Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Sustainable" development in Fulton County?

Metropolitan Atlanta is ground zero of suburban sprawl. Like in other suburban areas throughout North America, the denizens of Atlanta's suburbs have a love/hate relationship with sprawl. They get fed up with the traffic generated by sprawl, elect a governor with a strong regional planning agenda and then promptly dump him when he tries to implement significant policy change. Additionally, as Clark Atlanta University's Robert Bullard has argued, Atlanta's sprawl has the "convenient" side effect of spatially segregating the city's minority population, making it difficult for them to access economic opportunities.

Thus, anytime we hear about efforts in the Atlanta to quell sprawl and develop in a more "sustainable" manner we approach them with a dose of healthy skepticism.

Nevertheless, the Serenbe development in south Fulton County merits some attention. The New York Times recently described the genesis of Serenbe. It seems that local land owners partnered with the Nature Conservancy of Georgia to establish the Chattahoochee Hill Country Alliance which devised a master plan for over 40,000 acres of largely undeveloped land. The Alliance is promoting condensed development with the protection of significant parcels of greenspace. In order to quell land owners who count on selling their land to developers for a handsome profit, the Alliance persuaded the state legislature to adopt a streamlined "transfer of development" legislation that allows landowners to sell the development rights to their land.

Under the TDR scheme, Fulton County determined that certain undeveloped lands in the area of Serenbe would be eligible for the transfer of development rights. They have also determined that other areas of the county will be eligible for higher-density development.

When a landowner is ready to sell, in exchange for agreeing to protect their undeveloped land they are actually getting development credits that they can sell on the market to a developer in the zone where higher-density is allowed. The idea is that undeveloped land will be saved while higher density will be encouraged elsewhere.

Serenbe is designed in a high density fashion to maximize protected land and insure that areas around will not be subject to rampant development.

It is an interesting scheme, but whether it can be effective in quelling sprawl without significant regional planning is questionable. Nevertheless, there do appear to be some bloggers out there who were impressed enough with Serenbe to buy...