Friday, August 29, 2008

Highland Ave revitalization

The AJC has an article today about the many new developments on Highland Avenue in Inman Park. If you are familiar with intown Atlanta, it's nothing new. If not - come on in, the water is fine. I thought I'd give my thoughts on a few of the developments mentioned.
  • Highland Walk - this is actually one of my favorite developments from an urban planning perspective. It isn't too flashy, but the urban foundtion is solid. They got a pretty successful restaurant at the corner of Sampson and Highland, across the street from existing retail. The Highland Ave side of the complex has some street-entry units that add to the pedestrian feel of the street. The height of the building fits with the single family homes on a small ridge across the street. The architecture doesn't stand out, but it is traditional enough that it fits.

    I am less fond of the interiors. They feel very bland and boring, and are targetted at middle class professionals. Pretty much a snooze fest. But I don't think I'm the target audience - I'd much prefer somewhere like the Mattress Factory.

  • Highland Steel - This earns the Obnoxious Architecture tag. The colors are hideous, and the corrugated steel doesn't work for me, at least not the way they used it. The units themselves are pretty boring, too. Given Perennial's work at Highland Walk, I was expecting a lot more out of this development.

  • Inman Park Village - overall, I like the masterplan of the old Mead facotry that includes IPV Lofts, 870 Inman, Mariposa Lofts, loft office condos, single family homes on Lake Ave, as well as some townhomes. I have said it before, but I think the plan is too insular. The retail portion of IPV Lofts sits pretty high above Highland Ave, because the building is really oriented more to the interior courtyard.

    I like aspects of Mariposa Lofts - it was built when "soft lofts" were the rage, and it has some exposed ductwork that sets it off a little bit. Overall, the complex isn't that distinctive, but I think its just different enough.

    The Brunning and Stang townhomes are some of my favorites. I'm a sucker for that classical architecture, and I love the light wells they have for the basement bonus room. If you want to know what classic townhomes should aspire to, check out these (or the ones in Glenwood Park). They are way too expensive, but they are what I showed my mother when she was making noise about moving. "Before you dismiss townhomes, take a look at these." (She liked the feel, but townhomes have too many stairs.)
Right now, I get a slightly disjointed feel when I drive down Highland Avenue. It all feels a bit off somehow. I think the elevated IPV retail is part of it, and I think the architecture of N. Highland Steel is part of it, too. Still, the developments are good examples of developers working with neighborhoods to find something that satisfies everyone. The quote of the article comes from an Inman Park resident:
Longtime Inman Park resident Anda Olsen and her husband have traded their four-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot house for a 1,700-square-foot condo at the Grinnell Lofts on North Highland. The neighborhood has embraced the new direction, she said.

“We’re delighted,” she said. “Anything that doesn’t change, and grow, dies.”

The problem with TADs

TAD news - 10 of the 15 projects slated for the Westside TAD have dropped out. Some, like Barry's Allen Plaza, dropped out because of the lawsuit which stripped out half the TAD funding. Others, like Gallman Development Group's Markham Lofts, dropped out because of the timing:
Bruce Gallman, developer of the Markham Lofts, said the court decision was not a factor in his decision. Instead, project redesigns and the inability to meet the six-month TAD deadline did him in, he said.

“There’s just no way we can comply with the requirement,” he said.
I have been involved with TADs a little bit, and Gallman has a legitimate point here. The earlier TADs, the Eastside and the Westside TADs, have bond issuances for all the projects at once, and you better hope that your project timing works with TAD timing. You will probably have to sit on a project for a while before you can find out if you get TAD financing (and by the way, your financers won't fund anything until you know you get TAD financing, so you are kind of in limbo). Or, maybe you miss the TAD bond - they only come around every few years. So, forget that TAD financing.

I think TADs are great. But they have some issues. If you want TAD financing, your entire project becomes a slave to the city's time table. Its hard to convince folks that it is worth the hassle sometimes.

I recall that the newer TADs (the Stadium area, Metropolitan Parkway, and a few others) will have more of a rolling bond issuance process. I don't have time this morning to do all the research on that (a quick look at the ADA site didn't turn anything up). Any help? Can the existing TADs get changed to help with this timing issue?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Warning: football season starting

Okay, so this post has absolutely nothing to do with Atlanta, local politics, or real estate. This video has been making the rounds, and while I saw it some time ago (before my trip to Ann Arbor in May), I felt compelled to post it. Football season is coming up, best to get y'all ready for the once a week sports post regarding Michigan football. I promise, it will be short, and you can just scroll past it (like I do when Yglesias talks about basketball).

This place makes the best burgers, ever. Period. No Debate.



I usually get a quad with American cheese, grilled onions, grilled banana peppers, on a kaiser roll. Best eaten if you take it to go in a bag, so that by the time you got home the bag was almost see-through and all the cheese had melted the meat patties together. You can only do this once a month, or maybe every other month. It is the first place I go when I get to Ann Arbor.

Perspective on bad architecture

I like the NY Times "Streetscapes" column sometimes because it is a little time-warp, the sort of thing you get on Atlanta Time Machine. Not that I know that much about NY, but let's be honest - I just like looking at the pictures.

Anyway, I was reading the latest article about some old brownstones on Madison Avenue. They are the sort of classic NY brownstone that (for me) are easy to fall in love with architecturally. Quintessential urban character, classic but not ostentatious, a good size for a family in the city. Y'know, the Cosby show and all that.

So I found it humorous to read this piece in the article:
Nevertheless, Mr. Sares, like almost every other developer, built in the usual style of the day, even as it was generally derided. In 1869, for instance, The Real Estate Record and Guide bemoaned the city’s “same never-ending high stoops and gloomy brownstone fronts.”
As much as I bitch about bad architecture and how all the stuff today looks the same, I ain't that original. Somehow I doubt that the Terminal Station blog will end up as a historical footnote in the NY Times, though.

This post is also written to confirm that yes, I was a history major at Michigan.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Connect Atlanta meetings

From Thomas Wheatley comes a reminder about an issue I am way behind on - the Mayor's Connect Atlanta comprehensive transportation plan. I'll be honest, I don't keep up with transportation issues as much as I should because I get pretty depressed about it. I have little faith that anything will ever happen. So news doesn't really register as anything important when I read it.

Anyway, there are some meetings to discuss the plan, which I've placed on the calendar on the sidebar. The only meeting which does not conflict with my class schedule is the North area meeting in Buckhead. Yuck. I'm tentatively planning to be there to try and catch up.

Downtown on the weekend

I didn't realize that my last post was Wednesday. Wow. Well, I told you the first week of classes would impact blogging.

I went downtown over the weekend to register voters during the German Bierfest. I got pressed into service by el hermano. I end up downtown a lot of weekends, typically to get to the GSU gym for some racquetball. I usually play in the morning, when downtown is pretty dead. There just isn't a whole lot going on a 10am on a Saturday downtown, y'know. So I was mildly surprised at the scene downtown during the Bierfest.

I was surprised by a) the number of people who weren't there for the Bierfest; and b) the number of people who were foreign. It's not that a lot of people were unaware of the Bierfest, but there were enough for me to take note. It was the number of foreign (and also out of state) tourists that really surprised me. I have to admit I have a hard time seeing Atlanta as a tourist destination, no matter how many press releases the ACVB puts out. So it was a welcome change in perspective.

Also, Woodruff Park isn't a bad event space. The event guys I talked to seemed to prefer it to last years location in Atlantic Station, although who knows what the final attendance numbers were like. If the City could include the Park, block off P'tree and Fairlie-Poplar, I think it could work for the Dogwood Festival if Piedmont still isn't available. I might be misjudging the scale of the operations, though. I think artists markets through Broad, Walton, Luckie and Peachtree would be a lot more interesting than Centennial Park though, not to mention shadier.

It'd be great to re-introduce Fairlie-Poplar to the rest of Atlanta. Sure, the Downtown Neighborhood Association throws a street party every year, but the Dogwood Festival gets so many more artists and has much better name recognition that it'd be a great opportunity for PR. And you could give all the GSU students at the dorms a discount or something, since they could just walk a few blocks.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Arrington for Mayor?

While Creative Loafing broke the news last week, the AJC and ABC are reporting that Superior Court judge Marvin Arrington is "considering" and "pondering" a run for mayor. Why didn't I comment last week when CL reported on it? Because I couldnt' think of anything to add to Scott Henry's take:
Frankly, part of our bewilderment about Arrington’s potential candidacy is that it doesn’t seem to make sense from a strategic point of view. Yes, Lisa Borders, an arguable front-runner, recently pulled out of the race. But, as we pointed out in an earlier (and quite entertaining) blog post, her exit has created the opportunity for a pro-business candidate – not Arrington’s strong suit.

In fact, apart from his age, an impressive 30 years of experience on the Council and the fact that he’s BFF with Bill Cosby, Arrington doesn’t bring much unique to the race. His brand of old-school city politics is all but obsolete, while such declared candidates as state Sen. Kasim Reed and Councilman Ceasar Mitchell represent the new, young face of Atlanta’s black leadership.
Arrington's candidacy probably kills off Jesse Spikes candidacy, as Arrington fills the "hoary old black dude with ages old city connections" role a lot better. Still, I still am curious how Spikes ends up relating with the business community, and I don't want to count him out just yet.

Also, Galloway had a great piece over the weekend on Lisa Borders' exit. Her folks really are in bad shape, and it's hard to fault her for dropping out of the race:
The Border siblings have divvied up the chores. One brother manages parental properties. Another brother handles the father’s personal care. A sister is in charge of logistics — shuttling both parents from one doctor’s appointment to another.

Even so, throw in the consulting firm she’s started up, and a City Hall job that is part-time only in theory, and Lisa Borders found herself down to three or four hours sleep a night. “It’s more than an ocean,” she said.
Sometimes it is too easy to only look at the political angle, and ignore the human side of politics.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I didn't see this coming

I'm pretty flabbergasted by the new Rasmussen poll showing Jim Martin only 6 points down from Saxby Chambliss. I've never considered Martin a serious candidate against Chambliss - I don't think he projects a tough enough image to win, and I think he's too easy to paint as a "liberal from Atlanta".

I mean, he's liberal - you aren't going to read any stories about Southern Dems tacking to the right, like with Jim Webb or Heath Shuler. Jim's actually just a mainstream Democrat, which means he is a lot more liberal than the types of folks Dems usually nominate for statewide offices (Mark Taylor, Roy Barnes, Sam Nunn. Heck, we elected Zell Miller numerous times). And, y'know, he represented Atlanta in the state House for 18 years or something. He is a liberal from Atlanta. Mind you, I don't think this is a bad thing, but how is he supposed to win in Georgia?

I still don't think this race will be close, but so far it isn't panning out like I thought it would. I knew Saxby was weak, but I didn't think Martin was the right guy to challenge him. Let's see if Martin can keep gaining. I'd love to eat my words, but I still think the fundamentals of Georgia politics are too much for Martin to overcome.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The ignorance of Yanks

I can't remember where I have seen this map before, but it graphically represents the most obnoxious thing about going to school up north. What could possibly have been more annoying than all the Yankees fans who went the University of Michigan?*

The ubiquitous mis-pronunciation of the name of the greatest substance on earth. As you can see from the map above, the red represents the correct terminology for a carbonated beverage - "Coke". In the blue area, they call it "pop". WTF? Pop? I could understand (but not really forgive) the use of "soda", as you get in the Northeast and the West Coast. But "pop"? NO! Give me a Coke!

Pop. It feels entirely wrong in my mouth, just trying to form the word. Uttering it felt like a betrayal (so I did this as rarely as possible). If you are a native of Atlanta, you probably know what I'm talking about. (I had a friend in high school who half-facetiously threatened to beat up anyone who dared order a Pepsi in his presence.) For this, and for many other reasons, I never felt truly Southern until I lived up North.

Anyway, we now have a graphical representation of what I will call the "Ignorance Belt", which runs from Western New York state, across the rust belt, through the plains, badlands, and mountains, all the way to the Northwest coast. It turns out the rest of the country really is as stupid as we think!

Also, what the hell is going on with Alaska? Make up your damn minds!

*Common exchange at Michigan:
Me: "Where are you from?"
Yank: "New York City! Wha What!! We represent!" (I'm not joking)
Me: "Oh, where in the city?"
Yank: "Well, actually, just outside the city in New Jersey/Long Island/Westchester")
Me: "How thug life."

The scourge of stucco

A mildly depressing article in the NY Times about the growing popularity of fake stucco, AKA EIFS (which stands for Exterior Insulation and Finish System. The article says it is pronounced "like knifes", although I've heard it called "eefis"). The obvious reason for its growth in popularity:
Compared with glass, brick and limestone, the three most popular cladding materials in the recent boom, stucco is cheaper by more than half, experts said.

For example, if 215 East 81st Street, a new seven-story condominium built on a 1973 shell near Third Avenue, had been clad in limestone, the cost would have been $200 a square foot ... The synthetic stucco that Mr. Suky chose... cost about $60 a square foot.
I'm pretty sure anyone who has ever seen the stuff could have guessed it was cheap. Why? Because any building made with it practically screams out "I am a cheap piece of crap!" when you go by it.

You've all seen it on the big box retail stores, and increasingly on residential buildings. I think half the problem is the material, but I think the other half is architects not knowing how to use it well. I really want to scream every time I see a huge stucco wall with some lines and square patterns drawn around the windows.

I've mentioned before that I think affordable housing is a vital concern for the city, and that building costs really hurt the ability of the market to provide affordable housing. So EIFS will stick around simply because it is cheap. If we are going to be stuck with it, I'd love to know ways to use it effectively.

I know a few architects read this blog, as well as some other real estate professionals - can you guys point out any good examples of stucco or EIFS? Buildings that don't look cheap?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Weekend round-up

The first weekend round-up in a while. A few of these are from today's ABC:

The ABC has an article on the Police Department's renewed efforts to tackle the panhandling situation downtown. It is similar to an article I discussed previously, but it does mention a few things the police are going to do:
The problem officers often have with the enforcement of the city’s existing panhandling laws, Williams said, is the lack of a victim willing to prosecute offenders. Williams said police will increase their presence and use undercover officers posing as tourists to conduct sting operations.

Williams declined to discuss the program further until a formal announcement could be made.

Williams told hoteliers the plan was not solely to net arrests. The plan would also include efforts to educate visitors about the tactics of aggressive panhandlers and to make clear to would-be panhandlers that the city enforces its code.
Undercover officers? Part of me is disappointed that it will take that kind of man-power to do anything about the panhandling. I mean, I'm sure there are violent crimes and robberies that could be investigated by those officers. But, it takes what it takes and I think in the big picture it is very important to get rid of the panhandlers.

Surprise, condo sales are down. Actually, I am surprised that some projects are selling as well as they are:
Of the top-selling condo projects, Novare Group Inc.’s 378-unit Viewpoint in Midtown ranked No. 1 with 84 sales in the first half of 2008. Cobblestone @ Brookhaven was second with 44 sales and Tribute Lofts was third with 28 (of which 27 sold at a steep discount via auction).
84 sales over six months means that Viewpoint averages 14 sales per month, which I think is pretty respectable in the current climate. Still, its not great when you consider how many units they have to sell. At 14 units/month, it would take 2.25 years to sell 378 units. (Obviously Viewpoint has sold a lot of units already, so I'm not saying it will be selling for that long.)

Richard Green had an interesting post a few days ago about how increasing gas prices might devalue your SUV (in addition to normal depreciation). Probably avoid reading this if you own an SUV...

Have a great weekend! I start a new semester of classes next week, so we'll see how posting holds up under a full semester. (Note to self: only start blog fights in between semesters.)

Please don't leave SunTrust!

SunTrust continues to act like it is getting ready to be sold:
Atlanta’s largest bank on Aug. 5 eliminated its noncompete clauses from agreements that outline how company executives will be compensated, and can compete against SunTrust, if the bank is sold.

The move has re-stoked outsider speculation that the bank is continuing to prepare itself for a sale. It comes on the heels of the bank selling roughly $1 billion in stock of The Coca-Cola Co. through a series of transactions. Some view the Coke stock deals as clearing the path to a possible sale.
Now, there is plenty of stuff in the article suggesting that there are perfectly good reasons for the change in policy completely unrelated to SunTrust being sold. So, you could see this as much ado about nothing.

To be honest, I'm only really interested in the story as an excuse to complain about one of my favorite topics - what is left of Atlanta hegemony in the Southeast. I've said it before, but I'm still pissed that Five Points is no longer the center of banking in the Southeast. Damn you North Carolina!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The mechanics of shared parking

This will hopefully be my last post about 315 W. Ponce. I'm going to try and explain how shared parking works, since not everyone who reads this is a real estate junkie. I'm going to be referring to the parking study for the 315 W. Ponce development(pdf) if you want to follow along.

Basically, the premise is that you never need all the parking required for a mixed-use development because different users need parking at different times. At night, residential and retail users need spaces. During the day, retail and office users need spaces. So the residential and the office users can share spaces. Obviously, some number of apartment folks will not be gone during the day, or will leave their car at home for whatever reason. So you can't share all the spaces. But you can share some of them.

Obviously, the success of shared parking depends a lot on the math for individual projects. Let's look at 315 W. Ponce, since I've been talking about it. First, let's assume that everybody who ever needed to park at 315 W. Ponce needed to park there at the same time:


Maximum use

Office 240
Residential 330
Retail 35

Total

605

Like I said, you won't ever need all of these spots. During the day, you need enough space for all your office folks, plus all your retail shoppers. How many spaces should you keep for the folks who leave/need their car at home during the day? The parking study assumes that 40% of apartment folks will keep their cars at home. Let's see how that looks:


Day-time Peak Use

100% office users 240
40% residential users 132
100% retail users 35

Total

407

This is how they end up justifying a 428 space parking deck. They've even included at 21 space cushion, in addition to the 22 surface lot spaces that will be left after redevelopment. I think 40% is quite a reasonable assumption, but if there is a weak point here, that would be it. Still, I would not want to be the one arguing that half of the residents would need to leave their car at home all day. It wouldn't look like any apartment complex I've ever seen.

What about at night time? This is beyond the scope of the 315 W. Ponce parking study, but let's go through the same procedure. Let's assume that 20% of the office workers stay late and need to park their cars in the deck in the evening. Then, let's factor in all the residential users and all the retail shoppers:


Night-time Peak Use

20% office users 48
100% residential users 330
100% retail users 35

Total

413

We are still under the 428 spaces in the deck. This is why 315 W. Ponce won't create excess parking issues for the neighborhood.

For statistical junkies, the parking study uses existing traffic counts for the office building and a 1.5 space/unit, which is actually greater than the 60% one-bedroom unit mix might need. For a 1 space/bedroom ratio, they would only need a 1.4 space/unit ratio, or 308 spots. The extra spaces accommodate guests, but if a developer were trying to "cook the books" on parking numbers they could do so here. The fact that they don't suggests they are on the up and up. The study also uses a 5 spaces/1,000 sf of retail, which is typical of retail projects. Some urban projects try and get away with less, counting on people walking, etc. The ratios here is also very dependent on what type of tenants.

The more I look at these numbers, the more I think the opposition is about any development on this site, period. The argument about excess parking doesn't hold water, in my book, although I guess that is up for debate. I think the parking study is very reasonable, and I find the objections overwrought.

Decatur Metro has a good post explaining why this site in particular is special. I for one would appreciate a discussion on the merits of infill development in historic areas, instead of arguing over the finer points of New Urbanism. As it is, the opponents come off as obstructionists and bullheaded, which is a shame. I am sure there are good points to be made about the historic nature of the area that are unrelated to the parking issue, but they get overshadowed because the neighborhood has chosen to make their stand on parking.

Of course, feel free to ignore me. Apparently because I own a car I can't talk about this stuff.

My first blog fight!

Okay, I started this one yesterday when I called out inDecatur over the 315 W. Ponce development. Anyway, he's got a response, and you should check out the whole thing. I'm going to cherry pick a few pieces to respond to, and probably leave it a that.
A direct question for B. KIng: Do you have one or more cars in Virginia Highlands? If you lived in Decatur, would you not have a car? Be honest, now.
Sure do. I would probably own a car if I lived in Decatur, or anywhere else for that matter. I don't think that means I'm not allowed to advocate for smart growth. I will say that I have in the past utilized MARTA to commute downtown (although I do not currently), and whenever I move next I intend to make access to transit a criterion.

Still, I'm don't think that my particular ownership of a car is pertinent to the point I was making about smart growth principles. My point was about long run behavior. Car-free living requires both better public transit and denser development. However, 315 W. Ponce is only three blocks from a rail station - it is the sort of development that can utilize transit alternatives already.

I would love to get the the point where I don't need my car. However, we don't need to get to that point for things to get better. When I lived in Ann Arbor, parking was difficult downtown. So I took the bus into town, and only used my car to go grocery shopping or to the movies on the outskirts of town. I drove maybe every other day, and at times less. My behavior reduced demand for parking downtown, and I preferred not having to drive, anyway.
Unless you work for a local merchant, a law firm, or the city or county; you probably work elsewhere in Atlanta even if you live in Decatur. You are expected to be at work on time. You may have to travel to the locations of clients in the greater Atlanta area.
...
In fact, the more a person walks, bikes, scooters, and MARTAs around, the longer his/her car will need a parking space home.
Ahh, see, this is the point of the shared parking. The residents will most likely still drive to work, freeing up spaces for the office users.
When we approach the point where there are more cars than parking spaces, chaos will set in. People will be parking in handicapped spaces, in front of residents' houses, and even on grass straps when it comes to that. Towing and booting will be big business. Visitors will not know where to park to do business with our local merchants. Complaints will be high. Decatur will get a black eye. Some other city/town will emerge to take our place as the Berkeley/Mayberry town ITP, or just outside it.
It'll be pandemonium! People will fight to the death on the street for a parking space! Two men enter, one man leaves! In seriousness, this is an overreaction. Do we really think that this development will cause people to park on grass strips? There are four public parking decks within three and a half blocks of this development. I think people can adapt if there is a parking shortage on site (which I don't think there will be, because shared parking is a real solution here). If I need to go to Decatur, I usually park at the Church St. deck. I rarely have trouble there, although this is usually at night and things may be different during the day.

Decatur isn't really going to get to the point where there are more cars than parking spaces, that is all hyperbole (at least, I hope so - actually fearing this could happen is probably paranoid). Without knowing the actual numbers for Downtown Decatur, I'll just note that dense areas typically have too much parking. CAP found that only 66% of Downtown Atlanta's parking space were being used at any given time. Despite a perception that parking is difficult downtown, there are plenty of spaces. I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing were discovered about Decatur - it bears repeating that there are four parking decks within three and a half blocks of this development.

Again, other areas with far worse parking ratios than this development do excellent retail business. Not just Virginia Highlands, but Candler Park, and Cabbagetown. And these are areas where the parking is crunched oftentimes at night or during weekends when residents are home, too.

I think the fretting over parking pandemonium is a bunch of sturm und drang.

Oh, concerning this:
He/she (I'm going to assume she, since men typically are not afraid to spell out their first name, but I could be wrong)...
Women are afraid to spell out their first names? Really? This is a gender issue? Using an initial has something to do with my masculinity? Really, really?

For the record, I'm a dude. My name is Ben. You stay classy, though.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My continued frustration with 315 W. Ponce opponents

There was a marathon meeting in Decatur about the 315 W. Ponce development. Thomas has the goods, and Decatur Metro has some good thoughts, as well. The zoning board tabled the issue indefinitely. I wanted to highlight a post from inDecatur:
As a number of people noted, this is a landmark decision in the development of Decatur. If the wrong decision is made, we may kill the goose that laid the golden egg, ruining the delicate Berkeley/Mayberry balance of our charming little town in the city.

One noted that, if this developer is given a variance for shared parking, even with lots of land to work with, and no hardship since it can solve its own problem by reducing the number of units; future developers will see how the game is played and also build cases for their "need" for shared parking and a variance. Eventually, we'll have a city with more cars than parking spaces.
First, Decatur may feel like Mayberry, but it already has high rise office buildings denser than this proposed development. Also, this development is less dense than many existing properties. So I don't think this development will ruin the small town feel of Decatur. I think it will actually help it by rehabilitating an ugly surface parking lot in the heart of the city.

Second, the issue is not about a hardship. It is about smart growth principles. And, I doubt the developer could reduce the number of units and make it work, because of the cost of land. Once land becomes expensive, you've got to increase the density for the project to be profitable. So if you ever want to see something done about the surface parking lot, which most "urbanists" would agree qualifies as a form of blight, then you are going to have to deal with more units.

Third, part of the point of density is that it is difficult for cars. You want a city with more cars than parking spaces, because it means you have created a dense, pedestrian friendly environment. In the short run, it may be difficult to find parking. But people will adapt - they will buy scooters, start biking, or leave their cars in the garage and take MARTA to work. This is how you get people walking and taking alternative transportation. It is how you get changes in long run behavior. And you can only make these alternatives possible by creating a pedestrian friendly environment to support them - which is what this development does.

Hey, I live in Virginia-Highlands. People park all over our side streets. You know what? It really isn't that bad. I don't think any of the businesses in the area meet mandated parking ratios, but the rents are the highest in the city outside of Buckhead or Midtown. They do just fine. Mandated parking ratios are really just a prescription for killing your city. People should be applauding a developer willing to take a risk on something like shared parking, not fighting it.

Finally, mixed-use developments often make do with less parking and less traffic than predicted. Neighbors were up in arms about the Edgewood Retail District and all the traffic it would bring, but it has hardly impacted congestion in the area. I fly through that stretch way easier than I do L5P. Neighborhood objections are often overreactions, and smart-growth tactics can mitigate problems.

It is so frustrating, because in the big picture I think this is a good development. I would be pissed if I lived on the street with the side of the parking deck, even if it is supposed to be screened by trees and such. I'd love to see a quality facade required. But other than that, I can't see a whole lot that isn't a model of smart infill development.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Notes on 4th Ward redevelopment plan

There is a meeting tonight regarding the final version of the Old 4th Ward Masterplan. A few notes gleaned from the AJC article about the event:
  • The Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center will stay, although the rest of the site will be slated for redevelopment. Page 39 of the Draft Recommendations document (pdf) shows that the Civic Center will be kept, although it looks like they plan to redevelop the SciTrek site and screen the civic center with something.

    I am disappointed, because at one point the City considered tearing down the Civic Center. I think it is hideous, and an impediment to pedestrian-friendly development in the area. It earns the Obnoxious Architecture tag. It is Ex. A in the failure of 1960's urban revitalization, along with Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

    I guess I can't complain too much, since this has been a public process and I have chosen not to be involved. Also, I don't live in the 4th Ward, so I should probably mind my own business. Still, I'm disappointed. It appears that the planners made every effort the rehabilitate the site into something positive for the neighborhood, however.

    Also, I can never figure out how to pronounce Boisfeuillet. Sure, its French, but how exactly does a Southern accent bastardize the pronunciation?

  • One reason I can't find out what the plans are for the U-Rescue Villa site is because there may not be any specific plans beyond "redevelopment". The article notes that slating the site for a mixed-income redevelopment is part of the plan. So the plan may need to be approved before anything happens with the site.
Overall, the plan is very good, though. It is a model of how the City should interact with neighborhoods, and for how pro-active planning can hopefully lay the groundwork for quality development.

The usual questions with these sorts of plans: Will private developers follow the plan? Will the plan do more than sit on a shelf and gather dust? Where will the money for all the new parks and such come from?

Thoughts on Borders' exit

Every news publication that I have an RSS feed for has the news that Lisa Borders is out of the Mayoral race. She is dropping out to take care of her aging parents.

Being a political junkie, it is hard for me to hear the news and not wonder if Mayor Franklin played a role. The Mayor had been officially neutral in the race, but I got the impression she was supporting Kasim. I'm not suggesting that Lisa Borders was forced out at all - I'm suggesting that the Mayor's support for Kasim made the race more difficult for Borders, which made dropping out to support her parents easier.

Also, there is a reason that Jim Galloway thinks her departure is good for Kasim. Obviously they split a natural constituency, and Kasim stands to benefit in a way that Mary Norwood cannot. I previously suggested that white women would be an important constituency for Norwood and Borders, and so I think this helps Norwood a little.

Overall, though, I think Kasim picks up more votes from Borders' departure than Norwood does - you have to assume that Borders' black supporters would gravitate to Kasim. I assumed Borders would get a large share of black female voters, for example, and I see no reason to assume Norwood picks up that demographic. Norwood has focused her issues on white in-town areas, and has at times pissed off the black community. Part of why her initial infill moratorium failed was because it only focused on upper class white neighborhoods.

CL accurately points out that the business community has lost their candidate. I'm not entirely certain that you will see another "business community" candidate, since Kasim and Ceasar both have decent contacts there. Jesse Spikes seems to have a good angle on the "business community" as well, because of his work as a corporate lawyer and with the Metro Chamber of Commerce. I don't know much about him, however, so he is a bit of a wild card. It is possible that one of these candidates could try to gain the business community's support and prevent a new candidate from entering.

At times "the business community" has been a euphemism for "white community". I think now-a-days that isn't entirely accurate, but it still holds a little water. Does this "business community" think it is time to recruit a white candidate, like Clark Howard? Who knows what happens then.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Where I admit I am wrong

A lot of the time, I like it when I am wrong. For example, when I first mentioned Brand Properties' plan for a grocery store on Memorial Dr. near Reynoldstown, I said:
I don't know much about Brand Properties, although I am a little familiar with their Buford Village project. I don't think they are very big, and this looks to be their first in-town project. If they can pull it off, I don't have high expectations. I hope I'm wrong, of course.
Well, the AJC reports:
Morgan said the project would be designed differently than a typical grocer-anchored strip center. Instead of a large surface parking lot out front, parking will be hidden behind a row of retail shops topped by apartments, which will front Memorial. The grocery store will be set off to one side.
That certainly sounds encouraging.
There will still be a surface parking lot of some sort, which is a necessary evil of course. But they are handling it the right way. So far, they have proved me wrong. (See how humble I am? I am so much more humble than your average blogger!)

Also, the developers plan a "mainstream" tenant, specifically ruling out tenants like Whole Foods. Since Kroger has stores at the Edgewood Retail District and also at Moreland and Confederate, I presume they are talking to Publix, who doesn't have a location anywhere close.

On homelessness

While I lavish praise on Thomas Wheatley at CL (and I should disclose that I count him as a friend although I believe his work stands for itself), I should not leave out Scott Henry. His recent article on homelessness is good, and certainly educated me a bit about the, erm, situation.

One thing that was new to me:
The commission targets the long-term homeless, people who have lived in a shelter or under a bridge for more than a year. He [Regional Commission on Homelessness chairman Horace Sibley] estimates Atlanta may have fewer than 2,000 who fit that definition.

On the other hand, he says, "A lot of the panhandlers aren't homeless at all." Instead, many are crackheads, vagrants or professional beggars for whom bumming money from frightened tourists is their preferred job.
Well, I knew that most of the panhandlers were crackheads - I was unaware of the distinction between chronic homelessness and, erm, regular homelessness. The article suggests that the city is actually quite successful with what it is doing for the chronically homeless. Apparently, we are a national model.

So, good news on that front. The bleeding-heart half of me is very happy from a feel-good perspective. The political operative half of me recognizes that any effective policy to combat homelessness has to have a feel-good aspect to get away with a tougher enforcement policy.

Speaking of a tougher enforcement policy, what about the panhandlers? Thats the real issue, in my mind.
[Fmr. City Council member Debbie] Starnes says the city is about to launch a new assault on panhandling. The first move will be a marketing campaign asking people not to give money to beggars. Next, the United Way will promote alternative ways to help the homeless, perhaps even setting up donation boxes in downtown hotels and restaurants where people can deposit coins they didn't give to panhandlers.

Finally, Atlanta police will coordinate with other public and private entities, from GSU police to hotel security guards, in stepping up enforcement and making beggars feel unwelcome.
I'll believe it when I see it. I mean, I don't question the commitment behind the Commission or behind Starnes' statement. I question the police's ability to do anything. They just don't have much credibility with me, especially on this issue. If you've worked downtown, you can probably relate.

I'll be honest, it is really difficult for me to summon compassion for homeless folks. It is a real shortcoming of mine. I've been better at it lately, though. I remind myself of how easily it could be me, I remind myself that they are human beings, the same as me. I don't let myself go on tirades about homeless people when I'm driving around with friends. I'm not as bad as I used to be.

But man, panhandlers really get under my skin. It is probably the only issue that makes me like Rudy Giuliani (which is how I know it is a shortcoming, zing!).

Challenging pre-conceptions

It is easy to poke fun at the AJC, but they still have some great reporters left. Today's latest from Jim Galloway is a gem. Galloway does the post mortem on Clayton County elections, suggesting surprising depths from both Eldrin Bell and Clayton County voters.

On the surface, an observer could be tempted to toss Clayton County into the "identity politics" bucket and be done with it. Not so fast, my friends. It seems Eldrin Bell learned a thing or two from working in Atlanta for so long:
Bell went old school, and built an Atlanta-style, black-and-white coalition...

Bell enlisted white business leaders for financial backing.

He formed an alliance with Tracy Graham-Lawson, a white juvenile court judge who entered the district attorney’s race; and with Kem Kimbrough, an African-American staff attorney for the ACCG, who ran for sheriff.

“We felt if they would vote for me, they would vote for Tracy,” Bell said. “And if they would vote for Tracy, they would vote for Kimbrough.”
Also, Bell hired a GOP outfit to run the campaigns. This is the coalition which won in a county that is 69% black. I think it speaks well for all involved - Bell for putting the coalition together, the county voters for supporting it, and even for the GOP political operatives who signed on for the dirty work in an area diametrically opposed to their politics.

Black voters also rejected racially-tinged campaigns run by Stan Watson and Vernon Jones. Sure, it doesn't always happen like this - I think John Eaves' ad a few years ago was terribly disappointing, for example. Hopefully, though, this latest election will help disabuse my GOP friends of the notion that Atlanta voters are slaves to identity politics. I'm not going to hold my breath for folks like Jim Wooten, though. Progress is slow, but it does happen.

Most Atlantans think of Eldrin Bell as a bit of a nut. I commented to an older friend the other day that Bell seemed to have reached the stage of his career where he was willing to say whatever he thought, consequences be damned (much like Andy Young or Jimmy Carter). My friend corrected me. "Eldrin has always been like that," he said. "He was always a loose cannon."

To be sure, there is no shortage of colorful stories about the guy, and you get a glimpse of that in the article:
The old Eldrin made a brief comeback in the last weeks of the campaign — Bell suffered a flashburn on his thumb while firing a monster, .50-caliber revolver on the farm of a strip club owner.

“I didn’t solve 80 percent of my homicides when I was a detective by knowing priests,” Bell said. Ah, just like old times.
Having not been around when Bell was cruising around Atlanta sowing his oats, I can only say that lately he has come off as an astute and effective politician.

(I have been around just long enough to know that a public reputation is easily manipulated, so who knows what the man is really like. With the exception of folks like Glenn Richardson, I try to avoid such judgments. I usually fail, but at least that is the goal.)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Summing up the AJC for today

Man, lots of stuff in today's paper worth mentioning.
  • The AJC did a follow up on the attrition at the Police Department. Top concerns: Pay, unorganized work process, and poor equipment. Sounds like a miserable place to work, actually: shitty pay, nobody communicates, and you never have the right gear. I have worked in all of those situations, and on their own each is enough to piss you off. Combining them sounds excruciating. Since I bitch about the AJC enough, I offer up much thanks to Tim Eberly for digging in a little deeper on the issue.

  • Continuing on a police topic, the APD put up barriers around Barbara Asher Square, better known as the Five Points plaza at the MARTA station. Great first step, I say. The guys wanting to take naps on the benches and sell cigarettes on the street are upset. Oh noes!

  • A townhouse develpment in Candler Park/L5P is an example of how developers can work with neighborhoods successfully. The location seems like a great one for townhouses - walking distance to Little Five, transitioning to single family homes in Candler Park.

    Part of why negotiating worked is that the neighborhood seems to understand that the city needs to support a reasonable level of density in areas that make sense:
    James Johnson, who heads the Candler Park Neighborhood Organization zoning committee, said the latest version works.

    "It's a fairly dense use of the site, but it's not an overwhelmingly dense use of the site," he said. "In my mind, it's a positive."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Handicapping the Senate election

So, Jim Martin vs. Saxby Chambliss for U.S. Senate. Hopefully it will be more interesting than the primary. I feel sorry for Thomas Wheatley, who had to cover it for Creative Loafing and try his damndest to come up with interesting story lines. That couldn't have been easy.

Chambliss is obviously the favorite. FiveThirtyEight.com uses statistical analysis in addition to polling to project election results, with very accurate results throughout the Democratic primary. The regressions are based on demographic analysis, past voting patterns, etc. Anyway, FiveThirtyEight crams all these polls into a regression analysis and runs 10,000 simulations to predict the possibility of election results. Currently, FiveThirtyEight gives Saxby a 100% chance of winning.

[UPDATE: I believe this regression analysis used Jones' polling numbers, which were significantly worse than Martin's. I expect Martin will have about a 5-10% chance of winning if they update the numbers. Compare Obama's low chance of victory (see below), and the NC Sen regression (a 10 point projected differential) showing a 10% chance of Dem victory. Martin is still a major long shot.]

So, can Jim Martin win? No. I'm not sure that campaigns make a huge difference on elections. Certainly they make a difference, but I think it is usually only during very close elections. I was interviewing for a job on the Mark Taylor for Georgia campaign,* and I asked the campaign consultant, "Can we beat this guy?" His response was, "Well, if the State of Georgia really wants to re-elect Sonny Perdue, there isn't anything we can do about it." Taylor lost by almost 20 points. A better campaign might have made it closer, but Sonny Perdue wasn't going to lose in 2006. I think this election will be similar for Martin. I don't think voters are really that interested in getting rid of Saxby Chambliss.

Can he come close? Maybe. For Martin, the bar is the 42% he got in 2006 vs. Casey Cagle. I think he has a good chance to top it, if only because Obama's presence in the state will help with voter turnout. I think 44%-45% is realistic, and anything over 46% will be incredible. Cleland got 46% of the vote against Chambliss as an incumbent in a very bad year for Dems.

Now Chambliss is the incumbent, and Georgia was one of the few states to buck the national trend favoring Dems in 2006. The rest of the country decided they were done with the GOP, but Georgia doubled down. Sure, Obama may have an outside shot at winning Georgia, but I really doubt it. FWIW, FiveThirtyEight gives Obama a 10% chance of victory.

So what can Jim Martin do make this race more competitive? Five things that could help:

  1. Get a hair cut. This isn't my idea - I've had numerous folks tell me he looks like a used car salesman. Ouch. But still, its true. Appearances matter. Half of Mitt Romney's initial appeal to lots of folks was that he was handsome. And it's not like haircuts haven't been campaign material before.

    Anyway, Martin looks like Gene Talmadge, but without the fiery attitude. Jim's not very exciting, so he just comes off as oily. I think the only way you can pull off that look is by being a firebrand (and I only say that only because Gene Talmadge kept getting re-elected. I always thought he looked oily, too). Which brings me to my next point...

  2. Attack Chambliss. Jim has a reputation as being a nice guy, and it's one reason that this Dem voted for him reluctantly. Voters don't really respond to "nice guy" - especially when the GOP is going to be running on national security. Also, the only way to get close to Chambliss at the polls is the bring him down a notch or two. There is a reason negative campaigning sticks around - it works.

  3. Find a narrative. The Martin campaign never had a coherent story during the primary, other than "electable". During the run-off, it was basically "I never voted for George W. Bush". Martin has to find a 5-second explanation for why he is a better choice than Chambliss. So far all his ads seem like boiler plate Dem territory, and that just isn't enough.

  4. Raise a ton of money. This one is a no-brainer. He should be able to let the Obama campaign take care of voter turnout, which is a rarity for this state, and he should focus his money on TV ads and direct mail.

  5. Don't shoot yourself in the foot. Don't run any more ads talking about how his daughter got kidnapped walking to school when she was 8. It made him look weak, like he couldn't protect his own family.

    Also, he needs to have something ready for when the mailers talking about the deaths at DHR under his watch come out. You know they will, so be ready.
* I ended up working for the Taylor campaign doing research. I spent 4 months on staff and realized I didn't have the stomach for campaigns - literally. The stress sent me to the hospital with a stomach condition, and I quit before the primaries.

Hines and the Doraville GM site

The AJC reports that Hines is in the running to get the contract on the Doraville GM site. While most Atlantans know Hines from several of the large office projects (1180 Peachtree, One Atlantic Center), they are also a major international player with lots of experience doing this sort of project.

One project they have done struck me as a decent analog is size and scope is Diagonal Mar in Barcelona, which includes a 35-acre park in the center. Certainly the urban environment there is very different, but the site plan at right gives an idea how they incorporate green space, convention centers, and shopping centers into the city. The plan also has residential and office components.

I supsect that the Doraville site will need to be similarly insular - which is to say aspects will be insular, while other aspects integrate better with existing streets. The Georgia Tech study for the Doraville site has lots of interior streets and small blocks, for what it is worth. The Hines CityCenterDC project that the AJC refers to is a very urban site, and you can see that Hines certainly knows how to integrate density into their plans.

My point is, Hines is much more familiar with creating authentic urban environments than Jacoby was when he did Atlantic Station. They would be a good choice, although if folks like Cousins are also bidding on the site (speculative) then there are probably several "good choices".

Hines also has a number of historical renovations to their credit, which isn't really applicable to the Doraville project but which earnes brownie points from this blogger.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Reshuffling the GOP deck

I'm a bit late to blog on this item, but I'm familiar with many of the players, so here goes. Sen. Eric Johnson is going to run for Lt. Gov. in 2010. This is because Casey Cagle will be running for Governor, so the spot will be open. Everyone else in the State Senate will move up a slot in the pecking order, most likely, as Tommie Williams will move up to Senate President Pro-Tempore and Chip Rogers will move up to Majority leader. Sure, all these offices must actually go through elections, but I have a hard time seeing anyone else in the roles. The Senate has not had the fratricidal impulses of the House.

I hope that working in the bowels of the State Capitol for a couple of sessions gave me some insight into our political process and the players therein. One thing I learned is that it is entirely possible, in fact quite necessary, to respect members of the opposing party (in my case, Republicans). Sen. Eric Johnson and Sen. Tommie Williams fall into that category.

I disagree with almost everything they support, in terms of policy, but Sen. Johnson is one of the most deft politicians I have ran across. He was the Republican who always worried me the most, because he wasn't much of a grandstander and because he always got things done. When he had to play hardball, he usually let others get their hands dirty even when you knew he was pulling the strings. He didn't really lose his temper like Sen. Don Balfour or Rep. Glen Richardson, and for the most part didn't go out of his way to belittle members of the opposing party.

He has a sharp tongue, though, make no doubt about that. He is just smart enough to know that you sometimes need bi-partisan support and so he avoided a certain amount of unnecessary derision. For example, he was the Republican who saw the benefit to working with Kasim Reed when Atlanta's sewers were crumbling.

My reason for liking Sen. Williams is pretty simple. He supported street car legislation that I worked on, because his folks met and fell in love on Atlanta's streetcars. Like Sen. Johnson, he was also not a grandstander, and I always feel that makes one a much more effective legislator.

So, unlike the House, the Senate will likely stay under the leadership of smart, shrewd politicians. Even more so than Casey Cagle, these are the guys who appear moderate while pushing very conservative legislation. Sen. Johnson appears to be making school vouchers an issue for his campaign, which means it has a good chance of passing. He has a better sense of timing and public coalition building than Glenn Richardson, so I would be surprised if it didn't pass (unlike the GlennTax).

Media Farewells

What a horrid weekend for native sports fans. Skip Caray dies, and then then news that Tony Barnhart is taking the AJC buyout.

Skip Caray... I always thought he was a ton better than his dad. I never understood the Harry Caray worship, personally. And I'm not sure that Skip was necessarily one of the great all-time announcers, for that matter - I don't really know how one ranks these sorts of things, anyway. But he was ours, and as far as I'm concerned he was the best. He was an unabashed homer, which in my opinion should be a requirement for a sports announcer. He was smart, too, and it reinforced the notion that baseball was a thinking man's game.

Watching the Braves with anyone else calling the game feels like cheating.

Tony Barnhart is one of the best college football reporters around, and like Maria Saporta, I hope he lands somewhere that I can continue to read him. I actually first read about Barnhart's buyout from Michigan blogger Brian Cook - Barnhart is that influential. Some suspect that he is headed to ESPN, joining AJC alum Mark Schlabach, who was the UGA beat writer at one point.

The list of journalists leaving the AJC is pretty staggering, both in quantity and in quality. I've already mentioned Saporta and Barnhart, but I am also pretty familiar with Juile Hairston and David Pendered, since they covered politics and development over the years. They did pretty good work, as far as I'm concerned.

When the layoffs are done, the AJC will have lost 1/3 of their staff. Unlike some bloggers, I do not revel in the slow death of the paper daily. I really enjoy holding and reading a paper, and I rely on the AJC to know what is going on locally. So I mourn their demise a little, and long for the days of Ralph McGill and Henry Grady.