Sandhill Farm – Suwanee Town Center

Last week Becky and I took a week and went to Georgia and Florida.  We drove down to Atlanta on Thanksgiving Day and spent that weekend with one of my best friends, Kim Whitten, who was also my secretary at my previous employer.  We spent the weekend with her family before going on to Florida and Key West.  We came back and stayed with them for the weekend on the return leg of our trip as well.  Even when I lived there, I referred to the area as Atlanta, but in reality, Kim lives in Suwanee, Georgia.  (Yeah, like the song.)

In touring around our old stomping grounds, we went to see Suwanee Town Center.  Rather than trying to revive the old downtown, Suwanee chose to create a new town center.  It is a P.U.D. in its truest sense, combining public service space, park space, commercial space and a range of residential types.  Read more about it here and here.

The Suwanee Town Center states their vision as “live…work…play…shop.”  This is something I would like to emulate in my proposed Sand Hill Farm development.  There are differences.  The Sand Hill Farm property is approximately 2/3rds the size and I have no vision for Sand Hill Farm to take the place of Downtown Culver.  Also, in keeping with the vision presented by the Culver Redevelopment Commission, I would like to keep an option open for a light industrial aspect to the development.

The entire development, as well as adjacent community sites, are connected by walking trails.  This is all part of the effort to make the site pedestrian friendly and create that sense of community.  I believe connecting Sand Hill Farm to the rest of the Culver Community is important and there are opportunities due to the close proximity of the Schools as well as the School baseball and football fields.  I think this proximity can be used as part of the amenities that benefit Sand Hill Farm.

The most interesting aspect of the Suwanee project was the commercial and business mix with the residential.  The “Main Street” area, as shown in the pictures here, has business and retail space on the first floor with apartments or condos on the second third and in some cases fourth floor.  This goes to the core of creating a neighborhood setting where hopefully, people that work in the businesses live in the neighborhood.  Hopefully those that don’t will use the businesses due to the convenience.  There is still some opportunity for this in Culver’s downtown and is utilized to some extent.  I would expect this to be more prevalent at Sand Hill Farm as it is farther from the Lake and there will be less of the tourist draw.  Only time will tell how that will actually shake out.

Another notable feature is the use of alleys.  The apartment buildings all have garage and utility access on the back of the buildings.  The housing portion of the development has the houses pushed forward, close to the street and garages on the backside.  Utilities are all underground or pushed to the back.  While technically they are alleys, they are not alleys in the traditional sense seen elsewhere in Culver.  Many of them back up to the edges of the development, particularly in the single family areas, serving buildings on one side only.  This isn’t the most efficient use of space, but it does still serve the purpose of removing the garage door as the main street feature of the houses and allowing the houses to be pushed closer to the street.  Most of the houses had porches, though in most cases they are small and mainly for show.

It will be interesting to go back next year and see how it develops.  It is only a couple of years old, but it seems to be off to a good start.  Thanks for the tour, Kim.

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