Single family homes can still be walkable

Do you read the blog New Urban Roswell by Michael Hadden? You should.

I disagree with Michael… a lot. But I respect his opinion and find his writing to be well thought out and researched.

I regret not commenting on this Avalon article from Michael when it was written way back in November. Let’s take the occasion of Avalon’s ground breaking (scheduled for next week) to bring it up.

Perhaps the least talked about part of Avalon is what will be known as Avalon Gardens. This will take up the western portion of the development, closest to Westside and Old Milton Parkways. In a nutshell, this is where the single family homes and townhomes will live. Yes, I said single family homes.

Michael has published many of the drawings and maps for this phase of the development in his article. It will be a beautiful place to live with stunning architecture.

What I like best is that it isn’t filled with stacked housing. It isn’t crammed to the gills with condos on top of condos or apartments everywhere like you see at Windward Mill or Peridot.

Certainly there is a demand for walkable communities. However it isn’t necessary for that to translate to extreme density. Avalon Gardens beautifully demonstrates this! You can create desirable, walkable communities and still offer single family homes and townhomes.

This model would work perfectly in downtown Alpharetta. Rather than stacking vertical boxes of residential over downtown, why not encourage housing like Avalon Gardens to be built along the periphery? It would still be very walkable and a desirable place to live. It would also hold back density, which is the real enemy here.

Unfortunately I think stacked residential over retail is already a done deal in downtown Alpharetta. It’s also not likely to get talked about before this year’s municipal elections in November. That’s disappointing because I think Alpharetta really thirsts for developments that are more like Avalon Gardens.

8 Responses to “Single family homes can still be walkable”

  1. A January 24, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    On a related topic, just want to mention that the Milton City Council last night approved the change from AG-1 to housing for that little strip of land on Hopewell Rd. just north of Vaughn Rd. Beazer Homes plans to squeeze 24 homes (original plan was for 29) onto a plot of land that’s less than 7 acres. This will be next to a 130-unit retirement facility, established neighborhoods with much less density as well as the busy Hopewell Road. How is that smart growth and development?

  2. Bob Strader January 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    I guess I would say that some higher density serves a market that is currently under-served right now. Those residents (or potential residents) that don’t need the size or maintenance of a single family home but want the luxury of living near places of interest – like Avalon or Downtown Alpharetta. I don’t think we need high-rise development but some smaller loft type living would be well received by some. Not that we’ll see this in our area but I think it would fill a gap.

    In response to A I would say if there weren’t so much resistance to higher density around commercial / retail centers (crabapple, downtown alpharetta, birmingham crossroads) then we could keep communities on lower density in the surrounding areas but still serve that segment of the market that doesn’t need or want all that size / space.

    More affordable apartments over retail – like Avalon is doing on a luxury scale – in these higher density centers make a lot of sense.

    Again – not arguing for high-rise development in Alpharetta but something that could serve those particular residents.

  3. Michael Hadden January 24, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Lee, thanks for the props. One thing up front, I love single family residential when it’s done right (yes my definition or right may not match everyone’s). You are spot on when you say there is a thirst for developments like Avalon Gardens in Alpharetta. Incredibly walkable places can be created almost exclusively with single family residential. Think Vickery, Serenbe, Seaside.

    This is a little bit of a tangent but the problem is that the walkable neighborhoods that are being built in most cases are completely out of reach of the average person. Walkability shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of the wealthy. I don’t know many people that will be able to buy in Avalon Gardens (probably $500k+)

    This is where places like City Center come in. I hope you are right that there will be residential over retail in City Center. When done the right way such as in Vickery, Smyrna Town Center and Glenwood Park it creates character and also increases the safety of the place. Less criminal activity occurs in areas where potential bad guys get the feeling they are being watched. Residential over retail does this. The variety of the housing stock also increases the ability for a normal person to afford to live in that type of environment. Someone might not be able to (or want to) afford at $400k single family home but they probably can get into a $150-200k condo above a shop.

    Density is not the enemy. Bad Design is the enemy. I have an upcoming column on this topic in the Current that will also be on NUR in a week or so.

    I have never maintained that we need high rise development in North Fulton but I definitely feel that a more diverse housing stock, designed the right way, would increase the long term success of the area.

  4. Travis Allen January 25, 2013 at 6:37 am #

    I agree with just about everything Bob says.

  5. J January 25, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    A – I think it was approved due to the highway 9 LCI which they helped fund and approved. I hope this density wouldn’t have been approved if it was outside of the LCI.

  6. Kim January 25, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    I agree with you Michael that bad design is the enemy. Unfortunately good design comes with a price. When corners are cut to bring down the price, the quality suffers. There is a big difference between what is at Vickery, Serenbe, and Seaside vs. what is at Atlantic Station (blech!).

    Rentals tend to decline over time (quality of tenant) unless they are very high end. I’m not worried about what it will be like in the short term — it will be great. I’m worried about what it is like 10-20 years later.

    Our ratio is already very skewed towards rentals so that is also a concern.

  7. Mark Toro February 17, 2013 at 7:45 am #

    Lee,

    I sincerely appreciate your post on the residential component of the Avalon community. Having just reviewed Lew Oliver’s designs, I can tell you that we will set a new standard for walkability in a suburban location. Lew has done a masterful job of satisfying a resident’s need for privacy while affording them the unique opportunity to leave their car in the garage much of the time. It is truly revolutionary.

    Thanks, again.
    Mark Toro
    Managing Partner
    North American Properties

  8. Mala Greay March 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Walkable doesn’t mean anything when the CITY of Alpharetta itself is NOT walkable. I grew up in a small midwest/northern town of 80,000 people and EVERYONE had sidewalks that connected to EVERYTHING!! I walked to school as a child, I walked 2 miles to the downtown city center to shop as a teenager, I walked to the park, my friends’ houses, my dad walked to work, my mom walked to the grocery store and we did this all in rain, snow and sunshine and I live in a 4 bedroom single family home on a a large lot with a fantastic yard. The problem with Atlanta and it’s suburbs is (1) people are lazy — in my tiny subdivision of 60 houses here in Alpharetta, the stay at homes mom peel out of their driveway in their minivans to drive their kids 1 minute to the bus stop which is right at the front of our neighborhood and (2) The city hasn’t invested in sidewalks. My subdivision is off Rucker Rd and I’m less than 2 miles from Alpharetta’s downtown, but it’s risky taking my child to Wils park or downtown as there is no consistent sidewalk to safely get to these places and crossing Rucker road to get to the mish-mash of sidewalks on either side or the road is dangerous as the annoying people from Cherokee and Cobb treat Rucker road like a highway.

    If you have side walks that connect the city, there are people that will walk or toot around on a bike to get to Avalon, Alpharetta downtown or crabapple. You can’t just make one shopping center ‘walkable’. The city itself needs to be walkable.

    Also, on a side rant: with regards to expanding Rucker Rd. I say too bad for the people that choose to live in Cherokee and Cobb and work in Windward. If developers and the cities keep pusing “multi-use, live where you work” talk, than make people live where they work. If you work in perimeter, live there. If you work downtown, live there. If you work in windward, live here in Alpharetta. We work in Alpharetta, so we bought a place that is 15 minutes from our jobs. Is the house old – Yes. Does the neighborhood have swim/tennis (like we wanted) – nope, but we value our time more than a new big house with a swim/tennis club. It’s all about choices and I don’t think Alpharetta should accomodate people you want to live outside the city. If you want to commute that your choice.

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