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Glenwood Park...
... in Atlanta, Georgia.

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as PlacesAnnouncing Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places, by Simmons B. Buntin with Ken Pirie
Planetizen Press
  
The Glenwood Park case study on this page is out of date. A completely revised case study is included in the new book, which is available in full-color print and electronic versions, with an introduction by Galina Tachieva, author of Spawl Repair Manual.
  
Learn more and order you copy!

 
By Simmons B. Buntin
 

Glenwood Park site plan. Click image for larger view.
Glenwood Park Site Plan.
Click image to view larger plan.
  

Overview

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.

Conceptual drawing of Glenwood Park's town center area.
   Conceptual illustration of Glenwood Park's "town center" area.
  

Success from Green Street Properties’ Perspective

by Charles Brewer

Today, Glenwood Park is still very much under construction, but it is far enough along that one can begin to get the feel of the place. And it is good. People like it. Members of the development team feel like proud parents.

The most noteworthy achievement of Glenwood Park is the successful fine-grained mixing of a full range of housing types and commercial buildings on beautiful streets. The intricate nature of the mixing is in itself very important, and is frequently an area where recent mixed-use development projects come up short. Another key is that the neighborhood reads as a collection of individual buildings, each of a manageable scale, rather than a “project.”

As developer, Green Street Properties has not had to make a lot of compromises at Glenwood Park. We feel fortunate and recognize that New Urbanists frequently have a very difficult time bringing their vision to reality in an un-compromised way. Some of the critical factors that have helped bring about this happy result at Glenwood Park are:

  • The location of the site, which has more positive attributes than the design team initially anticipated
  • Positive relations with neighbors, who largely supported Glenwood Park’s plan from the beginning
  • A good working relationship with local permitting authorities, despite some challenges
  • An insider-only financing strategy
  • A good and diverse team of partners, builders, and architects

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.

  Homes along Hamilton Street.
  Glenwood Park's first homes were built on Hamilton Street.
  

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.

Land cleared for Glenwood Park construction.
An aerial view of Glenwood Park as construction was just beginning.  
  
  

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.

The Plan

Green Street Properties’ vision for the site, documented in November 2001, was clear from the start:

Glenwood Park will be a real neighborhood that features a traditional fine-grained mix of different housing types as well as retail activity, office space, civic buildings, and recreational assets.

Glenwood Park will offer a compelling alternative for those who are dissatisfied with the choices provided by conventional development. Conventional development emphasizes the private realm—privacy, exclusivity, bigger and bigger houses. Glenwood Park will emphasize the public realm—community, diversity, the quality and character of streets, and sidewalks, parks, plazas, and other public spaces.

Glenwood Park will gracefully accommodate cars, but it will be designed for people. It will be very walkable. Cars will travel slowly, and sidewalk and street designs will emphasize pedestrian comfort and safety. There will be plenty of interesting things to walk to, because of the fine-grained mix of uses. And walks won’t be too long, because the neighborhood will be relatively compact.

The commercial center of Glenwood Park will have retail establishments that serve the practical everyday needs of both Glenwood Park and its surrounding neighborhoods—needs that are currently not well served. And because of its unique character and easy access, it will also act as home for businesses that are a destination for citizens of the entire metro area and beyond.

Glenwood Park will be designed to allow a great deal of flexibility in how the neighborhood evolves over time.

  Breaking up concrete onsite.
  Concrete covered nearly the entire site, and had to be broken and buried.
  

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.”

Sketch of townhomes on street blocks.
The plan includes brownstone-type townhomes, a unique offering for Atlanta.  
  

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:

  • Glenwood Park’s neighbors have felt “under-retailed” and have been craving a center—a place to go.
  • Neighbors have for the most part chosen their in-town, old urbanism locations because they appreciate the very characteristics that the design team hoped to create in Glenwood Park.
  • The site was “such an eyesore before,” according to Brewer, that the new neighborhood is a substantial improvement.
  • Much of the anticipated additional vehicular traffic from Glenwood Park comes from the expressway. Since the community is adjacent to the exit, however, vehicles are not likely to impact neighbors before reaching Glenwood Park
  • Green Street Properties did a good job of reaching out to neighbors and seeking their input on planning—neighbors have been quite helpful, especially in their suggestions for the retail portion of the plan.
  • Neighbors have provided strong political support when needed, especially in the permitting process.
  • It has been evident since initial planning that Glenwood Park would likely have a highly positive impact on surrounding property values.
  Construction on sewers.
  Considerable sewer work was necessary, and almost caused the project to fail.
  

Permitting

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.”

Removing woodchips.
Prior to construction, 40,000 cubic yards of buried wood chips were removed.  
  

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.

 
Glenwood Park construction flyer.
  Glenwood Park Groundbreaking Ceremony flyer with Charles Brewer playing the blues.
  

At Glenwood Park’s groundbreaking in January 2003, Green Street Properties chairman Charles Brewer played the following song about the project’s permitting process:

The Development Blues

I’m feeling good today, but oh I’ve had some blues
Yes I’m feeling good today, but oh I’ve had some blues
Real estate development, I guess it’s just for fools.

Some time back around February, I had the broken sewer
     pipe blues
Oh some time back around February, I had the broken
     sewer pipe blues
You know you can’t build no neighborhood, if your
     sewer you can’t use.

Then later in the springtime, I had the street dimension
     blues
Oh later in the springtime, I had the street dimension
     blues
Can’t build no walkable neighborhood, if your street ain’t
     got virtues.

Well then in the summertime, I caught the jurisdictional
     road transfer blues
Yes then in the summertime, I caught the jurisdictional
     road transfer blues.
Can’t build no main street environment, if this one don’t
     go through.

Finally, and for a long time, I had the building permit
     blues
Oh yeah for a long long time, I had the building permit
     blues
But now we got our permit, and the digging will ensue.

I’m feeling good today, but oh I’ve had some blues
Yes I’m feeling good today, but oh I’ve had some blues
Now Glenwood Park is happening, and my it’s really
     cool.

  

Infrastructure Construction

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.

Project Financing

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.”

Glenwood Park homes.
Southern vernacular and richly detailed trim and materials define Glenwood Park's single family homes.  
  

‘Green-Built’ Residences

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.”

Southern Living 2005 Idea House.

Glenwood Park’s green building features—highlighted in the Idea House—include:

  • Construction waste recycling, reducing landfill waste by 80%
  • Pervious pavement parking areas
  • Water-efficient landscaping
  • Rainwater harvesting and reclamation
  • Graywater irrigation system
  • Recycled wood fiber exterior trim
  • Porch decking made from reclaimed waste wood and recycled plastic
  • Photovoltaic (PV) system (Idea House)
  • Reclaimed wood flooring (Idea House)
  • Pre-finished and low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) flooring and low- or no-VOC and bio-resistant paints (Idea House)
  • Super-efficient insulation, including spray foam insulation, sealed and conditioned crawlspace, airsealing, and high-performance windows
  • 100% recycled drywall (Idea House)
  • Tankless water heaters
  • Programmable thermostats and lighting control system
  • Energy Star lighting fixtures and appliances
  • High-performance HVAC systems
  • Energy recovery ventilators
  • High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and ultraviolet air cleaner (Idea House)
  Southern Living Idea House under construction.
  Whitehall Homes' Southern Living Idea House under construction.
Photo courtesy Southface.
  

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.

Onsite building before...
The single onsite building, above, before... and the building, below left, with mixed uses after...  
And onsite building after....
  

“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.

  Brasfield Square.
  Brasfield Square features first-floor retail, upstairs residential, and open space.
  

Environmental Design

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.

The central, oval-shaped Glenwood Park.
Glenwood Park's central, oval-shaped park features wastewater filtration as well as traditional neighborhood gathering amenities.  
  

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.”

  Bench at Brasfield Square.
  Benches line the interior square and front retail space at Brasfield Square.
  

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.

  

Simmons B. Buntin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. With Ken Pirie, he is the author of the new book Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places (Planetizen Press, 2013). His books of poetry are Riverfall (2005) and Bloom (2010), both published by Ireland's Salmon Poetry. Recent work has appeared in North American Review, ISLE, Versal, Orion, Hawk & Handsaw, High Desert Journal, and Kyoto Journal. Catch up with him at www.SimmonsBuntin.com.
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Just the Facts.
 
  Glenwood Park
in Atlanta, Georgia
  • 28-acre brownfield redevelopment two miles from downtown Atlanta
  • 350 residences in a mix of condominiums, townhouses, and houses at buildout
  • 50,000 square feet of retail and 20,000 square feet of office at buildout
  • Emphasis on "making great streets where people will enjoy walking"
  • Environmental best practices include energy efficient buildings, stormwater management, and recycling certified through the EarthCraft Community program
  • Planning began late 2001, infrastructure work began early 2003, and building construction began spring 2004
  • Completion expected in late 2006
  • Developed by Green Street Properties
  • Planning led by Dover, Kohl & Partners and Tunnel-Spangler-Walsh & Associates
 
     

  

All images, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy Green Street Properties.

 

 

EarthCraft House logo.EarthCraft House Program

EarthCraft House is a voluntary green building program of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association. By providing rigorous certification, inspection, and testing, it “serves as a blueprint for healthy, comfortable homes that reduce utility bills and protect the environment.”

The values to homebuilders are fourfold:

  • Reducing “callbacks” primarily due to comfort or moisture problems—the EarthCraft inspection and testing procedures reduce the need for costly callbacks
  • Differentiating the home—demonstrating to consumers that the “homes are superior” because they are energy efficient, durable, and healthy
  • Increased profit through the “sales” of energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and durability based on the “true cost of home ownership”
  • Access to energy mortgage programs that reduce a buyer’s mortgage payments, increase the loan amount buyers can quality for, and may even eliminate the need for down payments

The new EarthCraft Community program helps address a number of environmental and economic issues—including suburban sprawl, water quality and conservation, multimodal transportation, energy and materials consumption, green space preservation, and community education—by providing guidelines designed to “protect the environment, enhance the quality of life, and improve local economic vitality.”

  

    
  
 
 

Resources.

Glenwood Park

Glenwood Park Community Association

Glenwood Park Photo Gallery

City of Atlanta Online

EarthCraft House Program

EarthCraft Communities Program

Friends of the Atlanta Belt Line

Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association

2005 Southern Living Idea House at Glenwood Park

2005 Southern Living Idea House Virtual Tours

 

 
    
  
 
   

Terrain.org.
  
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