Wednesday, July 23, 2008

315 W. Ponce in Decatur

It is has been a little while since the last Development Tracker post, and I saw an article in today's AJC that is the sort of situation that prompted me to start this blog in the first place. JLB Partners is planning a 218-unit, mixed use residential development on the surface parking lot of the Wachovia building in Decatur. The neighbors have some concerns, including the traditional cries of "not enough parking and "too much density".

Several Decatur blogs have been following the story, namely, which is devoted to stopping the development, and Decatur Metro, which has compared the project's density with other Decatur mid-rises.

For unbiased info, please see the City's Planning Commission site for the project. You can find site plans, design studies, parking studies, and more. From this site, I found two conceptual site plans at right. It suggests several things relating to density:
  1. The West Ponce fronting building height is entirely within existing character for the street, and street-level retail should be a vast improvement over a surface parking lot.

  2. The developers have attempted to make the back-side building, which fronts single family houses, the appropriate scale by staggering the building height down to a three-story height.

    The developers have compiled a character study (pdf) suggesting that a three-story building can fit in with family-scale areas quite well, although in my opinion it is very dependent on good architecture.

  3. The project is indeed very large (half a city block), so neighborhood trepidation is understandable. Considering what I will say next, it is important to acknowledge the legitimacy of their concern.
I think the residents are overreacting. Decatur Metro's density comparision is patently unfair, because it suggests that the 315 W. Ponce site will be taller than Decatur Rennaissance, when it won't be. The 315 site is bigger than any of the comparison sites, and so the density doesn't appear that different. In fact, it might be less (I'm too lazy to research lot sizes for all these developments).

Residents concerns about parking are more understandable, but the developers have a very good point concerning shared parking decks. Go drive around some condo or apartment buildings, and take a look at their parking lots during the day. I used to work in a unit at the Ponce Springs building, and their parking deck is about 80% empty during the day. This is one of the beauties of mixed-use projects - better utilization of land.

I'm glad I've posted previously on saving historic buildings like the Crum and Forster Building. Otherwise I'd sound like an a-hole when I say that critics of this building need to move on. This is exactly the type of development that the metro region should be fostering, and that the City of Decatur has been a leader in guiding.

We will never move towards sustaining car-less living and pedestrian friendly environments if neighborhoods protest mixed-use, context sensitive redevelopment projects. There are plenty of bad developments that are objectionable. This does not appear to be one.

I'll be really upset if JLB partners design some god-awful stucco monstrosity that doesn't fit in the neighborhood, though. Mostly because it will make me look like a dunce.


  1. Though I would agree now that my condo comparison is "patently unfair", its nearly 8 months old now. I suggest you type in "315 W. Ponce" into Decatur Metro's search function to see my many posts and subsequent discussions since then. I believe I've been much more even-handed since then, if I do say so myself.

  2. I agree, your treatment of the issue on Decatur Metro has been very even handed on the whole, particularly in moderation of the comments. Using your site as a characterization of the opposition was sloppy.

    I would also like to direct readers to some of the other posts on your site for a deeper discussion from Decatur residents. I still think those organizing to stop the development are overreacting, but I applaud your blog's detailed and fair attention to the matter.

  3. I understand the neighborhood concerns, but what was everyone thinking when they bought homes right next to a C-2 commercial district? Technically a developer could build an 80ft. office building right up along Montgomery Street.

    At 44 units per acre, JLB's plan doesn't come near the maximum density that's allowed, which is 70units per acre.

  4. Cool B
    After the information I have heard and the manner in which JLB has conducted themselves I am behind the project 100%.
    This will help support the retail development and turn Decatur into a cool place to live instead of a bunch of shops and restaurants opening and closing.
    I live very close to this proposed development and I for one look forward to Decatur becoming a live, work and play environment.
    Not just a sleepy afterthought to Atlanta.


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