For the past 30 years, the leaders of Decatur, Ga., a city of 20,000 outside Atlanta and two miles from Emory University, have encouraged smart growth through a mix of single-family housing, condominiums, and retail and restaurants for a lively downtown. Rather than allow high-rises to sprout everywhere, former mayor Bill Floyd promoted a smaller-town feel.
“He wanted it to be a good place to live and work, have great schools, and be close to other Atlanta areas from the public transportation system,” says resident Conor McNally, also chief development officer at Carter, a locally based real estate development and investment firm.
Fill a Void
A five-acre parcel in Decatur with a 1960s office building offered a prime opportunity for Carter, with the site positioned just blocks from the main downtown square. An investor bought the office building and land three years ago and approached Carter about developing a multifamily component and shared parking deck.
“The office building occupied one acre; another acre would be for the parking deck; and the remaining three acres would go for residential housing,” McNally says.
The area hadn’t seen any apartment development since 1999.
Listen to Residents
The city simplified its zoning process to speed the site’s development. Because residents of Decatur are “vocal,” says architect Richard Kilpatrick of Atlanta-based Preston Partnership, public meetings were held to hear from residents before the plans were finalized for the two-phase project.
Place on Ponce’s first, smaller building has 28 units spread among five stories and 10,000 square feet of ground-level retail. It opened a year ago and leased up fully within six weeks. The development’s larger, key building opened last September and houses 206 units arranged in a stepped-back design to fit contextually on the street, which faces single-family homes. Amenities include a clubhouse, pool, gym, and courtyards. The property is 62% occupied.
Add Design Nuances
Because of its retail tenants, the smaller building was designed with glass so passersby can peer in. Brick, colorful cementitious paneling, and wood accents lend a modern vibe. The larger building has a more traditional façade, with red-and-beige brick plus similar cementitious paneling and wood, although its glass-walled corner leasing office repeats the smaller building’s use of glazing, for a contemporary touch. The large building’s ground-floor units mimic townhomes by opening directly to the street to fit with the single-family homes they face.
To be welcoming to the entire neighborhood, the architects installed lighting, benches, and street trees and worked with Trees Atlanta to save some rare redwoods.
All of Place on Ponce’s units have similar high-end finishes so that they could be converted to condos if the developer desired. Open plans extend the floor plans to the outdoors. The units range from a 696-square-foot, one-bedroom at $1,362 monthly to a 1,343-square-foot, three-bedroom for $3,350.
McNally is proud that his firm, with its expertise in high-density planning, made smart use of the site via shared parking. “It’s occupied by office workers by day and residents at night, which meant we could deliver fewer [parking] spaces,” he says.