Mixed-use on Alpharetta's horizon

Changes in housing demands could prompt big shift

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Alpharetta’s new community development director, Richard McLeod, said big changes are coming to Alpharetta and the metro area in the coming years.

Primary amongst those changes are that the cities of the north side could be seeing more apartments, townhomes and other high-density residential as part of upscale mixed-use development, which McLeod sees as the next trend in housing.

And he should know what he’s talking about. As the planning director of nearby Woodstock, McLeod was a driving force behind the redevelopment of the town’s downtown into a thriving mixed-use model.

Downtown Woodstock has been completely revitalized thanks to the new development. The 30-acre project has 250 units of housing, seven restaurants, nine parks and 50,000 square feet of retail space.

“It’s a pretty spectacular development,” McLeod said. “It really put Woodstock on the map for good design and showed that, even 30 miles outside of Atlanta, there is a taste for a soft urban lifestyle.”

Woodstock has seen a tremendous impact on it economically, seeing its population boom in recent years.

“There is a strong move back toward a sense of place in communities,” McLeod explained. “There is a shift back toward compact, walkable communities.”

For decades, communities have evolved their planning based around the car – distance doesn’t matter so much when driving. Now, with everything so spread out, McLeod said people are spending most of their time either working or driving, and as populations grew and expanded, that trend only got worse.

Instead, a reversal is coming down the pipeline in the form of walkable communities. Instead of dividing residential from commercial and retail, they should be mixed together and stacked to provide a vibrancy and clash of incomes much like an urban area. Cities like Savannah are good examples.

“People used to live close to where they work and play,” he said. “Suburban sprawl in unsustainable.”

Alpharetta is already on the way toward this with the new Avalon development and its 250 residences that just broke ground. Roswell’s Canton Street or Atlantic Station in midtown Atlanta are examples of this trend. The Crabapple area in Milton had a master plan created that stressed walkability and higher density housing.

Projects like Woodstock and Canton Street showed that high-density housing in such a development would not harm the property values of traditional single-family housing due to the high market values of the townhomes themselves.

The housing recession of recent years had the added effect of putting younger people off of buying a house.

“Housing used to be a safe investment. It’s not seen like that anymore,” McLeod said.

Instead, younger people prefer a more urban lifestyle where everything is nearby and, ideally, within walking distance.

“Generation Y sees walkability as a status symbol. They ask, ‘Can I live without a car?’”

In a mixed-use development, the answer is “yes.”