The Top 10 Developments to Watch in 2014

I’m a sucker for lists but I don’t normally make them myself.  However, there is so much going on around here that it’s hard to keep track.  So, I’m putting together a list of the top 10 projects to watch in 2014.  In the past year, the stage has been set to make this year one of most transformative years ever in North Fulton.  These projects will increase walkability and overall livability in North Fulton.

10. Gwinnett Tech Expansion - Construction of the new Alpharetta Gwinnett Tech campus will be in full swing in 2014, keeping them on track for a Jan 2016 opening.  The depressing thing about the campus is that it appears to be a very 90’s and early 00’s suburban office park site design which shows 3 story’ish buildings surrounded by a sea of parking.  

image: Gwinnett Business Journal

9. North Fulton CID Blueprint 2.0 - The North Fulton CID released its vision for the next 7-10 years in Dec. and there are some projects that may gather momentum in 2013.  They focus on reducing traffic congestion, adapting to changing marketplace trends, and eliminating bureaucratic hurdles.

image: North Fulton CID

8. Roswell Downtown Development Authority - The DDA was relatively quiet in 2013 but expect Roswell to make some waves in the next year with plans for large scale projects in the heart of Roswell.  They launched their website ( in 2013 and have posted several theoretical master plan images.  Their plans for a park or green at City Hall would be a big win if executed properly.

image: Roswell DDA

7. MARTA Rail - In late 2013, MARTA officially announced that it is looking to extend from North Springs station further north to Windward Parkway.  This was received with mixed emotions but many people recognize that more lanes on 400 is going to be costly if not impossible.  The current preferred alternative is to extend heavy rail and add five stations (Northridge, Holcomb Bridge, North Point, Haynes Bridge and Windward). Expect more news on potential funding sources and routes in 2014.

image: MARTA

6. More Roundabouts - In the past two years at least four roundabouts have been opened in North Fulton.  Readers are familiar with my thoughs on roundabouts and there is empirical evidence that they improve traffic flow, reduce crashes and increase safety.  More of them are coming to intersections near you.

5. Roswell Unified Development Code - Roswell has been opening its doors to business over the past 18 months.  There have been several high priority corporate announcements in that timeframe.  That said, the zoning codes are confusing web of red tape and must be changed.  In 2014, expect passage of the new UDC and the accompanying Design Guidelines.  This will send a message to developers that Roswell is serious about redevelopment.  It will also enable a number of projects to finally take a step toward reality.  There are several notable projects that are simply waiting for UDC adoption before going to the city to begin the process.  

4. Canton Street & Downtown Alpharetta Infill - No fewer than five projects around Historic Roswell have been brought before the city in the last several months to add townhomes and residences around the Historic Roswell area.  There are 80+ total units proposed and a number of them are likely to be finished this year.  Add this to the 320 new apartments and the Historic Roswell area could be netting 500+ new residents in the next 12-18 months.  Alpharetta’s downtown is experiencing a similar trend albeit with more multi-acre lots available for development due to large site foreclosures following the real estate crash.  These developments will help drive local businesses in the downtown areas that thrive on pedestrian traffic.

3. Roswell City Walk Apartments - Or should I say, Down Goes Frazier!  The horribly designed 1960’s era Frazier Street Apartments were demolished in December making way for Lennar Miltifamily’s 320 unit luxury apartment complex in the heart of Roswell.  The construction will take much of the year but the first tenants are expect in late 2014.  When complete, this development will be a game changer and will serve as a catalyst for future projects. Grocery store anyone??

image: Lennar Multifamily

2. Alpharetta City Center - It would be hard to top this project given its hefty price tag ($31 million), laudable site plan and ambitious construction schedule.  In the next 12 mos, you will see the heart of the new Alpharetta change dramatically.  Already, there are some new streets in place, with a roundabout, and the new City Hall building is beginning to take shape.  The parking deck and library will follow not too far behind and the addition of park space and a pedestrian orientation will be impressive.  This, as previously mentioned, is helping spur adjacent development.

image: Urban Collage

1. Avalon - This project dwarfs all the others on this list.  It’s hard to downplay the significance of this behemoth.  Total economic impact could be over $1 billion when all is said and done.  The construction at the site over the past 2 months has been frenetic and leaves little doubt that North American Properties will hit their Q4’14 target for opening phase I.  This project is regionally significant and is being watched by the commercial real estate industry nationally.  The combination of live, work and play gives Avalon major mixed-use cred and makes it unlike almost any other development in the region.  The tenant list is impressive with top-notch national and local restaurants and retailers.  When Avalon opens its streets in late 2014, it will serve as a showcase for walkability and urbanism in a suburban environment.  It will be interesting to see how it impacts other popular destinations such as North Point Mall and Canton St.

image: North American Properties

That’s a lot to chew on and undoubtedly, something else will creep up in 2014.  There are even some regionally significant projects that you will want to keep an eye on; the Stadiums (Braves & Falcons), Atlanta Street Car, College Football Hall of Fame, National Center for Human Rights, and Buckhead Atlanta just to name a few.

Happy New Year and have a great 2014!


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West Roswell Elementary - Multi-Use Path?

It looks like the City of Roswell is doing the right thing and going to the Fulton County School Board to request an easement for a multi-use path along Hog Waller Creek.  The request went before the school board tonight and I'm not sure of the outcome yet (will update).  The path would be 10 feet wide. Here's an image of where the path would run.  

If this is approved, the next step would be to connect it down to Norcross St.  That would be a great step toward connectivity and toward making some safe routes to school for kids to walk and bike.

Thoughts on Our New School

It looks like this is the model for our new elementary school... right next to our Historic District. I'm not sure this is much better than the strip mall it's going to replace.  Here are some of my musings on our new elementary school...

View from Ison Dr. Imagine this view from Alpharetta St.
I'm not sure the side of the new school is much of an improvement.

School Architecture - A school should be more than a box where we house our kids during the day... it should inspire learning.  It should not look like a dorm or an office building or an apartment building.  When you see it, you should be able to tell that it is a school.  That's not something that we see much of these days. Milton High comes to mind as good architecture for a school.

The school we are getting will be a cookie cutter version that Fulton County is using quite frequently these days.  It will be the same as Ison Springs Elementary and Lake Forest Elementary in Sandy Springs.  The architect architect was Collins Cooper Carusi and the builder was Evergreen Construction.  You can see some wedding day photos of their work here.  I call them wedding day photos because the school is never going to look any better.  They actually have some very nice work in their portfolio.  Unfortunately, our school probably won't be one of their best.

All that said, the interior design of the school will likely be very good.  Learning by Design rated that design as an outstanding project for 2011.  

At a minimum, the school design needs some work on the exterior to give it a distinct Roswell feel.

School Walkability - Roughly 50% of kids walked to school in 1969.  As of 2009, that number had dropped to roughly 15%.  Of course, in the same period, the number of kids who are driven to school in private vehicles has jumped from 12% to 44%.  Just one more thing contributing to the obesity epidemic in our country.  Will this school help reverse that trend?  I highly doubt it.  In this day and age, schools are designed to accommodate bus traffic, car traffic and then foot traffic.  

School Site & Size - This is truly what determines the walkability of a school.  Ideally, an elementary school is embedded into the neighborhood that it serves.  Unfortunately, we haven't done a particularly good job in this country planning for future school sites.  Compounding the issue are school site requirements.  In Georgia, site size requirements are as follows:
  • Elementary Schools - 5 acres + 1 acre for every 100 full-time enrolled students
  • Middle Schools - 12 acres + 1 acre for every 100 full-time enrolled students
  • High Schools - 20 acres + 1 acre for every 100 full-time enrolled students
Given that a quarter mile walk is generally the radius in which someone will choose to walk versus jumping in the car, we are significantly limiting the number of students who would likely choose to walk and finding sites that meet these requirements in already built out cities is increasingly challenging (and expensive).  

With these size requirements, you might figure that size is a requirement to delivering a top notch education.  However, that's not necessarily the case.  Take Inman Middle School in the Virginia Highland neighborhood as an example.  It's a solid school with a 9 out of 10 rating on but it's situated on only 2.5 acres.  With almost 800 students, that's about 17.5 fewer acres than the state of Georgia would require if a new school were to be built.  

Our new school will be on roughly 14 acres along hwy 9.  The districting has not been determined yet so we can't say where the students would be walking from.  But, we can safely say that kids residing on the west side of hwy 9 will probably not be walking to school.  Those that have to walk along hwy 9 will also probably not be walking to school.  Any students living more than a half-mile walk from the front door of the school will also probably not be walking.  So, this rules out a sizable chunk of the potential students.  No wonder new schools create traffic concerns.  All the students have to ride or be driven and it's almost exclusively due to the site location and site size requirements.

If we want our new school to be a walkable, neighborhood school, we have a lot of work to do.

I'll also be writing a piece on the school in my Community Design Matters column for the Sept edition of The Current.

Weekly Top 5: HBR400, Agenda 21, Health Risks, Privatization, Cities of the Future

Here's the weekly recap of all of my readings last week.  Enjoy...

What’s up in Roswell

Holcomb Bridge - Georgia 400 Plans Unveiled - -  The long term plan for the HBR-400 interchange was released this week.  It looks like a great plan to improve virtually all aspects of the intersection; traffic flow, pedestrian and bike paths and aesthetics.  The project would take about 20 years to be complete and, oh yeah, almost $100M.  If you like it, there is a sizable portion of that money allocated to the project in the TIA2012 penny sales tax.  BTW.. I’m voting yes.  

July 4th Celebration at Roswell High School - That’s pretty much the biggest thing going on this week in Roswell.  It’s not urbanism related but I figured it was worth noting.  

Pure Taqueria Making Progress - The building frame is going up right now.  Can’t wait for some tasty Mexican food later this summer!

Ryan Pernice of Table in Main on Using Twitter - Ryan is quoted in this Restaurant Management Magazine article about how T&M uses Twitter to entice his followers.  They send out a number of pictures of their specials.  I’m a follower and am often left with my mouth watering.  Follow them on twitter  @TableAndMain for some great pics.. You’ll get hungry.

Economic Development Meeting Scheduled - There will be a public meeting at City Hall (room 220) on 7/12 from 7-830pm to present the new Strategic Economic Development Plan to the public.

Top 5 Articles of the Week 

Georgia and the UN: Why Walking Leads to One-World Government - The Economist

...a former candidate for governor now running for commissioner of Cobb County, just north of Atlanta, condemned plans to build a jogging and biking trail alongside a highway because, "That's Agenda 21. Bicycles and pedestrian traffic as an alternative form of transportation to the automobile."

You want more?  You’ll have to read the article.  This one will make your head spin. 

The Grave Health Risks of Unwalkable Communities - The Atlantic Cities

With an obesity epidemic, weight-related childhood issues and soaring healthcare costs, the point of this article should resonate with all of us.  

Safe, walkable neighborhoods are not just an amenity, they're a matter of life or death. They create environments where we can live active, engaged lives. And more walking brings more social interaction, more time outdoors, more recreation, more smiles and more "life" in every sense. 

A Georgia Town Takes the Peoples Business Private - NY Times

Sandy Springs (aka “the model”) is highlighted for it’s almost complete privatization of local government in this article. I liked this quote:

Drive around and you’ll see a nondescript upscale suburb, where the most notable features are traffic lights that seem to take five minutes to turn green. There is no downtown, or at least anything that looks like a main street. Instead, there are strip malls with plenty of usual-suspect franchises — although one strip mall, oddly enough, includes a small museum that tells the story of Anne Frank. 

Three Atlanta Schools to Watch - Grading Atlanta

This post has some excellent analysis that is probably much more predictive than most people realize.  In it, blogger Jarod Apperson takes a look at the demographic shifts going on within the Atlanta Public School system.  Some of the data is telling and goes with my thinking that the schools that are great now... might not be so great in 15 years.  A long time ago, the in-town schools were the best schools in the Region.  Will that be the case in the future?  Here’s an excerpt:

Toomer (Elementary) underwent the most dramatic shift with the percent of white students rising from 0% to 23%.  Bolton Academy was not far behind with the percent of white students rising from 5% to 19%.

The 15 Hottest US Cities of the Future - Business Insider

This list was actually not that surprising to me.  First, Atlanta is not in it. No surprise there.  The two southeastern cities that were on the list were Nashville and Raleigh which seem to be becoming more desirable than our region.  Look at the list and think about the implications of the TIA2012 referendum.  I’d say that Atlanta might be able to budge its way back into a list like this if the Beltline becomes a reality.

Other Stuff

Bike Sharing Coming to Charlotte

Crabapple Plan Taking Shape

Group Fights Continuation of GA400 Toll 


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Andres Duany Presents His Vision for Historic Roswell

Last night, Andres Duany of DPZ, presented three amazing neighborhood village concepts for Historic Roswell along with a quick fix for Barrington Hall to increase its visibility. These concepts have been refined over the past two weeks to incorporate community input that came from two days of public workshops last month. The ideas enhanced by visuals are absolutely incredible. He reviews all of them in this video. I will be posting images from the slideshow over the next several days and will continue to post new images as the planning process progresses. There was a lot of positive energy in the crowd and I believe these visions will leave a realistic and lasting impression on what Historic Roswell can become. Please share this with anyone who is interested in making Roswell a better place!

Bring a School to the Historic District

This is the 14th post in a series of posts this December that will chronicle the 25 things we would most like to see in Roswell. None of these are actually happening... at least in the way we'd like them to. Please enjoy and have a happy holidays! 

This is one of my favorites on the wish list.  Every day when I drive up Atlanta Street, I pass the Presbyterian church on the left and Krispy Kreme on the right.  The intersection at Atlanta and Oak Streets is pretty barren except for those two landmarks.  As most of you know, the Presbyterian church has a large parking lot that Oak Street dead ends into and then on the west side of that lot is the Teaching Museum North and North Crossroads school.  What if we could do something with that entire space and bring a logical civic presence into the heart of the historic district?  Look at the size of the space on the Google map below.

I would envision either a charter elementary/middle or a county run elementary school in this location.  The main entrance would be on Atlanta street.  This would be a grand facade in Greek revival style to complement the historic homes in the area such as Bulloch and Barrington Halls.  The bus and car entrance would be along Mimosa however to ensure that traffic along 9 is not impacted during the morning rush hour.  

As far as design goes, I really just don't get how our country started designing its schools in the same vernacular as its prisons.  No wonder our educational standing in the world keeps falling.  The first image below is that of the Clinton Middle School in Tulsa, OK.  This particular image was the Eyesore of the Month on James Howard Kunstler's blog back in March 2010.  After that, take a look at the Royal High School in Edinburgh, Scottland which was designed in the Greek Revival style in the early 1800's.  

Which one of these two buildings is going to inspire more learning?  

Fortunately, we don't have anything as dismal as the Clinton Middle School building here in Roswell but we could do a lot better.  Now, the Edinburgh school is a touch over the top.  Maybe we could go for something a little more tame such as the Providence High School in the Village of Providence in Huntsville, AL

The topography and size of the lot would require a multiple story school most likely on top of parking.  The parking would be shared with the church in the evenings and on Sundays.  It could also be used to provide extra space for city events.  I know this one is just a dream but if Roswell is going to focus on the Atlanta Street corridor for growth, a new elementary school is going to be vital.  I believe that focusing on education and giving it a prominent position in the community in the heart of the historic district will pay dividends for years to come.  


Additional reading:

Here's a great blog post on school size and design from Stephen Mouzon that focuses on Providence High School in the Village of Providence.  

Here's another excellent post from Kaid Benfield at NRDC on Great Principles for Smart Growth Schools.


images: Google,, Wikipedia, Stephen Mouzon

Bring a University Campus to Roswell

This is the 12th post in a series of posts this December that will chronicle the 25 things we would most like to see in Roswell. None of these are actually happening... at least in the way we'd like them to. Please enjoy and have a happy holidays!

This is part of my Complete Roswell kick.  Most great cities, big or small have a reputable university campus within their city limits.  The university doesn't have to be world class but it should be more than just a vocational college or two year community college (although that would be preferable to what we have now).  

So, what are the options?  Ga State expanded early last decade to Alpharetta.  Another case where the sprawl mecca to our north beat us out.  I actually went to that campus for a semester when I was working on an MBA.  It was no fun.  It just didn't feel like college.  It felt more like work.  I guess that is appropriate since the campus is in an office building.  I highly doubt Ga Tech would be looking to expand but they are definitely starting to run out of room downtown, having jumped the connector with offices and classrooms along Spring Street.  Emory isn't going anywhere.  What does that leave?  Well, it looks like Gwinnett Tech is looking for a North Fulton location and our neighbors are also interested.  

Don't get too excited though because it looks like Johns Creek or Alpharetta may have the upper hand.  The empty parcel just south of North Point Parkway and Mansell Rd is a prime spot.  So, once again, Roswell will be close but not close enough.  Now, is Gwinnett Tech what we really want?  I say it's better than nothing.  Would an expansion of Ga Tech or Emory be more prestigious?  Yes.  But, what is more likely?  I think the city should go after it with zeal.  

Now, what sites would be ideal?  How about these two for starters?  The south east intersection of Holcomb Bridge & 400 or the Town Center Shopping Center (my favorite town center).  

Ramping up a college presence takes time but Roswell should really jump on this.  It would bring an additional job driver, a more diverse population, and it would encourage some of our youth to stick around and get their education near their home.  Now, I do have to add that the one thing that I think would be unacceptable is to build a typical commuter campus with large parking lots and buildings separated like those on office parks.  So, whatever would be built would have to be in a district that adheres to the principles of new urbanism.