://www.change.org/petitions/support-the-roswell-city-green-project

Help us get it to over 500 signatures!

Support the Roswell City Green

In 2012, world renowned planner Andres Duany came to Roswell.  He and his team were hired by the city to do a master plan for Historic Roswell.  His original task was to master plan the area from the river to the historic square but when he visited he was impelled to take a look at the Canton St, Hwy 9 & Magnolia intersection as well.  What he envisioned was bold and has kept the city’s imagination moving ever since.  In the master plan, he proposed a large square on the grounds behind City Hall that would reroute Hwy 9 around the square and closer to City Hall while creating a formal space that could be fronted by three additional civic buildings.

Original DPZ concept of a traffic square.Unfortunately, the vision could not be made to work due to the high traffic volume on Hwy 9.  Since then, the idea has gone through several iterations from Duany’s square to the RDOT’s giant roundabout to Lew Oliver and Alex Paulson’s conceptual master plan with a very formal classic green.  The downtown development authority (DDA) felt there was something to the iterations and hired the local firm, JB+a, to draw up a plan.

That plan is fully baked and is designed to complement and build upon the energy that radiates from Canton St.  It calls for a beautiful tree-lined green between City Hall and Hwy 9 that will finally connect our most important civic building to the street.  It also proposes a number of additional, unique amenities.  First, the Faces of War Memorial will become a much more prominent feature.  A final decision on where and how it will be positioned has not been made but the outcome will give it the honor and respect that it is due.  Second, a beautiful, cozy open-air amphitheater will be built nestled into the trees between the green and Smith Plantation.  Third, a group of three buildings including a larger mixed-use building and two smaller outparcel buildings will be built.  

Details of use and design for the project haven’t been finalized but suggested uses include restaurants with outdoor seating, corner coffee shop, meeting space, art studios/galleries, water feature/sprayground.  There will be enhanced connectivity across the entire project that will improve walkability and make the 400 or so parking spaces at City Hall a better option for parking for anyone visiting Canton St or the new City Green.  It’s not bad now and it’ll be even better with the City Green.

It’s time for the city to show a commitment to the heart of Roswell and invest in the future.  We have an amazing civic space that has been hidden from view for 20+ years just waiting to be unearthed.  The grounds of City Hall and the Smith Plantation need an opportunity to come out of hiding and help expand the walkable center of Roswell.  The time is now. City Green will create an excellent civic and cultural asset.  It will enhance walkability and it will deliver the much needed active and flexible civic space that is essential to the continued revitalization of our town center.

The plan calls for three phases with an estimated total cost of around $12 million with a little less than half of that coming from the city as there are grants and private dollars that will be in play.  The projected return in private development from this project is enormous.  The DDA estimates that this project will entice over $200 million in private development in and around our town center. 

The Return on Investment alone is a no-brainer!  These investments work and there are many case studies to follow; Downtown Woodstock, Glenwood Park, Historic Norcross, Downtown Greenville... A little civic courage can go a long way.

There is some urgency as there are already three walkable town centers currently in some stage of development in our neighboring cities of Sandy Springs and Alpharetta.  The new era of walkable, people focused development is upon us and it's time for the city to take a step and commit to building our own walkable village here in Roswell.

You can get more info at www.CityGreenRoswell.org

You can support the project and send your support to the Mayor and Council at

http://www.change.org/petitions/roswell-mayor-and-council-support-the-town-green

 

Get Social.. Follow NewUrbanRoswell on Twitter and Facebook 

Town Green Meetings 3/13 & 3/18

I wanted to be sure everyone is aware that there are two meetings coming up this week and next.  The DDA is hosting them to provide additional information on the proposal.  Here is the info from their flier.  Try to get out to one if not both and show your support!!

If you'd like to sign the petition to support this project, please do so here..  Link

Here's the flier from the DDA for the upcoming meetings.