PTC wrong to reject ‘New urbanism’; it could mean return to PTC vision

Tue, 09/18/2007 - 3:36pm
By: Letters to the ...

After reading the letter submitted by Beth Pullias and re-reading the original article by John Munford, I was dismayed at the amount of uninformed rhetoric printed in The Citizen.

The proposal to build a Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) by John Wieland for the undeveloped 89-acre tract is not an un-Peachtree-City-like concept. The ideals that the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) of TND development are in fact the basis for the original village concept of the city.

When my family moved to Peachtree City from Cobb County in the summer 1989, I was in third grade and had until then experienced a typical suburban childhood experience.

Growing up in Peachtree City when the village concept still held ground (at least from my memory), I remember when the majority of the retail and office buildings were located within each village.

The now baby Kroger served the north end of the city (along with the shopping center with the old A&T grocery store and Partners Pizza) with the Crosstown Kroger serving the south end of the city with Westpark Walk providing a mix of shopping and small movie theater surrounded by office use including the old Peachtree City Information Center.

This made the majority of shopping easily accessible via golf cart, by bicycle (as I mostly experienced the city as a young man), by foot, and by car.

The concept of placing the small retail/commercial developments in an area where they are surrounded by residential allowed each area of the city to have its own village center.

These smaller developments were made accessible to bicyclists, pedestrians, and golf carts because they were bordered by roads with slower moving traffic.

Since the city plan was originally developed in this manner, I was given a city to explore with parents who were comfortable with allowing my freedom to roam because I wasn’t leaving our village.

Now fast-forward to the city that I come back to visit, and all I see is car-oriented development along the busiest roads in the city.

It is no wonder The Citizen is filled with letters and stories from angry citizens protesting the changes to the city.

The city is no longer an ideal model of planning, but has come to symbolize the errors of operating a government that has failed to keep a steady eye on the plan for the city.

If I was living in Peachtree City today, I would not allow my son the same freedom that I was allowed as a child to explore the new retail developments that are sprouting up around the busiest roads in the city, producing typical suburban developments where speed of entry for the automobile as a design methodology discourages pedestrian uses.

The underlying reason for the discontent among the citizens is the fact that there is no vision for the city.

As a result, we have seen the development of an active group that wants to block all development, regardless of the quality, out of a misplaced view that this is the answer: Preserve what is left of the original vision of the town that once was.

The error in this can be seen in many different examples across the city where people fought to stop development cold instead of working with the development team to produce a project that would fit with the vision of the city, and in the end the developer built an end product that was a failure for the fabric of the community.

The cycle continues to repeat itself because we have politicians who fail to provide a steadfast vision of the growth of the city and instead cower to the whims of whatever direction the wind is blowing.

Traditional Neighborhood Development is a planning concept that returns the city back to the inhabitants and away from the car-oriented suburban development of the past eight to nine years that Peachtree City has experienced.

The city (and the residents) should be excited that a developer with a long-standing relationship with a community wants to come in and produce a project that is aligned with the original village concept that is completely lost on most residents of the city.

I encourage every resident to learn about the concepts of the Congress for New Urbanism and of Traditional Neighborhood Development. We have some great examples in Atlanta of TND projects including Glenwood Park, Vickory, and downtown Woodstock.

I’d encourage John Wieland Homes to contact Ellen Dunham-Jones, the program head of the School of Architecture at Georgia Tech, and have her come to Peachtree City to give a presentation on the benefits of TND planning to inform people like Beth Pullias.

If you want Peachtree City to become another Fayetteville, Riverdale, Union City, Newnan, or even East Cobb, then listen to the wealth-envy, socialist rhetoric of someone like Beth Pullias and ignore the real problem facing Peachtree City like all of the politicians are doing.

If you want to work towards steering the city in the direction that it was originally planned, then encourage the city to hire a design professional to work with the history of the city and the residents to produce a development plan that encourages smart growth and sustainable design practices.

William Norris, Assoc AIA LEED AP

East Cobb County, Ga.

[Norris is a graduate of McIntosh High School (class of 2000), and a graduate of Southern Polytechnic State University with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 2005. Currently residing in East Cobb County with his wife and son, he is an apprentice architect for an “international architecture firm” in Atlanta.]

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Submitted by bowser on Thu, 09/20/2007 - 7:01pm.

Thanks for your input, Mr. Norris, and it's always nice to see a McIntosh grad doing well. I have no problem with the architectural concepts of new urbanism. I wish more of it had been incorporated into PTC's original design.

However, the issue with the Wieland proposal is this: His company wants the city to rezone property to allow commercial/residential mixed development. Why should the city do this? The decision should rest on the benefits of that specific proposal at that specific location -- not on the general virtues of new urbanism. That area of the city is already seeing major new development, some of it by your friend Mr. Wieland. Are we allowed to say "stop" or must every square inch be filled up so we can declare ourselves "new urbanists?"

One specific site issue, based on what I have read, is access. In order for the retail/commercial element to work, Wieland says, south Kedron Dr. must be open on the west side of 74. There is a rail crossing on S. Kedron right off the highway. Given the configuration of the highway and the crossing, it's very hard to see how traffic can be safely managed.

By the way, it's true that your old hometown is more car-centric than it used to be, if for no other reason than that a lot more people and businesses exist in the same space. But I would invite you to come down and spend a day on a golf cart or bike. The path network needs some improvement but I think you'd be surprised how many places you could go.

Finally, a question: If you are such a committed new urbanist yourself, how come you live in East Cobb and commute to Atlanta? I think you should come on home and ride your cart to work at a local firm.

Submitted by wnorris on Wed, 09/26/2007 - 12:07pm.

First, a reply your last question: Money. Hedgewood is currently building a new community near the Marietta square that we would love to live in but it is currently out of my price range. I purchased the home that we currently reside in while attending Southern Polytechnic State University which allowed me to have a short 10 minute commute to school. At the time when I have the means our family does plan on moving into a 'planned' community or an in-town neighborhood.

Second, you are correct on the issue of accessibility of a site. Wieland and the city need to work together to make as many connections to the site with the existing infrastructure. I do believe the city should support the re-zoning of the site to allow mixed-use, but I also believe that there are areas along Peachtree Parkway that should be re-zoned in specific locations to encourage mixed-use development. The retail and office components that will be built in the Wieland development would be smaller in size than the big box stores that the city is currently fighting and would do more for the fabric of the community on the other side of the tracks. Unfortunately this 89-acre track is not a perfect site to introduce New Urbanism to the city because of the proximity to Hwy 74 and the rail road tracks but I do believe it would be far superior to a traditional Wieland development.

Density is superior to sprawl; Sprawl is appealing initially until it consumes the entire landscape, but density, correctly planned and controlled, produces a truly livable community.

Submitted by McDonoughDawg on Thu, 09/20/2007 - 7:38pm.

It's a well done development by Hedgewood. It is not cart friendly at all, and it is very dense. But I do like the designs of the homes and business's. The townhomes in the development look very nice and unique , and many are integrated into the commercial very well in my opinion. Wieland and the City would do good to take a look at it, as some aspects of the development "may" work on Wieland's site.

On a side note, the townhomes built behind the now closed Buckhead Brewery could have been SO much better if someone had taken a look at what Hedgewood has done in a few areas around metro Atlanta. I'm afraid PTC was asleep at the wheel when those townhome designs were approved.

3rdly, I don't work for Hedgewood, but they have done well in a few areas, Serenbe being the closest to here.

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