Questions to consider

As I wonder about how we will grow as we come out of the Great Recession, I wonder who is right.  Many will tell you that the suburbs and exurbs are dead because intown areas of large metro cities are experiencing tremebetween 184 + Paul propertyndous growth.  Others will tell you that the suburbs and exurbs are actually adding more total numbers in terms of population.  I think they are both right.  I think both statements are true but I also think that the growth in the suburbs and exurbs will begin to look more like the higher density, mixed use developments seen in the larger cities.  This should lead to better communities that can cut down on miles driven.  Could this suburban site be transformed into a mixed use project.

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THANK YOU

I just wanted to say “thank you” to everyone that supported me, voted for me, and helped me on my campaign for Monroe City Council.  Although I did not win the position, it was close and I thoroughly enjoyed the race.  I am so very thankful for my wife Suzanne.  Without her support I would not have been able to run for City Council.  I now know when you see someone say that after a political race, it is so very true.  She endured many nights and weekends with me campaigning and she went with me on many occasions.

I enjoyed meeting the many people of Monroe and getting back in touch with some I have not seen in years.  It was also neat to meet people that told me my grandfather, while at The Farmer’s Bank, loaned them the money to buy the very house I was calling on.  This happened several times and I enjoyed hearing stories about my grandfather.

Moving forward I will try and keep up this blog better than I have.  Please make a comment on my posts or tell me about any commercial real estate topic you would like to discuss.

Good luck to Larry Bradley as he starts on the Monroe City Council and thank you to Cliff Peters for your years of service to the community on the Monroe City Council.

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2007 Monroe Market Analysis

Below is a pdf of the market analysis performed in the 2007 Livable Centers Initiative study.  There is great information in here that can be utilized to help promote downtown and all of Monroe.  You can find information on the demographics of Monroe, the housing of Monroe, and retail sales.  Find out where the target market of Monroe lives and find out what type of stores Monroe has demand for.

Market_Analysis_for_Monroe_LCI

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We can blend New Urbanism and Suburbanism.

I definitely think we can add elements of New Urbanism and Suburbanism to create a much more functional, pedestrian friendly, aesthetically pleasing and auto accomodating project.  This, in my opinion can be seen in many developments that have already been built.  The aerial in this post is of Vickery Village in Cumming, GA.  Cumming is a wealthy northern suburb of Atlanta, GA. 

Vickery was developed as a New Urbanism alternative in the suburban world of North Atlanta.  The developers, in my opinion, have done the best job of creating a project that has great looking buildings – commercial and residential.  They also have created an environment that is pedestrian friendly with great amenities.  If you look closely at the aerial you will notice that the town village that fronts on Post Rd. has parking in the front.  Not all of the parking is in the front – overflow parking, probably required by county regulations, is provided to the rear of the village.  However, there is ample parking in front of the village. 

In my opinion, this project has done the best job of creating a pedestrian friendly town center development that integrates the parking in the front.  Most businesses demand that parking be in the front for many reasons.  I could name the reasons but for a project to be successful you only need to know one – the tenants want some parking in the front.

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Is Suburban Development inherently bad?

My question is an honest one.  This subject of New Urbanism v/s Suburbanism seems to be as polarizing as the Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D. C.  In all of my experience the loudest voices seems to come from the extremes of both sides. 

In my experience, those that are passionate about New Urbanism do not seem to want to compromise and acknowledge that other suburban forms of development should be allowed.  I have heard that this will “water down” the new urbanism code and cause it to fail.  In this instance, failure has not been properly defined for me, but many seem to believe this to be true.  Usually I get the sense that failure is defined from an aesthetic or operational standpoint.   

On the other hand those that are passionate about Suburban development feel just as strongly that the type of development prevelant over the last 50 years is working and should not be tinkered with.  I have heard many of them state that more regulation is not what is needed and that New Urbanism projects should be an option that is chosen, not one mandated.  These individuals many times have not taken the time to try and understand new urbanism and seem to be against it more out of a fear of change than anything else. 

The people we don’t hear from alot are those like me.  I believe that new urbanism is a great type of develoment that should be allowed and allowed more easily with updated codes from local jurisdictions.  I also believe that suburban development should not be thrown out completely.  There are many suburban projects that have turned out nice and that people love to live in. 

If both sides are going to dig their heels in and not be willing to compromise then we will get what we have in Washington – a stalemate.

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East Village – 8/4/2011

 

One thing we are paying careful attention to in East Village is the design of the project.  We are in the process of designing and developing the Town Center in front of the government building.  We have 2 large office users contemplating locating here and we are in talks with some other office users and restaurants.  The further along we get the more I realize that proper planning is of the utmost concern.  To make the town center more aesthetically pleasing, we built a master detention pond to the bottom and right of the Walton County govt building.  We and the county worked together to do this because the county needed future detention expansion for thier future needs.  We came up with a plan to enlarge the county’s existing detention pond onto our property and this enlarged detention pond will serve the county building plus our entire town center.  Not only does this look better but it is a benefit to future residents of the town center because they will not have to build on site detention when they buy a site – the detenton has already been handled for them. 

Even at this early stage, there have been planning items we wish we could have done differently but overall we are pleased with the direction the project is moving. 

www.eastvillagemonroe.com

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Why do we like New Urbanism projects?

For me this is easy to say but harder to describe.  I just like the way a properly planned New Urbanism project feels better than the way a typical suburban project feels.  The descriptive words that I can use to tell you why I like it does not give a concrete dimension for how to create it.  Words or terms like nostalgic, small town atmosphere, quaint, safe, plenty of parks and open space, community all come to mind.  Although, most can read these terms and envision what it means to them, it is very difficult to quantify what they mean.  The smart code has attempted to do this by measuring the physical aspects of towns in this country that overwhemlingly are considered special places – like Charleston, SC, or Savannah, GA, etc.  The Smart Code has done the best job to quantify how to recreate this environment, however there is still some other intangible aspect that makes some great and some seem manufactured.  This intangible factor is the key to creating a project that makes you feel like the descriptive terms above. 

My wife, children, and I previously lived 2 blocks from downtown Monroe, GA in an historic Victorian house.  My wife would walk the kids through town in the stroller to go to the post office, get lunch and go to the hardware store, ice cream shop, etc.  We would regularly walk downtown to go out to dinner and go to the downtown concerts held on the historic courthouse lawn.  This is the re-creation that is being sought.  Re-creating this small town feel in a new project while also providing the additional amenities and services required by todays consumer.

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Why did we get the post war development?

Why did we get the type of development that occured after WWII?  There are theories that say our zoning that created seperation of land uses created it.  There are theories that the automobile and our reliance on it created it.  I think both of these theories are true but one thing we seem to forget is that we created the zoning laws that seperate uses.  We chose the convenience and freedom that the automobile has allowed. 

Zoning and our seperation of land uses came about after the industrial revolution when so many of the industries were very dirty and people did not want to live near them.  It then became the norm to seperate the uses because that is easier to write into a code than to create a mix of uses.  The car also made it possible for us to choose to seperate ourselves from our offices and other uses.  And choose we did to live where we wanted to so long as the commute to our jobs was deemed feasible.  Then logistics and economies of scale came in to play.  For example a large grocery store with many items serving a larger geographic area can sell its groceries for cheaper than the local smaller grocer.  And we chose to shop at these larger grocery stores to save money and the local grocer went out of business. 

Now there has been a resurgence in wanting to have mixed use projects that are similar to the small towns of this country in the 1950’s.  This is great and some of the projects that it has spawned are very cool.  My concern is – Should we do away with our present zoning all together for this New Urbanism type of development?  Today my answer to that is no we do not have the ability to do that today and all consumers would not go along with it. 

I know that some of what I have said are generalities and the entire country does not fit neat into generalities.  We have a local grocer in our town that has not only survived but done well.  The point I am trying to make is that we have no general solution to our growth problems.  New Urbanism is an important part of it.  Other forms of development are an important part of it as well.

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East Village beginnings

East Village is a mixed use development in Monroe, GA that is being developed on my family’s farm.  There have been a few additions since the aerial shown here but this is basically what the property looks like today.  As you can see in the lower left corner of the project sits a large building.  This is the new Walton County Govt building which anchors the planned town center.  This building is 186,000 sf and houses 90% of the County’s personnel to include the Commissioner’s office, Clerk of Courts, Judges chambers and courtrooms, Planning and Zoning, Tax Assessor’s office, Tax Commissioner’s office, etc.  This is the anchor and focal point of the town center.  There are about 250 + employees and an average of 700 people visit this building every weekday and the County has enough land to expand to double the size of the current building.  Additionally there is a master detention pond that serves the County building and the entire Town Center. 

This property has been in our family since 1944.  My grandfather had a dairy and row crop farm on this property until the 1970’s.  To see more about the history of the farm and about East Village please visit our website www.eastvillagemonroe.com

Our first business to locate in East Village was Tim Stewart Funeral Home – www.stewarfh.com.  We hope to have a large office user soon and are in talks with several restaurants. 

 

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Success

One of Wikipedia’s definitions of success is “achievment of an objective/goal.

So if we want to know if a project is succesful whether it be New Urbanism or Suburbanism, we have to define first what the object/goal is. 

My observation about typical suburban development is that the only real object/goal is to make money.  Historically suburban developments appear to disregard any aesthetic value, pedestrian access, etc.  Only in the last 10 or 15 years have local residents realized they can make these projects at least look a little better by voicing thier concerns at zoning hearings.  However, to appease these concerns it appears many developers just add some screening, landscaping and brick to the projet.  These projects started out ugly but functional and they have become not as ugly but functional.  If a profit is the only object/goal then we will get ugly functional developments because increasing profitability occurs with higher revenue and lower expenses and the developer will save every penny he can with the least expensive materials and design. 

On the other hand, many new urbanist projects seem to have as the main or only goal to be aesthetically pleasing and walkable.  Many times you get the sense from new urbanist planners that if the project is walkable and looks great but looses money then it is a success.  That is not true.  A project needs to be profitable and designed well.  I have personally been to conferences that study new urbanism projects and in one conference in particular, we visited several new urbanism developments.  The conference leaders took us to a project and touted how great it was and showed how wonderful the design and layouts were.  They even had local residents come by and tell us what a great place it was to live.  The town center had artist studios, a coffee house, restaurants, and many ohter cool stores.  Finally, how the project was built came about.  It was next to a typical suburban style shopping center.  This was part of the original vacant tract of land that the developer sold off for a suburban shopping center to help finance his new urbanism project.  He started his new urbanist project while at the same time pitching one last piece of the suburban shopping center to a national retailer. For some reason we were not told, the national retailer decided not to purchase the last piece of the suburban shopping center and the developer ran out of money to continue with his new urbanism project.  The lender on the new urbanist project then foreclosed on the project and hired the delinquent developer to finish the project.  He ended up selling off the suburban tract and developed the rest of the project.  Now new urbanism conference’s hold this project up as a success.  It was not a financial success and that must be part of the equation.  FYI, this project was foreclosed on years before the Great Recession so it was not a bad economy that made it fail. 

My point here is that both sides of the design argument must compromise.  There are places where each type of development is warranted.

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