Both critics and supporters agree the development of Four A International’s 308-acre parcel could change the face of Conyers. But how that might play out is the question.
Conyers City Council is scheduled to vote on the matter July 17 when they decide whether to approve a rezoning request that will allow plans for the 1,400 unit s to move forward.
Critics contend there are unanswered questions of strains on the county’s sewage system, roads and schools and have voiced concerns over whether there’s a need for such a development in a community with an abundance of vacant stores and empty houses.
Supporters see the development as the cornerstone of a village-based look, designed to attract more affluent residents and foster community, and a unique opportunity to capture momentum for Conyers-Rockdale.
Four A representatives cite the developments of Clark’s Grove in Covington, Patrick Square in South Carolina, and Baxter Village in North Carolina as the type of place they’re aiming to build. Here’s a closer look at these places and how they stack up with Conyers' situation.
Owners of the largest undeveloped tract of land within the Conyers city limits have waited more than 30 years to pull the trigger on their investment. Rather than build a shopping center filled with big box stores, Four A is planning to create a 1,400 unit Traditional Neighborhood Development, or TND, on the 308 acres situated between Iris Drive, Johnson Road and Flat Shoals Road.
The city's planning department has worked with the company for years and is in favor of Four A building a TND under the stringent MXD zoning requirements, a pairing reflects a national development trend defined as the intersection of architecture, transportation, sustainability and land use.
Four A says there is a market demand for a TND, but questions have been raised about pricing, lot size and building phases, some of which the development team attempted to address during a public information session held in May.
Four A Development Director David Roper said at that meeting, "I have a high degree of confidence there are market opportunities, and we will be preparing to engage those once the zoning is approved."
According to Geoff Koski, a land use economist who is working as a consultant to Four A, this type of community is in high demand and low supply.
"The idea is that the first phase really sets the tone for the community, and retail follows rooftops," Koski said. More information can be found at newchoicesforconyers.com.
On Thursday, the Conyers-Rockdale Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of the Four A rezoning application. Commission members Jerry Shepperd, Allan Jones and Linda Carter voted against the proposed development while Karen Benton and Max McFarlin voted in favor and Chuck Russell abstained.
"I just feel there is not enough information considering all the time that has gone in to planning," Shepperd said following the vote. "It is still too ambiguous." Carter and Jones said they agree with the citizens who have voiced opposition based on what they feel is a lack of information provided by Four A. Benton and McFarlin said they are in agreement with the planning department’s recommendation to approve the project.
The request now goes to the City Council on Wednesday.
Situated less than a mile from downtown Covington and two miles from I-20, this neighborhood has built 80 residential units on 27 acres since breaking ground in 2000. The development has a total of 90 acres and a master plan that calls for 310 residential units ranging from apartments to live/work units to single family dwellings ranging from 1,200 square feet to over 3,000 square feet. Home prices range from $180,000 to $500,000-plus.
Clark’s Grove centers around the Montessori School of Covington, an Italian restaurant and a salon, and the community has a swimming pool, a playground, a wetlands Garden, walking trails, ball fields and parks within walking distance of the homes.
"I think it is an exemplary development that is serving as a model for how the rest of Newton County will hopefully be built out," Covington city planning director Randy Vinson. "It serves as a demonstration model for Newton, and it has shown there was a market for (it), and it is a pleasant environment to live in and raise a family."
Though Clark’s Grove is a much smaller TND than what Four A is proposing, the development pace has been set according to market demand and today there are only four homes and eight building lots for sale in the first phase. Phase II which already has empty lots and the necessary infrastructure for 90 homes, is awaiting construction when the market improves.
"For the price point that the houses were selling for, we were selling just as fast as any other development in Newton County," Vinson said of the development’s early years. "There is no new development or construction going on in Newton County, and we don’t foresee it happening until summer of 2014. We still have a list of foreclosures that are keeping prices down. No builder in their right mind would consider building new houses right now."
Located minutes from Clemson University in South Carolina, the Patrick Square development aims to build 415 residential units and a town center on173 acres that was once a dairy farm.
The project received zoning approval in 2007 for a mix of single-family homes, condominiums and live-work spaces, a town square with a chain grocery store and 62 acres set aside for green space. Developers twice returned to the drawing board to scale back due to the economic downturn. As of today there are 80 homes ranging in size from 1,600 square feet to over 4,000 square feet with prices starting at $290,000.
Patrick Square project manager Jason Armstrong said development of the town square has proved challenging. So far the only the town center consists of an adult education facility that was donated to Clemson University by the father of the project’s developer. Market reaction has led planners to scratch the idea of a chain grocery and instead seek more boutique-style retailers.
"We have seen our average sales price steadily increase," Armstrong said of the development this week. "There are a lot of paper and promises in the beginning. You have to be proactive in reaching out to the community and your neighbors."
Located as close to Charlotte, N.C., as the Four A development would be to Atlanta, Baxter Village is an example of TND success. Nearing a build-out of 1,475 residential units – each unit is sold before being built – Baxter Village has a 40-acre town center with 120 commercial units and 500 acres devoted to green space. This 1,033-acre development broke ground in 1998 on pastureland previously owned by a local family with a strict vision of how the land could be used.
Single family homes start at $290,000 and townhomes start at $180,000. The community includes an elementary school, a YMCA, a public library, urgent care center, day-care center and sheriff’s substation.
"We spent considerable time planning development to make sure it was economically sound and a net physical benefit for the area," developer James Traynor said.