In Evans, 'The Perfect Storm' Is Brewing

"Perfect storm" is not something planners and consultants typically say at public meetings. But in Evans, Georgia, all the right factors are coming together for a new downtown center for the seat of Columbia County.

Evans, a community of 35,000, is a suburb of the Augusta metro area located on the North side of Interstate 20 near the Georgia-South Carolina state line. Since 2010, Evans has experienced 21% growth in population and is projected to grow by another 9% in the next five years--the Evans Towne Center plan is the County's strategy to prepare for that growth and shape its future.

A draft plan for Evans Towne Center. Courtesy of WRDW (wrdw.com)

A draft plan for Evans Towne Center. Courtesy of WRDW (wrdw.com)

At a community meeting on the 14th, Columbia County planners unveiled four concepts based on the findings of the consulting team, made up of Bleakly Advisory Group, TSW, and Cranston Engineering Group. “Our consultants were tasked with a lofty goal," said Andrew Strickland, director of the Planning Services Division. "To look at the crystal ball, and really listen to what the community wants, to help us all envision what Evans Towne Center will be.”

The four concepts are all centered on the Evans Towne Center Park and the currently under construction Columbia County Arts Center, and combine a mix of uses, including over 900 residential units, 260,000 square feet of commercial space, and 365,000 square feet of office space.

Computer-generated flyover of what the completed Evans Towne Center will look like when the Columbia County Performing Arts Center is completed. (video courtesy of TSW Design)

Gelber and Bleakly Advisory conducted demographic and market analyses of the area within a 3-mile boundary of Evans Towne Center to provide insights on the mix and amounts of space for various uses, and the findings were favorable for development. With higher incomes, growing population, and strong regional employment growth, Bleakly Advisory found that the demand for denser, mixed-use, walkable development was apparent and the feedback gathered from the community session will better inform final decisions. "I've got to say, in the 20, 25 years I've been doing this, I've never worked on a job where there are more conditions all pushing in the same direction to have something absolutely wonderful happen," Gelber told the Augusta Chronicle.

Bleakly Advisory joins academics, planners at 6th Annual Atlanta Studies Symposium

Bleakly Advisory Group's Jonathan Gelber joined a panel discussion hosted by the Douglas C. Allen Institute at the Sixth Annual Atlanta Studies Symposium, "Atlanta: City + Region," held at Emory University's Woodruff Library on April 20th, 2018. In addition to Jonathan, the panel, titled "Urban Form in Gwinnett County: Evolution or Revolution?", included Gateway85 CID's Executive Director, Marsha Anderson Bomar, Jerry Miller of Fabric Developers, and was moderated by Doug Allen Institute board member and Central Atlanta Progress Vice President of Planning and Economic Development, Jennifer Ball. While Marsha discussed the evolving nature of the Jimmy Carter Boulevard corridor and Jerry discussed town center development in Duluth and other parts of urbanizing Gwinnett, Jonathan discussed the challenges and external factors at play in suburban redevelopment.

Jonathan discussing the difficulties of redeveloping large tracts typical of Gwinnett County.

Jonathan discussing the difficulties of redeveloping large tracts typical of Gwinnett County.

The Symposium also featured Ellen Dunham-Jones, Director of Georgia Tech's Master of Science of Urban Design program as well as long-time friend and colleague of Bleakly Advisory Group, for the Cliff Kuhn Memorial Keynote Lecture. For a full look back on the Symposium, click here.

Bleakly Advisory Group Data Helps Direct Gwinnett 2040 Unified Plan

Gwinnett County is developing a Unified Plan for 2040 to prepare for the enormous population growth projected in the county. In the next 22 years, Gwinnett's population will swell to approximately 1.5 million residents, making it the most populous county in Georgia. The Unified Plan grapples with how the County will accommodate all of those people in the diverse communities and cities in Gwinnett. Data gathered by Pond and the Bleakly Advisory Group showed stark differences in opinions about the future of the County, whether it should take a more urban form or preserve its traditional rural roots--32% in favor or urbanizing while 63% prefer Gwinnett's current suburban model.

The Unified Plan is also being framed as a guide for how to handle the County's shifting economic and employment base. Data compiled by Bleakly Advisory Group showed that while the Northern part of Gwinnett County saw employment grow nearly 20% over its pre-Recession peak, Southwestern Gwinnett's employment lagged 16.5% behind pre-Recession peaks. The industries with greatest projected growth in the County are Construction, Educational Services, Health Care and Social Assistance, and Public Administration.

Source: Atlanta Regional Commission, Bleakly Advisory Group.

Source: Atlanta Regional Commission, Bleakly Advisory Group.

Retail Trade, the County's largest sector by far in 2015 with over 51,000 jobs, is projected to grow much more slowly over the next 22 years than it has historically, a sign of the changing retail landscape in Gwinnett and across the US. "We have incredible parts of our county, but we've really kind of gone all in on retail in some communities," said Pond Senior Project Manager Eric Lusher. "We're probably going to have to make some hard decisions about the Mall of Georgia area."

To read more about Gwinnett's 2040 Unified Plan, click here.

Bleakly Advisory Provides Key Insights for Atlanta Affordability Task Force

CLICK HERE for Geoff Koski's June 6 Housing Forum Presentation

At a recent meeting of the Atlanta Regional Housing Task Force, Urban Land Institute (ULI) Atlanta's Executive Director, Sarah Kirsch, shared insights and results of research on Atlanta's growing housing affordability needs. The research, conducted by Bleakly Advisory Group, highlights the increasing demand for affordable, workforce housing in not just the City of Atlanta, but across the region. It also illustrates the stagnation in incomes compared to the prices of new homes and rental properties, with median income increasing only 1% per year from 2010 to 2015 while new homes jumped 3.7% year over year. Simultaneously, apartments built before 2012 increased by 4.5% per year, but apartments built since 2012 surged 9.5% year over year. According to our research, only 10% of new apartments in the five-county study area (Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, and Cobb) are considered affordable for a household earning 80% AMI (annual median income), renting for $1,000 or less per month.

Rents in Metro Atlanta, particularly in new rental stock, have risen steadily since 2013. Source: Bleakly Advisory Group.

Rents in Metro Atlanta, particularly in new rental stock, have risen steadily since 2013. Source: Bleakly Advisory Group.

Bleakly Advisory's research also shows how affordable housing is connected to transportation costs, noting that moderate income households in the region spend 62% of their income on housing and transportation combined. As affordable housing options are increasingly located further away from economic centers in the region, transportation costs and commute times climb. Per the ULI report: "Lack of transit access to job centers means long, expensive commutes, which drive up transportation costs for moderate income working households and increases congestion and commute times for everyone." Further strategies for increasing housing affordability in the Atlanta region need to include alternative transportation and denser development around transit, as Bleakly Advisory Group reported in 2012, if affordability efforts are to succeed.

Demand for affordable housing is high now, but will only continue to grow. Source: Bleakly Advisory Group.

Demand for affordable housing is high now, but will only continue to grow. Source: Bleakly Advisory Group.

There are many strategies for mitigating rising housing costs, including Inclusionary Zoning, which the Atlanta City Council adopted early in 2018 for neighborhoods within half a mile of the Atlanta BeltLine and on the city's Westside. Councilmember Andre Dickens is optimistic that new policies will emerge across the region. "Housing challenges are regional, and when we create a policy in the City of Atlanta, we want to be able to share it across the region. ARC is helping us do that."

Other strategies in our research include affordable unit subsidies, down payment assistance, tax-allocation districts (TAD's) specifically to support affordable housing funds, and bond programs for affordable housing production in the region's five core-counties. To read more about our research and estimated costs of these strategies, click here.

Geoff Koski & Ken Bleakly Join Consultants, Design Professionals in Brunswick for CNU Charrette

Bleakly Advisory Group's President, Geoff Koski, and founder, Ken Bleakly, participated in workshops in Brunswick, GA at the beginning of March hosted by the City of Brunswick and the Congress for the New Urbanism. The workshops engaged Brunswick residents about the challenges and potentials for revitalizing the Norwich Street corridor, and gave context to recommendations by the consulting team.

Map of the proposed nodes of focus from the charrette. Source: CNU Savannah.

Map of the proposed nodes of focus from the charrette. Source: CNU Savannah.

These recommendations focused on adding more affordable housing along the corridor, repurposing existing vacant structures, and identifying commercial spaces where businesses could potentially prosper. Unifying all of these recommendations is a re-design of Norwich Street to add more trees, connected sidewalks, and a separated cycle-track. This new cycling and pedestrian infrastructure would better link Downtown Brunswick to the College of Coastal Georgia to the North and Selden Park to the Northwest, crucial connections for successful revitalization downtown.

Potential road re-design for Norwich Street. Source: CNU Savannah.

Potential road re-design for Norwich Street. Source: CNU Savannah.

Conceptual drawing of a re-designed Norwich Street. Source: CNU Savannah.

Conceptual drawing of a re-designed Norwich Street. Source: CNU Savannah.

In addition to CNU and the Bleakly Advisory Group, the consulting team consisted of Kronberg Wall Architects and the Georgia Conservancy from Atlanta, and Symbiocity, a Savannah-based firm, among others. CNU Conducts these workshops each year in advance of its annual Congress, held this year in Savannah. Bleakly Advisory Group received a coveted Charter Award last year at CNU 25 in Seattle for our work on the Westside Land-Use Action Plan. CNU 26 in Savannah will run from May 16th-19th.

Welcoming Sara Patenaude

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We are happy to welcome Sara Patenaude as the newest member of the Bleakly Advisory Group. Sara has been working with us on a part-time basis since August of 2017.

Prior to joining with Bleakly, Sara was an Economic Development Specialist with the City of Hapeville, where she gained experience with municipal affairs, budgetary analysis, research, and public involvement. 

Sara earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and English from Northern Kentucky University before earning her Master's in History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She then was selected as an Urban Fellow with the Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth at the Georgia State University College of Law. Sara is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Georgia State University, where she is in the final stages of a dissertation analyzing public housing planning, policy, and implementation in twentieth-century Baltimore.  She is also earning a graduate certificate in Planning and Economic Development through GSU’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. 

Sara’s background and skill set is both broad and focused in just the right areas to for her to fit in perfectly as part of the Bleakly Advisory Team. We are glad she is here.