The award-winning, 28-acre Glenwood Park is a brownfield redevelopment in an infill location that features a mix of well-designed homes and commercial spaces. The neighborhood is noted for its commitment to traditional neighborhood design, walkability, mixture of residential and commercial uses, and environmental management practices. Glenwood Park is a certified EarthCraft Community for its focus on site selection, water management, planning and design, preservation landscaping, community involvement, and green building.
The community is designed around a classic main street environment—with on-street parallel parking—that culminates in a town square surrounded by three- to four-story buildings “framing a beautiful outdoor room.” Alley-loaded, single-family homes with views of the Atlanta skyline face tree-lined streets, public squares, and pocket parks. Townhomes with classic stoops and lofts and condominiums provide a more urban (and more affordable) context, while the large, oval Glenwood Park serves as a gathering place and environmentally benign water retention and filtration area.
Site Characteristics and History
Glenwood Park is a new, 28-acre neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia, two miles from the center of downtown. It is located on a former industrial site that had most recently been used as a concrete recycling facility. A small amount of industrial land remains nearby, but the community is primarily surrounded by century-old, single-family neighborhoods, including Grant Park to the west and Ormewood Park and East Atlanta to the east. The northern boundary is an expressway—Interstate 20, which has a ramp onto Bill Kennedy Way adjacent to the western part of the site. Glenwood Park also includes a 100-foot-wide piece of land on the west of Bill Kennedy Way as well as the main body of the site to the east. To the south is a collector-level street, Glenwood Avenue. To the east is a single-family neighborhood called North Ormewood Park.
The site is a mile from two different Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) rail stops, and is directly on an active bus route that leads downtown. Glenwood Park is also on the route of the Belt Line, a proposed trail and transit line that would make a loop around in-town Atlanta using the right of way of old rail lines.
The surrounding neighborhoods suffered a sharp economic downturn in the 1960s, but have been on a gradual rebound since. They are racially and economically diverse. Property values in these surrounding neighborhoods have been escalating, though they are still far less than those attained in northern parts of the city and its suburbs.
Novare Group, a successful Atlanta real estate developer, purchased the Glenwood Park land in 2000. Novare created a mixed-use plan for the land that featured a large office component sharing parking with condominiums, and a grocery-anchored shopping center. The land was rezoned to allow the initial mixed-use plan; yet given the economic realities of 2001, the specific plan was no longer feasible.
By that time, Katharine Kelley, Walter Brown, and Charles Brewer had formed Green Street Properties—sharing a passion for cities, walkable neighborhoods, and environmental protection. In fall 2001, Novare Group invited Green Street Properties to invest in the Glenwood Park project and take over the development.
Green Street Properties’ vision for the site, documented in November 2001, was clear from the start:
Green Street Properties organized a design charrette in early December 2001. Dover, Kohl & Partners of Miami led the charrette with assistance from Tunnel-Spangler-Walsh & Partners of Atlanta. Thirty people were invited to participate, representing local neighborhood groups, design professionals, and friends and acquaintances that the design team believed would be helpful. The charrette was “a great success,” according to Green Street Properties chairman Charles Brewer, with many people making substantial contributions.
Over time, however, a number of changes to the plan have been made. For example, the private school that originally planned to locate in the northwest corner of the neighborhood was not able to do so. Additionally, buildings in a central block were reoriented to face east and west rather than north and south. Plans for the commercial center have likewise been modified to accommodate additional building types and parking.
“We thought we had the neighborhood pretty thoroughly planned out up front,” says Brewer. “But to our surprise each time a new area was ready for building, we found there was in fact considerable planning left to do to get it just right.”
Glenwood Park’s Neighbors
The new community’s neighbors have enthusiastically embraced Glenwood Park, despite the fact that its density exceeds surrounding neighborhoods. In fact, developers believe the cordial relationship with neighbors has been one of the most gratifying outcomes of the development experience, for many reasons:
During 2002, site engineering was completed and site development permits were acquired. Glenwood Park’s zoning process went well. The developer’s advisor was Bill Kennedy, a retired and well-loved city zoning official. Bill has since passed away, and Glenwood Park’s main street, Bill Kennedy Way, is now named after him.
The design team pursued Planned Development Mixed Use (PDMU) zoning, and with strong neighbor support received it without hassle. PDMU zoning is specific regarding street and block locations and aggregate limits on development square footages, though it is flexible as to what exact type of building goes on each lot. This flexibility has proven to be crucial as the plans were fine-tuned over time.
Beyond anticipated delays, Glenwood Park experienced three major challenges in its permitting process. The first challenge centered on street widths and corner radii. Narrower streets and tighter corners were crucial to the plan’s success. The developers had a series of lengthy and at times frustrating discussions with city officials to resolve city concerns. The involvement and subsequent leadership of elected officials was critical to creating an acceptable resolution, which came in the form of a new city ordinance allowing specific dimensions for qualifying “traditional neighborhood developments.”
The second challenge involved a drainage ditch that crossed a portion of the site. Prior to construction, the ditch entered the site in a storm sewer that emptied into a deeper ditch gouged into industrial fill. After a short distance, it then re-entered a storm sewer, flowing downstream to a combined sanitary/storm sewer treatment plant. At the lower end of the ditch was an outflow of raw sewage because of a broken sanitary sewer line. Developers wanted to fix the sewers and create a stormwater retention park that would collect stormwater from Glenwood Park in a pond, allowing the water to filter and be used for irrigation before slowly releasing downstream.
It was a strong plan from an environmental perspective, and all parties—including permitting authorities—agreed. Because of jurisdictional confusion and uncertainly regarding was and what was not “waters of the state,” however, the design team had a difficult time receiving permission to alter the ditch. The issue, in fact, threatened the viability of the entire neighborhood plan for several months. Ultimately, the developer’s proposed changes to the ditch were approved and the project moved forward.
The third challenge involved convincing the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to sign over Bill Kennedy Way to the City of Atlanta, which was essential to creating a main street environment that includes on-street parking and street trees. It quickly became clear that GDOT was not supportive of the main street approach, and jurisdictional transfer was therefore necessary. Both GDOT and Atlanta agreed to the transfer, but it was an unexpectedly lengthy process nonetheless.
In January 2003, Glenwood Park held its groundbreaking ceremony and infrastructure construction began. The developers knew up front that the site had major geotechnical and infrastructure issues. Nearly the entire site was covered with 40,000 cubic yards of concrete, which required demolition and burial. Major sewer lines needed to be rebuilt. Many areas also required removal or relocation of improperly placed fill.
Most unusually, 40,000 cubic yards of wood chips that were discovered underground—enough to cover a football field 36 feet deep—also required removal. The wood chips were hauled away and used as fuel in an Alabama power plant.
Even accounting for these issues, the infrastructure work at Glenwood Park took much longer than anticipated. Various factors contributed to the delays, including wet weather at critical periods. One particularly vexing problem was the discovery of thirteen unknown underground storage tanks. Each time a tank was found, work stopped and the tanks were tested. Appropriate cleanup and disposal were then required. Fortunately, no tanks presented major contamination problems.
All of the financing for the land development work at Glenwood Park has been provided by a small group of “insiders.” No bank debt was used. As a result, the developer has been able to “quickly call our own shots in decisions about the development process without any outside financial pressure to do things in a conventional way,” says Brewer. “While we don’t know what the process would have been like with other investors, we suspect our financial independence at Glenwood Park has made our life much easier and is one of the things that has helped us stay true to our vision and avoid compromises that would have hurt the neighborhood.”
By spring 2004, building construction could begin. After surveying multiple residential builders, Green Street Properties selected Capstone Partners, Hedgewood Properties, and Whitehall Homes. The builders use Glenwood Park’s architectural code to create home designs, and Green Street Properties retains design approval. Brewer concludes, “Our builders have really delivered for us.”
Glenwood Park features a variety of single-family homes with Southern vernacular architecture and a green building emphasis. All homes meet Atlanta’s EarthCraft House program standards (see sidebar). Indeed, Glenwood Park is one of only five projects serving as a pilot for the upcoming EarthCraft Communities certification program.
The community was also selected as the site of a 2005 Southern Living Idea House. Featured in the August 2005 issue of Southern Living magazine, the Whitehall Homes-built residence at Glenwood Park reflects “the development’s emphasis on the environment, incorporating green-building techniques that reduce operating costs and add value to the home,” according to Green Street Properties vice president Walter Brown. “The home is a showcase of environmental construction technology—and just drop-dead gorgeous— displaying a better way of building to the millions of Southern Living readers.”
Glenwood Park’s green building features—highlighted in the Idea House—include:
The Idea House itself uses 38% less energy than a comparable home, with 15% generated from PV panels on the residence’s roof. It also has “a higher standard of indoor air quality, comfort, and durability due to the care taken during the home’s construction process,” according to Idea House literature.
Glenwood Park’s first residents moved into the neighborhood in October 2004.
Mixed-Use and Retail
Green Street Properties partnered with The Meddin Company—an Atlanta leader in understanding and developing street-facing retail—to develop the mixed-use and retail portions of the community, located around Brasfield Square, the community’s “town center.” Three different sets of architects have worked on these buildings to ensure both compatibility and uniqueness.
Fifty condominiums ranging in prices from $170,000 to $300,000 are offered in four buildings surrounding the square. The one- and two-bedroom units feature bamboo floors, nine- and ten-foot ceilings, granite countertops, and large windows. Like the single-family homes, they comply with the EarthCraft House program.
“The condominiums provide the opportunity to live in an exciting Main Street environment that overlooks retail stores and shops and a beautiful park reminiscent of the squares in Savannah,” said Katherine Kelly, Green Street Properties president.
The one pre-existing building on the site was sold to Parkside Partners, which has successfully converted it into an office condominium building. The building was “nearly windowless, and remarkably ugly, though solid,” said Brewer. “Parkside has done a great job renovating it, and it is turning out to be an exceptionally beautiful addition to the neighborhood,” he says.
Glenwood Park’s retail provides attractive and useful shops and restaurants that bring life and vitality to the streets, provides residents with walkable destinations, and reduces the number of local daily trips. There are currently three retail tenants, owned and operated by local entrepreneurs, in Brasfield Square: Vino Libro—a wine bar and bookstore focusing on cooking, art, and design; Babalu’s—a Latin restaurant with international bar; Perk—a neighborhood coffeehouse
The remainder of the 50,000 total square feet of retail and 20,000 square feet of office space will be filled with “unique neighborhood retailers and restaurants” as well as “offices and retail shops that will not only serve the needs of the residents, but also those of visitors and the surrounding communities,” according to Kelley.
Making Glenwood Park as “green” as possible was Green Street Properties’ objective from the beginning. The dedication to environmental design is manifested most clearly through the fact that Glenwood Park is a brownfield redevelopment dedicated to urbanism. The project is relatively high density—even for a location near downtown Atlanta— providing the opportunity for residents to drive less. By one estimate, Glenwood Park will save 1.6 million miles of driving per year over what residents would have driven if they instead lived in a “typical” new Atlanta development.
Glenwood Park’s stormwater is routed to a pond in the neighborhood’s central park, where it has a chance to settle and filter before slowly releasing downstream. Water from the pond is also used for common space irrigation.
Popular and Award-Winning
According to Brewer, “Sales of all residential types and office condominiums are strong. Retail leasing is going very well with high-quality tenants. Perhaps even better, people are really responding positively to the experience of simply being in Glenwood Park. Sometimes it amazes me, because the place is still a very active construction site and is far from complete and still takes a good bit of imagination to visualize.”
Brewer’s highest aspiration for Glenwood Park is that it helps restore confidence that people “can once again create wonderful, walkable, loveable places. So many of us visit the wonderful old neighborhoods of our country, or the wonderful old towns and cities of Europe, and come back home raving about how much we love them. But too many of us have allowed ourselves to believe that it is impossible to create that kind of place anymore. Well, it’s not. And I hope that Glenwood Park will help raise our collective confidence level and aspirations about the kind of places that we can build today and in the future.”
The awards indicate that Brewer’s aspirations are right on. In the past two years, Glenwood Park has received numerous awards:
Rather than singing the blues as Brewer did at Glenwood Park’s groundbreaking, the Atlanta building industry, community residents and tenants, and nearby neighbors are now singing the praises of Glenwood Park.
For more information, visit the Glenwood Park website at www.glenwoodpark.com.
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