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Downtown Lawrenceville Awash In New Development

By Geoff Smith

Suburban downtown areas are flush with redevelopment these days as cities and developers rush to meet market demands of residents who want to be close to where some action is. Lawrenceville is the latest to double-down on this idea.

A couple years ago, or really any time in the history of the Atlanta metro area, I would have trumpeted what is going on in downtown Lawrenceville as epoch development. But these days, what they are doing is keeping up with what’s going on in other cities like Alpharetta, Sugar Hill, Chamblee, and Sandy Springs. All that said, there are at least three major projects going on in downtown Lawrenceville that will transform a city that already has seen significant downtown development.

The projects include almost 40 acres of mixed-use development and a 2.2-mile linear park that will connect Georgia Gwinnett College with the downtown district, and open up development opportunities along the way.

The biggest project being proposed is a 32-acre development behind the Lawrenceville Lawn Park and around City Hall that would include 600 residential units – 435 multifamily units and 159 single-family and townhouse units. Within that project would also be about 15,000 square feet of retail. Novare Group is the developer and is scheduled to present the project to the city in December, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Just across the Lawrenceville square and on 7.5 acres that used to be the site of the now demolished Lawrenceville High School(built in 1895), Richport Properties is proposing a $20 million mixed-use development. The project, being called City View, would include 58 single-family homes, townhomes, “cottages” and office space. According to the AJC, the developer is under a purchase-sale agreement with Lawrenceville’s Downtown Development Authority.

The linear park is a significant project, mostly because of the opportunities it will create. This project has been in the planning stages for several years and the city has recently hired Georgia Development Partners to run construction of the project, which is expected to begin next month, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post. In addition to a new two-lane road, the project will include multi-use trails, bike paths, roundabouts and landscaping features. Multiple pocket parks and detention ponds are also shown in the plans – as are spaces for new townhomes, a restaurant, some retail space and a multi-level residential structure.

One of the biggest things this corridor would do is connect the roughly 11,000 students enrolled at Georgia Gwinnett College with the downtown district and the two other projects mentioned in this article. The corridor will also fold in an existing brewery named Slow Pour Brewing Company, and 550 Trackside, a popular event facility housed in the city’s old train station. It should take about a year to demolish some of the buildings in the corridor to make way for the new road and trails. At that point, construction on the new infrastructure is said to begin.

I imagine that retail businesses in downtown Lawrenceville are chomping at the bit to see these projects completed. With almost 660-residential units going in, they will see a significant increase in night-time and weekend customers. And with the office development and the connection to Georgia Gwinnett College, they will see a significant increase in daytime customers during the weeks. It will be a good time to be doing business in Lawrenceville for sure.

Beltline Creator Sets Sites on Buford Highway

By Geoff Smith

There isn’t much doubt about it, most people will finally agree that there are really great restaurants throughout the metro Atlanta area.

Growing up in Roswell, it seemed that transplanted New Yorker’s loved to complain about the food. The Italian food was boring, there were no good bagels, and forget about finding a good Chinese restaurant. Well nowadays, I don’t hear that kind of talk. Folks are pretty fat and happy in Atlanta.

Chefs have grown more and more creative. And creative in a way that draws people consistently into their restaurants. Different parts of the metro area are developing their own styles too. Canton Street in Roswell has more great restaurants per square foot than maybe anywhere else in the metro area, all serving out of buildings first built in the late 1800s. Alpharetta’s restaurants are a bit more spread out and refined, but fantastic. Ponce City Market in Atlanta has its food court packed with several unique and great restaurants where most of the seating is stretched along barstools.

Perhaps the most unique area walks a thin line between being considered under the radar here in Atlanta, and well-known among chef circles outside of Atlanta. It is Buford Highway. Written up in Bon Appetit, this 7-mile stretch of road heading north from I-285 was called a “United Nations of restaurants.” In this stretch of road you can get Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Somali, Mexican, combinations of those, and many other types of food. Some of you might think that you’ve got Vietnamese, Chinese and Mexican restaurants close to your home. But the difference here is that these restaurants cook their food as if they are serving not Americans, but people from their home countries.

It has developed a serious ‘it’ factor. So much so that when Anthony Bourdain, a king of cool, brought his show to Atlanta, he spent a lot of time eating in, and complimenting restaurants there.

To the eye, this stretch of road is probably not the most inviting stretch of road. These great restaurants are scattered throughout strip malls that were built during a time when we had little ability for urban planning. But that could be about to change.

One of Atlanta’s king of cool, Ryan Gravel, is setting his sites on Buford Highway.

If you do not know, Gravel conceptualized the idea of The Beltline while a student at GA Tech, and then worked as a planner to make it a reality. The Beltline has become one of the most successful redevelopment ideas of our time anywhere in the country and has transformed every community it runs through. He left The Beltline project because he thought they were getting away from his idea to incorporate more affordable, lower-income workforce housing.

According to Reporter Newspapers, Gravel created a nonprofit called Generator. Its mission is to be an “idea studio…committed to the production of ideas about cities that nobody is asking for.” His first Generator workshop will be a School of Design class at Georgia Tech that will focus on Buford Highway.

According to the article, he finds this area interesting because it deals with a lot of issues that are prevalent throughout the country. There is a large immigrant population there, and he sees this as a way to create a solution for suburban immigrant populations throughout the country. They are going to look at different transit options and different ways to move people around. His design principals will go much deeper than transit and affordable housing options too. He wants to create ways to force people to interact and “love” each other more.

Best of GA Fall Blows Through the Mountains

By Geoff Smith

This is the time of year in Georgia when spurts of cool breezes blow through the humidity and heat, and tickle our spirits into a state reminiscent of an old college buddy popping in through the door to whisk you off to one more, wild weekend. Or at least into trying to be fancy with your writing of a business article.

Truth be told though, there are few places on the planet better than Georgia in the fall and spring. It’s a proven fact…probably. The weather is a big reason that so many people have moved down here – just ask someone from the great city of Chicago.

This time of year, those cool breezes move my attention to the mountains. Standing mountaintop, looking out miles and watching the wind blow up and down the red- and gold-covered hills and valleys, will lead you to a true moment where you say “there really is no other place I’d rather be.” And there are many great places to go in the North Georgia mountains. Blood Mountain is one of my favorite spots. It’s just north of Dahlonega and is an easy day trip. You could drive up GA400, enjoy the ride, park at the base of the mountain, hike to the top, enjoy the open views and be home in time for dinner. Or, better yet, eat on the square in downtown Dahlonega.

Georgia’s mountain towns have developed nicely over the years and there is a wide variety of places to go visit. There are relatively large cities such as Dahlonega and Clayton that are surrounded by great parks and nature, but also have large commercial districts and hotels. Then there are also small towns like Blue Ridge and Ellijay that have just enough.

Perhaps the most visited, or most known, is Helen. This city was originally founded as a logging town, but in the last 1960’s reinvented itself as a Bavarian alpine town lined with buildings modeled after many of the great south-German cities. It has become crowded over the years and is flooded throughout the day and night with sounds of loud motorcycles, but it has a thriving commercial district with shops and restaurants, is built along a much smaller and younger Chattahoochee River and is surrounded by awesome sites like Anna Ruby Falls, Unicoi State Park and Dukes Creek Falls.

Blue Ridge and Hiawassee are two of my favorite North Georgia towns. Both have nice-enough downtowns, good restaurants, and are surrounded by fat mountains. But what they also have are incredible lakes. Lake Blue Ridge and Chatuge Lake are surrounded by mountains, have clear water and whisper serenity.

That said though, if I’m talking about North Georgia lakes, I have no choice but to mention Lake Burton. As far as beauty and serenity goes, it has both Chatuge and Blue Ridge beat. Located just west of Clayton, it is also lined with some of the most expensive real estate in the state. Many famous people have houses there including Nick Saban and country music star Alan Jackson, and houses go easily for $2M to $5M. I spent part of a summer in college working at Camp High Harbour, which long ago secured a prime spot on the lake. The owner of Waffle House had just bought the small mountain next to the camp and was in the process of blasting off the top of it so he could have 10 flat acres. I bet it’s interesting walking around the grocery store on the weekends there these days.

In Georgia, there are countless day hikes, waterfalls, small lakes and small towns. Oh – and canyons. Right. Cloudland Canyon is one of our recent finds. It is awesome and is about a 20-minute drive from Chattanooga, TN. Last time we went we camped there and drove into the city for dinner. It was fantastic.

Bottom line is, it’s that time of year again. Do yourself a favor: just pick a spot and go.

New Construction at Pre-Recession Levels

Inventory Still Historically Low

Courtesy of Smart Real Estate Data

By Geoff Smith

For the first time, new home construction closing numbers are competing with pre-recession levels. And it’s nowhere near enough.

According to numbers just released from Smart Real Estate Data, there was an estimated 5,566 new construction closings in the 2nd quarter of this year, and 10,182 closings in the first half of this year. These numbers are similar to numbers posted in the first half of 2008, which was right before the collapse.

And this trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In the 2nd quarter, 7,110 new home permits were issued – the most permits issued for a quarter since 3rd quarter of 2007. So clearly with all of this new construction going on, we must be flush with new homes on the market. Right? Wrong.

In most markets, it is hard to find and buy a house. Housing inventory is measured by the numbers of months it would take to sell out all existing listings with no new listings coming to market. Most experts agree that a healthy market is with 6 months of supply. At that mark, home values are increasing at a safe pace. With too much inventory, sellers are competing for limited buyers and home values can actually start to drop. With too little inventory, buyers are competing for limited houses and home values rise too fast. Right now, inventory is historically low at an average 3.29 months. It’s the lowest level since they’ve been recording this type of data. And that number is trending downward. Inventory averaged 3.63 months the same time last year.

And in keeping with the laws of supply and demand, the invisible hand has pushed home prices up an average of 5.6% over the last year. In some markets its less than that, and in others it’s much more.

You might think that since new construction pace is back to pre-recession levels, and inventory is still low, then resales are probably down. You might think that, but you’d be wrong. In the 2nd quarter of this year, the metro area set an all-time record for the most resale closings in a quarter with 25,992 closings. So why is inventory so low then?

Here is why: we are adding more new homebuyers to the market than homes being built. Over the last three years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the metro area’s population has grown by an average of just over 20,000 people per quarter, or about 7,000 people a month. Not all of those people need a home as families are included in those numbers, but add to those numbers the amount of first time homebuyers trying to move out of their parents’ basements and you have more new homebuyers than new homes coming to market. And this trend doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon. So that is leaving the door open for other types of housing to grow.

“All around Atlanta’s core are apartment buildings going up left-and-right,” said Mitchel Palm, Senior Associate with Smart Real Estate Data. “That is where a lot of these people moving to Atlanta are residing.”

Homebuilders are trying to do their part, but Palm says a lack of affordable, developable land, inflation on building materials, and a lack of skilled labor are sucking the wind out of their sails.

An interesting point that stuck out to me is that we are nearing peak levels of new residential construction, but our inventory is shrinking. The metro area has become massive. We are operating in much deeper waters than we were just 9 years ago. The city’s success is attracting people from all over the world.

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