Thursday, March 26, 2009

Biggest missed opportunities

This is my short list of the biggest missed opportunities for smart development in intown Atlanta. These are the buildings that annoy me every single time I drive by them, no matter how many times I've seen them.

These are all suburban developments in completely inappropriate places. They are also prime locations, and successful enough that they likely won't be redeveloped any time soon, so the opportunity cost for these lots is huge.
  • Sembler's Publix on Piedmont and North Avenue - Like most of Sembler's deals, they nailed what the neighborhood needed, but screwed up the urban design. I can't help think that this site could support a much greater density, as well as how the parking lot in front breaks up the walkability of the the area. It is on the border of Downtown and Midtown, and could have been the a building block for connecting the two more. The site is also large enough that it could have supported a parking deck and mixed-use a la Plaza Midtown.

  • Junkman's Daughter - Little Five's appeal comes in many ways from the traditional design of the buildings. Junkman's daughter is one of the busiest stores in Little Five, but it still doesn't really feel a part of Little Five. The cultural heart is around the corner on Euclid. I don't think this location needs anything denser, but there is no reason whatsoever (beyond zoning at the time, IIRC) that the parking couldn't be all behind the building.

  • Hand in Hand/Neighbors - prime location in a great neighborhood, but like Junkman's daughter it doesn't really feel like a part of the community to me. It is a little separate from the main drag. Like with the Publix on Piedmont, I think a denser development would be appropriate (say, three or four stories). The city's liquor license laws will never let that happen, of course. Nor will my neighborhood association.

  • San Francisco Coffee Roasting Company - both on N.Highland/Blue Ridge and on DeKalb Ave - I absolutely love SFCRC, and I can't say how many hours I've spent at the Blue Ridge location. Still, it angers me every time I drive up there that the building is not built up to the side walk. Also, the parking lot directly behind it (the Plaza Theater overflow) is NEVER full. I wish something could have been worked out so that San Francisco's front yard wasn't a parking lot.

    The new location on DeKalb.... all I can say is, WTF? This is a brand new building on a street where there is lots of zero lot line development nearby. At least most of the other things on this list are old enough they have some excuse. But traditional design would work fine here. WTF, man?

  • Sembler's Ponce de Leon Whole Foods/Home Depot development, and Midtown Promenade - this one should be painfully obvious to everyone who reads this blog. There were so many missed opportunities with both developments, it'd be its own post. Blame abounds - the neighborhood and the developer are both at fault on this one.
I have purposefully left out a few biggies like Sembler's Edgewood development and Atlantic Station. I think they are flawed developments, but they did enough things right and helped move other people in the right direction.

What are the developments that drive you crazy each time you pass them?


  1. Good list. And I agree with you about Atlantic Station, though I might have had to have included the Edgewood development in a similar list. Every single time I'm there I curse the awful routing of traffic and remain amazed at how few people use the underground parking.

  2. I would completely agree about the parking. I hate all the surface parking, but overall I think it was a positive move forward for them. Compare it what they are doing at Brookhaven - a much denser site. You don't get from Ponce de Leon and Piedmont to Brookhaven without learning a few things at Edgewood.

  3. OH this post hits on a topic I literally think about every day!!! Suburban-style developments smack in the middle of the city that don't make any sense.

    It does not make ANY sense that when I want to go see an obscure independent movie, which is a birthright of anyone living in a large city, one of the local independent cinemas here is located in a suburban-style development in freakin' Midtown (Landmark)! I mean, is there someone who does not think Midtown is part of the city?!

    In fact, I actually fantasize that some day they will re-do that whole shopping center and bury the parking like at Atlantic Station.

    I know there are people who knock AS, but I have to say, it feels like an extension of the city. Yes I am aware that it did not come into being organically, but everything about it mimics what works in urban architecture/streetscaping.

    Well, everything except there isn't a MARTA train stop.

    I also hate most of Ponce for the reasons you've mentioned. I mean, I want to ask the people at the Bookhouse Pub what they were thinking locating there.

    Again, if we were talking about a part of the city that's far from the central business district, fine, but we're talking about Ponce!

    Thanks for a great post.

  4. The Publix @ Piedmont & North is, I've heard on the forum, Publix's very first attempt at an urban store. Also, according to one poster there who says he was on the PDU review board, their objections were so strong & opinions so fixed, that no compromise was possible on the design, and the city eventually decided on Sembler's.

    That's too bad, because the bizarrely designed Rio had a much better street presence there!

    That Publix, by the way is the one closest to my home--I use it nearly every week--on foot--driving in & out of there is far more difficult!

  5. I agree with the San Francisco Coffee on DeKalb at Clifton. Truly great urban site plans seem elusive with the needs of modern retail and distribution (and parking requirements!), but it is just unacceptable to locate buildings behind surface parking in a city, ESPECIALLY when there's potential access from a side street. The city's build-to line regulations need to be more ironclad.

    A couple that bother me: the shopping center (don't know its name) at Northside and 75 that has the Little Azio-- there's that courtyard-ish feature in the parking but the real bulk is buried in the back. Guess no one wanted to really own up to the interstate being there. The other (and my apologies to anyone who may live there-- I'm sure the apartments/condos are very nice) is the multi-family complex on the hill just south of the Beltline-- don't know its name either, but it's accessed by Milton Terrace. Arguably the best skyline view in the city, and it's gated with no real opportunity for Beltline connection. I managed to sneak in once before the gates went in to catch the view-- sigh.

  6. AMSTERDAM WALK! I knew I was forgetting one.

    That place drives me crazy! Nice shops but hey if I want to go to the suburbs, I'll go to Perimeter Mall.

    And with the Midtown skyline literally just over its head, Amsterdam Walk looks ridiculous.

    It's so fun to vent about bad development!


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