Thursday, January 22, 2004

Curb your enthusiasm

The wife and I (and friends) went to the Glenwood Park kickoff reception last night. It was hosted by the big cheese - Charles Brewer - himself and served as the official launch of home sales for the project.

For those of you who don't know about Glenwood Park, it's a project that's turning 28 acres of cement plant along I-20 just west of East Atlanta into a "new urban" mixed-use development. With Brewer - the founder of MindSpring and a passionate advocate for "new urban" development - leading the effort, the project has a ton of potential. It's the kind of thing that could change the way developers build intown neighborhoods for years to come.

The wife and I, of course, are not in the market for a new house. But we've followed Glenwood Park's development with a lot of interest, as it has the potential to create quite a buzz in the 'hood, give us more places to go eat, raise our property values, etc.

So we went to the reception to see the latest on the project and get an idea of how much the houses (single-family and townhomes) will run. We'd hoped prices would be high, again to help make our house look like a bargain and raise all of our property values. We also didn't want to see a better house than ours offered for the same or less money, as that would have sucked.

Brewer started his presentation with a little history lesson - a photo of good urban development, a photo of bad. And that was fine. Then it was a little bit about the site; where it's located, its history, etc. Still fine.

Then he launches in to the "what is important" segment of the program. Sidewalks are important, so here are pictures of sidewalks in London, Switzerland, Palo Alto, Chicago, and Midtown Atlanta. Street design is important, so here are pictures of streets in Charleston, Seaside, etc. Tree planters are important, so here are pictures ... you get the idea.

Alleys. Stoops. Gates. Pavers. Walls. Storefronts. Parks. Garage doors. Fences. Markets. Street furniture. All are important to Glenwood Park, and all came with four or five examples from cities around the world.

And then there were curbs. Oh, the curb. Brewer must have talked for 15 minutes about the curbs of Glenwood Park. He loved this one curb on King's Road in London, and went on about it for a few minutes. Tight curbs, you see, slow down traffic. And you can create tight curbs using about 10 different techniques, and Charlie had a photo for each one. He had a full photo essay showing his demonstration with the Atlanta fire department where they set up his proposed curb dimensions to see if the big fire truck could make the turn.

Those of you who dealt with Brewer back in the MindSpring days know he's not exactly the most dynamic public speaker. Couple his quiet, unenthusiastic style with a 90-minute lecture on good urban design, and it's amazing so many people stuck around until the end. Holding back the appetizers until he was done helped, I imagine.

After Charlie's voyage of discovery through the goods and bads of urban planning, he introduced the real estate agents, home builders and mortgage folks in attendance.

For the first phase of sales, there are just 15 single-family homes and 8 townhouses being offered. A smart move, I imagine, as demand (or at least interest) seems to be pretty strong considering the site is still basically a mud pit. And if you can establish a strong price for the first batch, it will create a baseline market price for the rest of the place.

Let the frenzy begin! The agents will be on site this weekend to take reservations on the 23 properties being offered. Only pre-qualified buyers, please. Monday morning they'll look over the reservations and solicit sealed bids for properties with more than one interested buyer.

As a point of reference for those who may be interested, here's an idea of pricing of this first phase. Please use this Glenwood Park map for your key.

The 5 homes at the southeast corner (light green along Glenwood Ave on the map) are priced from $399,900 to $439,900. I don't know how desirable these homes will be, as they face Glenwood (and the old ice cream cone factory - surely to disappear someday) and can't feel a whole lot like they're part of the neighborhood. They're being built by Capstone Partners, which builds really nice houses, though. Three bedrooms, probably in the 2,200 - 2,400 square feet range.

Houses on what have to be the primo land of Glenwood Park (because of the skyline views) are a bit pricier. Only three of them (on the right side of Hamilton Street - look below the "Special Area" on the map) are being offered. I don't know if the others have been sold or what. Skip the first two lots below the Special Area and the three in a row after it are being offered. Two are at $458,000 and one is $470,900. These are built by an outfit called Hedgewood, and I'm sure they'll be nice as well. The mack-daddy $470K model is still just a 3 bedroom (plus unfinished basement) and around 2,500 square feet total, though. Seems a tad pricey.

The other 7 single-family homes (across Hamilton Street on the map - the middle block) range from $389,900 to $488,000. And that $488K job is still just a 3 bedroom (with unfinished basement), and there's not a "bonus" office thingy or anything like that.

I think the townhouses being offered (behind the block I mentioned above, fronting Bartram Street) are the most intriguing properties in this bunch. They are designed to resemble east-coast brownstones with stoops and stairs out front. They have garages behind them and a spiffy courtyard (probably 15 feet by 25 feet) separating the house from the garage. There are three levels, including a loft-type third floor, and rooftop terrace that I imagine will have right nice views of downtown. The townhouses are right off of the main commercial block and close to the big park as well. They are also pricey - $347,000 - $388,000, but I think will be the most desirable places in Glenwood Park.

And then there's the aforementioned "Special Area". Charlie says the plan is to place a "mansion on a hill" on that land, but he's not sure yet what that means. It could be a "multi-family mansion" or something, but they want a signature building to sit on the most visible piece of property. It'll make a good target for the hoodies who live behind it to throw rocks at.

Charlie also mentioned (he didn't seem pleased about it) something about a community swimming pool, which to me seems way out of place in this kind of "new urban" development. I bet the real estate agents are telling him you have to have swim/tennis to attract the Alpharetta crowd. I hope he talks them out of that.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that there was little talk of the commercial components of Glenwood Park. There will be shops and restaurants, I'm sure. And there will probably not be near enough parking. If done right, the commercial area of Glenwood Park will attract people from all around southeast Atlanta, and the plans show about 100 parking spots total (plus street parking for probably 50 cars).

Part of the project includes the west side of the Glenwood-Memorial Connector, however, and there will be shops and maybe parking over on that side.

So there. You're fully caught up on Glenwood Park. And you didn't have to watch Brewer's "Great Curbside Tree Planters of the Western World" slideshow. Lucky.

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