Roswell's density on upward path

Work to begin soon on two large mixed-use projects

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/17/07

Ready or not, Roswell, here comes the next phase in your life cycle.

The transition from a sleepy suburb to a teeming city reaches its tipping point next month when the first shovel of dirt is turned on the $100 million East Village project.

It's Roswell's first significant high-density, mixed-use community — probably the first of many.

Work on Centennial Walk, another $100 million mixed-use project in east Roswell, will follow about three months later.

And long before either of those two projects opens, the city could be asked to approve a mixed-use community more than 10 times the size of both of them combined — Charlie Brown's $2.1 billion Roswell East mini-city, which could bring soaring high-rises along GA 400 at Holcomb Bridge Road.

The 153-year-old city of quiet, upscale neighborhoods is becoming a bustling center of high-density living almost overnight.

Some residents are less worried about the change than about the speed with which it is happening.

"That's been on everybody's mind," said Dale Nesbit, an east Roswell activist and a member of the influential Chairman's Advisory Group, which advises Roswell Councilman David Tolleson on development issues. "When you create something new — and we don't even know what the impact of those projects will be — there are a lot of concerns."

City Councilwoman Lori Henry wishes everything would just slow down.

"This is a whole new ballgame," she said. "This has potential for new problems that I don't think we can even guess."

Henry would prefer to have one mixed-use project built, then take time to assess its successes and failures and its impact on infrastructure — and adjust accordingly — before the next major project.

Forget about it.

This is the booming north side, where new people and businesses keep coming for the good schools, low crime and high quality of life.

That is what's driving the growth. And the shortage of open land — and the rapidly escalating prices for it — are driving the push for high-density development.

Mayor Jere Wood, a former slow-growth proponent who now sees mixed-use as Roswell's future, isn't worried about the development spurt. He points out that Roswell is following the mixed-use trend, not starting it.

"It's demonstrated that it can work," Wood said, citing mixed-use successes in nearby suburbs such as Duluth, Snellville and Suwanee.

But Wood does have misgivings about the East Village project — not because it's mixed-use, but because the mix tilts so heavily toward retail.

The 40-acre site, across Holcomb Bridge Road from the sprawling Horseshoe Bend neighborhood, was zoned commercial by the Fulton County Commission before Roswell annexed the land in 1999. Concordia Properties, the development company that bought the land, could have built a retail strip half the size of a mall on the site without seeking additional city approval.

But the neighbors didn't want that, and neither did city officials, who were concerned that Roswell already had too much retail.

Concordia, which is based in Roswell, worked with the city and nearby neighborhoods to come up with a more palatable mixed-use plan.

"The city has done a good job of bringing us together with the community," said Rich Dippolito, a partner in Concordia. "I think that's one of the things that will help Roswell going forward. They can show developers that they're willing to step in and partner and put together a project that's good for the developer as well as the community."



  • What: $100 million mixed-use community focused on retail, with some office and 50 townhomes
  • Where: Across Holcomb Bridge Road from Horseshoe Bend in east Roswell
  • Expected completion: Fall 2008


  • What: $100 million mixed-use community focused on residential, mainly condos, with some high-end retail and office
  • Where: Holcomb Bridge Road, next to Centennial High School in east Roswell
  • Expected completion: Office and retail in fall 2008, residential in mid-2009

But East Village is still heavily tilted toward retail, with about 380,000 square feet, or more than five times the amount of retail planned for Centennial Walk. That's what concerns Wood.

"On one hand it's new development in a part of town which needs it," he said. "On the other hand it's new development in an area that already has a surfeit of retail."

Kirk Demetrops, a senior vice president with The Griffin Company, which is developing Centennial Walk, said the new development will spur the older retail centers to "change their character" — a gentle way of saying they'll have to upgrade to compete.

"Our view is the corridor is going to go through a transition from older to newer," Demetrops said. "It will be a renaissance for that area."

Demetrops doesn't see significant competition between his project and East Village, even though they're both mixed-use developments and will be built a mile apart.

Centennial Walk will be mainly a residential community, with 167 units — mostly condo flats, which are preferred by retirees and empty-nesters, in the $300,000 to $500,000 range — and a relatively small but high-end retail segment.

East Village is mainly a commercial center with a "Main Street" feel. It will have space for small retail businesses at the front, close to Holcomb Bridge Road, with a SuperTarget, four midsize stores and parking all hidden from view in the middle and rear of the site.

There will be a walkable corridor of small retail on both sides of Main Street, with offices above the retail, and six to ten restaurants in the complex. Fifty townhouses in the $400,000 range will be clustered along the western end of the property.

Dippolito thinks East Village will become "a focal point for the east side of Roswell."

He predicts the two projects will do fine together and that city officials will be rewarded for their faith in mixed-use.

"They know that Roswell is evolving," he said, "and I think they're being very careful about managing the growth, but recognizing you can't stifle [it] altogether."