More Info on “Paces Clairemont” Development, Commerce Drive Road Diet Part of Project

paces clairemont

Among the items on the agenda for tonight’s City Commission meeting is voting on a subdivision of 160 Clairemont Ave so that Paces Properties can build their planned mixed use development on the current Fidelity Building parking lot in downtown Decatur.

Here’s a recent description of the project from the developer from the staff report

PACES CLAIREMONT is a 176 unit apartment development proposed by Paces Properties at 160 Clairemont Avenue in Decatur, Georgia. Paces Clairemont will be a five story luxury apartment building with predominate frontage along Commerce Drive and Montgomery Street Paces Clairemont includes a ground level leasing office and a resident fitness center and clubroom as well as a number of residential units. Many of the ground floor units will have brownstone stoop entrances directly onto the street frontage. The building is built out to the sidewalk line and it wraps around an enclosed central courtyard area which will offer residents outdoor green space as well as an elegant swimming pool.

Parking for the residential units and the adjacent office building (aka Fidelity Bank building) will be provided by a seven level parking structure (1 level below grade) containing 523 total parking spaces (298 for office /225 for apartments). Paces Clairemont wraps around the parking deck, thereby screening on two sides and minimizing the exposed portions, which are internally-facing, to locations that are not readily visible from adjoining streets. Vehicular access to the parking deck is from shared curb cuts off Commerce and an internal alley leading to Montgomery Street. Sidewalks with street trees and light poles line the entire face of the building.

Additionally, this quote from the Planning Commission minutes indicates that the Commerce Drive road diet, which was one component of the larger C-Streets Ped-Bike Improvement plan is now in-line to be implemented.

She [Planning Director Amanda Thompson] stated that as part of the project Commerce Drive would receive a road diet and bicycle lanes to match the streetscape in front of Allen Wilson Terrace.”

Very low-res rendering courtesy of Staff Report

67 thoughts on “More Info on “Paces Clairemont” Development, Commerce Drive Road Diet Part of Project”

  1. This project will be another contribution to the cayonization of downtown Decatur, with high-rise structures built right out to the sidewalk line and no perspective, with greenery, to soften the impact of undistinguished architectural creations. But, apparently, this is what city elders, eager for more money and more power under their control, believe in the best interest of the community. They have no aesthetic sense.

    1. Please tell me how the current asphalt parking lot is better than the proposed development. It doesn’t appear to be going up on any greenspace as far as I can see.

    2. Yes, suburban style development with buildings set back far from the sidewalk is all the rage – at least it was back in the1950s and 1960s.

    3. I just returned from a trip to Amsterdam. Walkable, bikeable, dense and more than anything else, liveable.

      I can hear it now….”Decatur, the Amsterdam of the South.”

  2. What people consider aesthetically appealing may change over time, but proportion, balance, and perspective are some aspects that are ageless in architecture and urban design.

    1. Penelope – these are the types of buildings, in terms of scale and street interaction, that world-class cities have been putting down for centuries. This is not high-rise – it’s mid-rise.

      Pick any city worth its salt, let’s just use Barcelona for example. Use Google Earth to look at its development pattern. You’ll see buildings that are mid-rise and built out to the street on a vast majority of its city blocks. This is good urbanism. What you are calling for would be typical suburbanism. You could zoom out to Alpharetta office parks to find examples of those.

      And, yes, this is exactly the type of development that we, as a city, have been desirous of, on our seas of asphalt, since the early 1980s – reaffirmed at least twice with two strategic plan updates.

    2. So true – look at the eternal city of Paris – the city of light. It is widely praised as the ultimate proof of the value of urban planning.

      What is the defining characteristic of Paris’s urban plan? Wide boulevards bordered by 5-8 story mid-rise buildings with strategically placed green space.

      Ignoring aesthetics (which are sensitive to evolving architectural and developer fashion), how does this development violate the ageless lesson of Paris?

    3. It seems to me the locations being remade are going to look much better, and, more importantly, be more functional from a pedestrian standpoint. I don’t really understand Penelope’s argument.

  3. “Road diet.” Interesting euphemism for the simple concept of lane removal. Turning left from my driveway onto Church Street has been an adventure since that diet. Maybe the relative calmness of traffic on Commerce will make a diet there less noticeable. Maybe people who make the daily transition to Clairemont can weigh in. After this diet I wonder if people driving in from the north will just follow Church down to Ponce and turn at Leon’s. Or maybe start cutting through Great Lakes or down Glendale like I do on my bicycle to avoid the more heavily traveled roads. I’m sure there must be a study about the impact of removing lanes from Commerce and what that might do to surrounding streets. With luck it will decrease traffic on Church so I can turn left during rush hours again.

    1. “Road Diet” certainly is an interesting thing to see listed as a condition of this plan, being as how the public input process for the C-Streets Plan isn’t over. We were assured of another meeting to see new concepts drawings after input was given at the City’s 2012 Workshop. What happened to that? Or is the City not even bothering with stuff like that anymore?

      Walter M, I’m with you that removing travel lanes on Commerce Dr isn’t the way to go. The pedestrian crossings most definitely need safety upgrades and sidewalks enhancements should happen, but we need to keep Commerce Dr as the main option for through traffic and keep downtown’s interior streets pedestrian and bicyclist friendly. Sometimes it seems like these things just get too precious for bragging rights’ sake.

    2. Lane removal seems to me a recipe for eventually driving more people away from the downtown. Its already gotten significantly more congested since converting Ponce near Scott and Commerce near Howard. Is that really what businesses want? I wonder if anyone could do a calculation of how much asphalt is now committed to bikes as a function of actual usage by bikes. It wouldn’t be pretty.

      1. I would posit that IF Ponce has gotten more congested, and I haven’t seen the study to prove that, it is because we now have more businesses that are more successful – particularly restaurants – than we’ve ever had before. That is, this traffic is a good thing.

        So that might answer your question. We’ve put roads on diets and our downtown looks better than ever AND is arguably more busy and successful than it’s been since at least before MARTA tore through town. Now, let’s all remember correlation is not causation. So have the road diets and bike lines caused businesses to thrive? I won’t make that leap, but nor should you make the leap that road diets and bike lines themselves will hurt businesses.

  4. I live on Church and have an awful time turning left to head to work myself each morning. I’m not sure that taking away a lane on Commerce is going to do anything but back traffic up even more than it is now. Isn’t the point of having Commerce is so that people don’t drive on Ponce through Downtown?

    1. If one looks at the K-3 map rezoning map last month with all the dots representing kids, nearly any arbitrarily chosen street or block in Oakhurst had more kids than all the existing condos on Ponce put together. Yes this could change, but the current demographic argues that these apartments won’t cater strongly to families.

      When the developer presented at the Artisan, it was shown that the 2BR units (25%) were just over 1000sf, and had a floor plan more designed for 2 roommates than a family. The developer was clear that single professionals and young(er?) couples were their target market.

  5. Schools? Shouldn’t be impacted….

    Isn’t that why we are building apts and not houses/condos. Drive the average age of Decatur down? Hipsters instead of Hippies?

    Lots of good things happening down the Clairemont corridor. Now to get rid of the Bank of America eye sore…

    1. Do I get to choose between hippies and hipsters? That’s like choosing which testicle to crush.

  6. I am not going to reply to your Paris/Barcelona theme (somehow I missed the prevailing wind that those cities are our ideal and I haven’t seen any wide boulevards with strategically placed green spaces in the plans), but I wish to point out that much of downtown Decatur is already ugly. If a person stands on the roof of The Artisan at the corner of W. Ponce and Commerce, he/she will see parking decks in all directions. I will wager doughnuts to dollars that more than half of the space of downtown Decatur is a parking deck. Some, such as the courthouse parking deck, look as though they have a hundred years of mildew on them. Now, in all directions from that point—W. Ponce and Commerce—more large parking sites are planned for construction. I would rather see asphalt than a building. At least one can stand in the middle of the space, swing one’s arms and look around. Its only sin: it doesn’t bring in money to Decatur businesses or taxes to city coffers. P.S. It won’t aggravate the increasing traffic problems, either.

    1. I’ll take either Paris or Barcelona over Alpharetta, which is where your aesthetic ideal would seem to lead us. And we’d still need parking, for which an eyesore of a deck still seems preferable to the eyesore of large swaths of parking spaces. If you’d rather just stop development altogether and keep things exactly as they are, I’d think you’re in a very small minority.

    2. I’d rather see a parking deck than an asphault lot any day, especially decks that will at least be half wrapped by building. But I agree, the decks we have could use some beautification. Maybe a DBA project could be a contest for low cost proposals to help spruce up the parking decks- planters w/ low impact vines for greenery additions, murals, or even the simple power-wash…

      1. I know some neighbors on Fairview and Ponce got some concessions out of the developer of the West Ponce apartments/retail going in now. Were there any items that helped make the parking deck for that development more eye appealing?

      2. The County Courthouse parking deck is the one that so badly needs spiffing up. It LOOKS dangerous, whether or not it actually is. Would the County let non-County folks come spiff it up? Unfortunately, more lighting is what it needs the most and that would be expensive. But even a power wash would help. A little color, e.g. color coded stairwells, would improve the ambience as well.

              1. So let’s go rent some power washers at Home Depot and guerrilla beautify!

                Sneak in at night, all in balaclavas and whatnot…

    3. Penelope – 99.99% of Decatur citizens will never have cause to stand on the roof of the Artisan parking deck. I don’t think we should be building a city to meet the aesthetic pleasure from that vantage point. However, we do like to walk around on the streets and sidewalks of our little town. Urban walking becomes a more pleasant experience when the buildings are up close to the street and we have interesting things to look at – that is, the buildings that frame the streets are “active” and provide a bit of visual texture to our walk. We have parks to frolic in and look at trees. We have a downtown to provide places to live and work and shop and stroll and interact. This block is in a downtown setting and should be active and useful, yes, possibly for commerce. That’s what downtown blocks are for.

    4. Rather than stand on the roof deck of one of those dreaded high rise buildings, maybe you’d rather stand in the middle of sea of asphalt like the ones that used to adorn downtown, like the site of the Artisan, the site of Town Square, the site of the Renaissance, the site of 335 W Ponce, the site of the SunTrust bank. You have a lot of complaints about what’s happening, but I haven’t seen you offer a better plan.

  7. I mean seriously, would we rather stare at 523 cars parked in a space-wasting lot? Her comments make no sense, unless, perhaps, the real objection is to density?

    1. well, like, that’s just your opinion, man. obviously you don’t value swinging your arms and looking around, much less throwing your hands in the aiyah like you’s a true playah.

      your loss.

  8. My plan is “think smaller.” I am not anti-development, anti-capitalism, or anti-social. I believe that it is short-sighted and contrary to the maintenance of a desirable local environment for the City of Decatur to be encouraging and to be approving large, expansive projects involving hundreds of apartments and/or apartments/condos/mixed use buildings that will increase the population downtown substantially and fuel the growing congestion on the streets. It appears that, as I suspected long ago, those vanity plates with the Decatur logo of church, school, and home really are obsolete because what matters is transforming Decatur from a small hometown into a smart close-in bedroom community of transient residents. It will be good for business, but not for a sense of community. Is big really better?

    1. I think a lot of the people who will fill the coming apartments, condos and townhomes are those who are looking for that sense of community. I know I was a renter first in Decatur, then a homeowner… Decatur presents all kinds of opportunities to get involved- just because we might be growing in numbers doesn’t mean we’ll be dropping that sense of community.

    2. Penelope – You are right, we are a small town. We currently rely heavily on residential taxes to support us. We are in a major discussion regarding annexation because the need is great to relieve the tax burden of homeowners by getting more commercial property onto our tax roles. I would assume, based on your comment, that you would be against annexation? Good, we might agree there. But the only way to increase our commercial property tax digest is to grow the amount of commercial space in our commercial area. You can think smaller all you want, but living in a desirable urban portion of one of the nation’s largest urban areas, that sort of thinking may not be feasible. It’s just not realistic. What is real? Either we grow our commercial tax base downtown to possibly avoid large-scale annexations, or we annex all sorts of places around us and Decatur ceases to be the Decatur we’ve known. This is a piece of land that is destined to get developed. It will help the urban environment and our city’s financial health if it is “bigger” as has been proposed. In this case, yes, bigger is better.

      1. If Brianc’s remark about smokescreen is addressed to me, it was no smokescreen, but an integral part of the conversation.

    3. Apartments, condos and townhomes are also more affordable for the folks who serve our community, e.g. city workers and teachers. Also the elderly. That’s something that was valued by the participants in the strategic planning process.

      1. +1000! Decatur offers very little in affordable living spaces for the people that make our city government and our schools what they are. Additionally, speaking from personal experience, bringing in renters is a good thing, as they will see all that is great about the city, and potentially become homeowners. We would not currently be Decatur homeowners if we didn’t *happen* into a Decatur rental after our first choice elsewhere fell through.

  9. If annexation and expanding the tax base by getting more commercial property on tax rolls are so important now, how has Decatur survived so long without these sources of funds? Perhaps the budget is skewed toward non-productive social service ends.

    1. I don’t think City of Decatur has a social services department. Social services seem to be at the county or state level.

      1. I didn’t say “social services department.” I was attempting to be more charitably vague, although I know it will get me in a lot of trouble.

        1. Well, I don’t know what you were getting at with your “charitably vague”ness, but part of the deal is that our state has run an austerity program on the backs of our schools. Thus, the local districts are responsible for much more of the education bill and, in a place like Decatur that is skewed toward residential, that burden ultimately hits us homeowners. So the world is different than it has been because, yes, change is inevitable. Increasing commercial tax base in our COMMERCIAL AREAS not only is just common sense, it is also achieves the goal of giving residential property owners here some relief.

        2. Vague? Nah. “non-productive social service ends” was sufficiently clear to understand what you mean. So sorry your little city is being ruined by big buildings, parking decks and yuppies in addition to those people who might need “social services”.

        3. What DID you mean by social service? To me, social services are things like WIC, food stamps, child protection, refugee services, etc

          1. “non-productive social services” sounds like Ayn Rand-speak for “helping the poors not die”.

  10. I have been enjoying this conversation and it doesn’t bother me a bit to have participants casting aspersions on my intentions and motives. In this land of liberty where one doesn’t have to use a nom de plume to speak forthrightly, I value free speech more than popularity. I appreciate the different opinions expressed and take them seriously. Thank you for making my day.

    1. this comment is the message board equivalent of a reality show contestant declaring that they’re “not here to make friends”

  11. Regarding aesthetics, congestion via lane removal, etc., may I propose something different? Leave Commerce as-is, since it does serve as a main corridor and ring road for the city, and turn Ponce between the two ends of Commerce into a pedestrian zone. You can still get around Decatur via Trinity and Commerce, including accessing the underutilized city parking deck. Clairemont and Church serve as local access roads ending at or before Ponce (Maybe Church south of Ponce ends at Sycamore?) so you can still access the various parking lots. Ponce becomes a popular extension of the pedestrian square, easily accessed by foot, bicycle, or the Marta; you can even plant some more trees on it to make it “prettier”, stress due to traffic congestion is removed, and the atmosphere encourages more businesses and social engagement for all of those new apartment dwellers.

    It’s basically die Zeil in Frankfurt am Main, a 1km+ pedestrian zone with shopping galore, apartments, restaurants, cafes, farmers markets, festivals, you name it. It keeps growing, look at Google Maps. When I was a kid, they still allowed traffic to cut through on some roads, however, they’ve been closing more off over the last 15-20 years to extend it further due to its popularity, especially as more public transit options are added. You can still access the main city parking decks and walk from there or drive around it. Just food for thought. Here are a couple photos for those still reading:

      1. Or look closer to home. Emory did this on their campus and significantly improved its appearance and walkability without unduly burdening the traffic that now drives around, rather than through, the center of it.

      2. Also, State Street in Madison, Wisconsin between the University and the Capitol. Pedestrians, bikes, and busses are allowed there.

      3. Has worked fantastically for years in Burlington, Vermont. There’s a lot of similarities between Decatur and Burlington, maybe not enough.

    1. Noooo. Can we please put this pedestrian zone idea to rest?!?! This is a tired idea that has proven unsuccessful over the past 4 decades. 85 percent of the over 200 pedestrian malls once in existence in America’s downtowns were failures and eventually reopened. (Google this truism: “In most cases pedestrian malls in North America have
      experienced negative economic results from the original conversion.”). They work on college campuses and in tourist-only zones. They don’t work in this type of situation. You choke off demand to businesses. At best, you turn the place into Disneyland – but that would only happen if it worked, which it wouldn’t.

      They were all the rage in the 1970s and 1980s in America when we were searching for ways for downtowns to compete with suburban malls. This idea was a failure. The key is to build our cities so that we find the right mix for people and cars. There is a different sweet spot for every place. All or nothing (for cars or for people) is rarely the answer. We may need tweaks to our current arrangement, but a pedestrian mall is not the answer. We only have to look at the historical evidence for proof.

      1. I agree with Geoff. Plus we already have a pedestrian “street” – Sycamore in front of Cakes and Ale, Square Pub, etc. One is plenty.

      2. I googled your reference and some other things. Honestly, the scenarios are apples to oranges:

        Suburban flight and the interstates emptied the U.S.’ city cores from the 60’s through the 80’s. Crime increased and a general downward trend began. The pedestrian mall craze then attempted to attract suburban dwellers by mimicking suburban shopping malls. Some reasons they were flawed:
        a) People had an overall aversion to cities
        b) Modern rail transit for MANY cities was in its infancy or non-existent, people don’t want to ride the bus and were happy to believe that cars answered everything.
        c) The cities didn’t follow through on completing the projects, i.e. funding and encouraging residential units and a variety of activities (festivals, farmers markets, etc.) that help build a feeling of community and building the proper transportation infrastructure (even including parking garages). During that time, cities and developers were also more than happy to tear down anything old. Regardless of their efforts, without adequate city residents, virtually nothing would have prevented this decline.

        On the other hand:
        a) People increasingly want to live in cities now.
        b) Millennials have shown they’re open to (and are pushing for) multiple transit options, not just a car vs. walk mentality. More bike lanes are coming; Marta rail increased 1.1% in Q4 2013.
        c) Multiple planned apartment projects will ensure downtown grows, creating more demand.

        You won’t lose your ability to drive, but it will create a better sense of community for downtown residents…

        In the article about most failing back then, a study commissioned in Memphis states: “Among the keys to a successful mall, the study concluded, are a varied mix of active uses and activities; a large population of “captive” users (such as downtown residents and workers); efficient public transit; strong anchors that draw pedestrians (popular stores and restaurants, for example); centralized, coordinated retail management; and a nearby college.” Sounds familiar.

        1. You think people complain about traffic now, try cutting off one of the city’s three east/west corridors (the other two being Commerce and Trinity) north of the tracks. That volume, at least for the foreseeable future, needs to go somewhere.

          In contrast, Decatur’s transportation plan prioritizes an increase in our number of street connections and the development of a network with more choices and, thus, greater capacity. Severing key connections is one of the worst mistakes a city can make unless they’re blessed, in abundance, with certain key attributes (some of which are included within the Chinese menu list you mention).

          I agree that Decatur shows signs of moving towards a day when such a dramatic change might be viable but we’re nowhere near there yet. Geoff is right. Our city’s success has been rooted in a restoration of proven historical models of form and development, not emulating failed endeavors from the 70s and 80s. We made our own silly mistakes during that period (severing all the connections around the square, for instance) and they killed downtown for a couple decades.

        2. Dig deeper. We don’t have near large enough downtown population of workers or residents, we have a lot of great independent restaurants, but no true anchor and certainly no anchor retail and the college nearby (ASC) has far too few on campus students to move the needle – and Emory is too far to impact this. Compare our #’s to where these things are successful. I am an urban advocate, I despise the auto-centric built environment. But a pedestrian mall is just not feasible here. A successful American urban/pedestrian environment mixes uses and finds a place for cars, while de-emphasizing them in the traffic hierarchy, but not shutting them out all together. I agree that we should expand the pedestrian/bike infrastructure – maybe even get rid of some of the parking around the Old Courthouse. But we can’t close Ponce to cars – it’s just not smart.

          1. What about just reducing the number and slowing down the cars on Ponce? More crosswalks, longer lights for pedestrians, things that might discourage people from using Ponce to drive through Decatur? I agree with you that making it a pedestrian plaza is not feasible (as much as I would like it personally), but I do think we could continue to make Ponce more pedestrian friendly.

              1. Look, I get it. It isn’t popular, so be it. Not a peep more after this. Creating congestion isn’t the goal (though it will continue to increase here until people seek alternatives). Just remember that car-centric people are like the tree people in that they’re impossible to satisfy; appeasing them isn’t always the answer. Good luck with the road diet on Commerce.

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