KW Blog Turns Five – A Look Back at Our Favorite Posts

Today marks the five-year anniversary of our very first blog post. To mark the occasion, we took a look back at over 100 posts to select the ten(ish) posts that we think everyone should read. The posts cover a wide range of topics, including design, mobility, housing choice, and redevelopment. We think of the blog as our laboratory – a place to post things that we are working on, learning about, and debating in the office. A lot of these posts started that way – as conversations in the office. Our knowledge and thinking on these topics has grown and evolved over time, but these selected posts capture the highlights and topics we get asked about the most.

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Making Affordable Housing Cute Again

English Ave Site Strategies

Atlanta has many charming historic Missing Middle Housing types, and we even have a new Missing Middle Housing zoning category to encourage more of it (more on MR-MU later). Atlanta also has many abandoned not-so-charming apartment buildings. While their lack of architectural charm leaves them overlooked, these are important to our city’s housing supply. Why? They, too, are Missing Middle Housing. They, too, are historic. And most importantly: they already exist, making them more affordable to renovate than to build new.

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Durham Leads the Way for Housing Choice and Zoning Reform

The mayor of Durham acts on his promises and paves the way for city leadership.

“Zoning reform isn’t magical, but it’s crucial.” So said Mayor Steve Schewel of Durham, NC in a stirring speech given earlier this month before he voted to support Durham’s landmark zoning reform, Expanding Housing Choices (EHC). After a two-year long community process, the city has voted to approve updates to their Unified Development Ordinance that will enable more housing choices in their most walkable neighborhoods.

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10 Thoughts for Hulsey Yard

If you haven’t yet heard (you must live under a rock), CSX has officially vacated Hulsey Yard, a former intermodal freight terminal and our across-the-street neighbor. They have moved the operations of Hulsey to another yard in Fairburn, leaving the 70-acre site that divides four neighborhoods largely empty. Serendipitously, those same neighborhoods have recently kicked off a master planning process to develop a “cohesive, community-supported vision” for the future of this giant property.

We’ve attended the pop-up, we’ve submitted our comments online, but we also want to spread the word about what we think should be done with this site. We are proud residents of Reynoldstown, and our office sits right on the edge of Hulsey. What we want, more than anything, is MORE. More connectivity, more neighbors, more density. There are a few things we want less of, too. Namely, less parking. We’ve outlined some guiding principles below:

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Calling All Ideas For a Better Atlanta! Housing Choice Edition

Atlanta is changing demographically, but our housing stock isn’t keeping up.

Last Friday, the Atlanta City Studio asked us to present our ideas on housing choice at Design Over Donuts. Or, as Eric Kronberg preferred to call it, Design Over Missing Middle Pastries. Dad joke!

The conversation that ensued was passionate, and understandably so. We see concerns about change in our existing communities as legitimate. We also view passion as a legitimate emotion in these conversations, because we ourselves feel very passionately about it. We want the city that we live in and the neighborhoods where we work to be the best possible versions of themselves. This doesn’t just mean beautiful, this means equitable. And we firmly believe that it’s possible to have both in Atlanta. We are proud to live in a city that has a City Design Studio: that not only believes these conversations are important, but that has created a forum for them to take place.

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Georgia Power’s Housing Conversation

We are so thankful for the opportunity to share our thoughts on housing challenges facing communities across the state and nation.  Georgia Power did a great job bringing people in from across the state to listen to a range of thoughts and ideas.  Housing challenges are present in both the largest cities and the smallest towns. At first glance, the housing challenges faced by these communities seems exceedingly unique. Rather than focusing on the differences, however, we see the commonality between each community’s individual struggles.

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Unpacking the Pilot Project’s Prototype Pieces

In our previous post, we provided an example of how small-scale infill could work within a few house lots to provide a dynamic range of housing choices.  We are now going to break down the components parts of this design.

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ABCs of ADUs Recap + Presentation Download

A packed house at KWA HQ! photo credit: Terry Kearns

Last night’s ABCs of ADUs event was a huge success! Thanks to everyone who came out to learn more about ADUs and Tiny Homes, and a special thanks to Will and the Microlife Institute for co-hosting the event with us.

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A Tactical Solution for Dekalb Ave

It’s no secret that we are bicycle enthusiasts at KWA; half of our employees are bike commuters, and we also happen to share an office with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. It might be the proximity to ABC, or it might be frustration with the lack of bicycle infrastructure that we see in the city (especially as compared to new car infrastructure or pedestrian bridges), but we have turned from serious bicycle enthusiasts to serious bicycle advocates. Sure, we could say we’ve always been advocates, but this time we decided to kick it up a notch…by pitching a tactical pilot project for Dekalb Ave to the Renew Atlanta team and to the City of Atlanta. We are delighted to say that it was well received as a concept, but now is time for the rubber to hit the road. Literally. Read more

Housing, Trees and Zoning Changes

The City of Atlanta is working hard on another update to our zoning ordinance. It’s another round of Quick Fixes to address smaller tweaks to areas that should not be overly controversial. However, you never know what is going to trigger resistance and outrage when discussing modifications to property rights.

One of the surprising areas of contention is a push to strike the provision allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the R-4 zoning category. A lot of the resistance to this change is coming from various groups that think this new provision will result in the clear cutting of a lot of Atlanta’s amazing tree canopy.

We are going to break down some of these zoning terms to hopefully shed some light on things…

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When Not to ADU?

There are a lot of reasons to build an ADU, and a lot of reasons to do this sooner than later.  There is one time that is less than ideal though- when you don’t have an income.

This may seem obvious, but it matters for folks thinking through Aging in Place strategies.  An ADU is a great way to be able to afford to stay in your neighborhood as you consider retirement, offering several options.  The first stage could be having supplemental rental income while you stay in your house, helping to defray property taxes and other costs.  Later, it offers the chance for you to rent out your main house, while downsizing into your ADU.  This allows you to keep a foothold in your community, greatly reducing or eliminating your housing costs, and providing freedom to travel the world.

If you plan to finance your ADU, your bank or mortgage broker will have a much easier time getting the loan approved if you still have an income.  Loan appraisers often struggle to properly value a proposed ADU, which means they may significantly undervalue it, or give it no value at all.  An undervalued appraisal can easily sink a loan approval.

Getting your ADU financed and constructed before retiring is exceedingly important for folks that don’t have easy access to all the cash necessary to pay for their ADU out of pocket. Food for thought.

AARP, ADUs and You

We just had the chance to participate in an amazing roundtable discussing ADU policy in Washington, DC hosted by AARP.  Why is AARP bringing people to DC to talk about ADUs?  AARP has spent a solid 20 plus years advocating for housing choice as an important way for people to age in place in their communities, and realizes that ADU play a really important role in providing this choice.  Their website has a wealth of resources for folks interested in learning more.

What do we mean by housing choice?  Read more

Thoughts on Incremental Infill: How to Get More of What We Love

Recently, we have had the pleasure of presenting at a number of forums including the annual GPA conference, a ULI/CNU Small Summit, and the MicroLife Institute’s Innovative Housing Summit. We have used these great opportunities to dig into some concepts we’ve been contemplating for a long time, focusing specifically on the need for more housing in our most beloved communities. Read more

Our Top 10 Wishlist for Encouraging Small Development in Atlanta

We had the honor of being part of a symposium for Atlanta’s Historic Westside yesterday, which was put on by the Westside Future Fund, CNU and the Chick-fil-A Foundation. The symposium focused on bringing together an array of stakeholders involved in the Westside to have honest discussions around community wealth creation, equitable development and historic preservation.

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Cultivating Your Farm

One of many blighted homes returned to working order as part of the award-winning Renewal Homes project in New Orleans.

We spend a lot of time working with the Incremental Development Alliance training folks to be small developers. One of our many goals is to help build community wealth through infill housing at a scale compatible with traditional neighborhoods, also known as Missing Middle Housing. This is housing that fits within a single-family neighborhood, but with more units than a single family home. This might be a home with an accessory dwelling unit, a duplex, fourplex, maybe even a six or eight plex.

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Decatur Tiny House Festival

Curious about owning an ADU? Kronberg Wall Architects has partnered with local designers and builders to create the ATL ADU CO, a complete design/build/deliver service. The ATL ADU CO offers several ADU designs that meet a variety of price points, space needs, and site conditions, and our team of experts provide step-by-step guidance to buyers. Learn more at www.atladuco.com, or email us at info@atladuco.com.

We enjoyed the opportunity to share our thoughts on ADUs at the Decatur Tiny House Festival this past weekend. For those who couldn’t make it and are interested in learning more about why we give a hoot and what we’re doing about it, click below to download our presentation.

Link to KWA Tiny House Presentation

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Interview: Incremental Development with John Anderson and Eric Kronberg

At Kronberg Wall, we view incremental development as a key path to equitable and meaningful neighborhood revitalization. Robert Stueteville of the CNU Public Square blog recently spoke with KWA’s Eric Kronberg and John Anderson of the Incremental Development Alliance about how they define incremental development and why they feel it should play a central role in the ongoing conversation on neighborhood development. Read the full interview – and many other great posts – at the CNU Public Square blog.

ADUs: Looking for Good Homes

UPDATE: The ATL ADU CO now has its own website! A complete design/build/deliver service, the ATL ADU CO offers several designs that meet a variety of price points, space needs, and site conditions, and our team of experts provide step-by-step guidance to buyers. Learn more at www.atladuco.com, or email us at info@atladuco.com.

If our last cliffhanger post didn’t get you pumped about ADUs, let’s hope this one can deliver. As mentioned in the previous post, we are excited to announce our very own ADU design / build /deliver service. We have designed two prototypes (floor plans and renderings shown above) and have done our due diligence on codes, constraints, financing and delivery methods. All of that to say, if you like what you see, you could have one of these in your backyard very soon!

Interested to know more?

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Community Engagement 101 for Small Developers

We spend the vast majority of our time at KW working on projects that will make communities better.  For us, “better” means more inclusive and more connected, with more access to housing and services.  Our efforts typically come through private and/or public investment and development.  This means we spend a significant amount of time at community meetings discussing and negotiating approvals for our projects. As a small developer trying to do the right thing (i.e. trying build a project that improves a community and is more than a single-family house), you will inevitably need a variance or rezoning.  This typically requires some form of pubic approval.

If we were ever to write a how-to book, it would probably be on the topic of public engagement for architects and developers.  Proper community engagement is an art form that requires a significant amount of knowledge. It typically involves having a close understanding of the specific neighborhood: the hopes, dreams, challenges, and realistic assessments as to how our project does or does not fit into this matrix of place.  Understanding these dynamics takes a great investment of time on our part.

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A Market Solution for Affordable Housing: ADUs

UPDATE: The ATL ADU CO now has its own website! A complete design/build/deliver service, the ATL ADU CO offers several designs that meet a variety of price points, space needs, and site conditions, and our team of experts provide step-by-step guidance to buyers. Learn more at www.atladuco.com, or email us at info@atladuco.com.

We have some exciting developments taking place at Kronberg Wall, and I mean that literally. We are flexing our development muscles as we aim to launch our newest branch of design expertise: Accessory Dwelling Units. What does it all mean? Well, the short of it is: we see a problem, and instead of waiting around for a solution, we are going to create one.

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On Selling Missing Middle Housing to Communities

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The Candler Park neighborhood in Atlanta features a popular one-block commercial node surrounded by mostly pre-WWII residential development. Many Missing Middle buildings that blend seamlessly with single family homes can be found within a five or ten minute walk from the restaurants and shops. (photos: Kronberg Wall)

We spend a lot of time talking about Missing Middle Housing and its critical role in developing healthy and inclusive neighborhoods. Discussing the theory and design behind Missing Middle Housing is essential, but we also need to consider the hands-on process of making these projects real. One major step in this process is selling Missing Middle Housing to the public – especially those that live near the project site. We are actively rezoning properties in Atlanta to Missing Middle pocket neighborhood development – and this gives us firsthand feedback on how communities perceive the benefits of these housing options, as well as the fears these projects generate.

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Code Hack: Tiny Houses in Atlanta

 

Midtown Carriage House

There’s a lot of buzz about tiny houses right now, and as advocates for increased housing diversity and affordability, we thought it only right to jump into the conversation. Because we are based in Atlanta, and because tiny houses are not allowed under current zoning in Atlanta, we decided to search for a quick solution to get tiny houses in the mix right now. Why would we wait for our ordinances to be amended if we could find an interim code hack!?

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Build a Better Burb Reflections

BBB Intro

Galina Tachieva speaks on suburban renewal tactics at the recent CNU Sprawl Retrofit Council in Miami (image: EK)

I had the privilege to sit in at CNU’s recent Sprawl Retrofit Council in Miami.  Sprawl retrofit isn’t something that KWA typically gravitates towards, but CNU is expanding its focus on this important topic, and we are proud to be part of that effort.

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MAIN STREET RENOVATION

Frogger 2

Urban redevelopment is our bread and butter at KWA, and we’ve come to understand that attempting to renovate a building built 50-100 years ago is full of challenges. Zoning requirements based on suburban development – but applied to urban areas as well – place tough restrictions and requirements on land use, parking requirements, and setbacks.  Financing small mixed-use projects can be challenging even to those with deep pockets due to unanticipated obstacles. And if you manage to make it through all those hoops, our current building codes throw up a range of additional hurdles. We often see folks manage to overcome a range of challenges only to get bogged down in figuring out how to meet new building code requirements without breaking their budget. As we’ve navigated these obstacles ourselves we’ve developed a clear understanding of what to expect and how to best get through or around a lot of these issues. We recently put together a roadmap to help folks work through the code hurdles for a typical, two-story main street type building. Follow the link below to find the downloadable presentation file.

MAIN STREET REDEVELOPMENT

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URBAN RETAIL DESIGN CAMP

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Airstream trailers used by food vendors in Seaside are a great example of successful lean urbanism tactics (photo: EK)

I had the absolute pleasure of spending a few days at the Seaside Institute taking a deep dive into what makes urban retail successful.  Two of the leaders in town center design, Bob Gibbs and Terry Shook, led the class.  An amazing amount of material was shared and much ground was covered. Here’s a quick recap.

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Small Developer Renovation Research

Before After_for Blog

We are big fans of small development here at Kronberg Wall, which means we also understand how difficult it can be. Small, incremental development is critical to the success of urban areas – especially those trying to get their feet off of the ground. While the Ponce City Markets of the world are great drivers for redevelopment, not all development needs to have major capital backing or business savvy developers to be successful. In fact, a series of small yet conscientious steps can go a long way in making a place better. That part is easy to wrap your head around: that small development can be just as effective – if not more so – of a place making tool as large scale projects.

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Thoughts from a Great Community Zoning Outreach Meeting

blogpost

I had the pleasure of attending one of the City of Atlanta Zoning outreach meetings this past Tuesday.  It really was a pleasure, and very encouraging to see the various political faces in the room, both elected officials and community volunteers.  This is generally the happy time of outreach, when big ideas are discussed in broad brush strokes.  This type of outreach is critical, but it does not guarantee that things won’t devolve into a complete turf war when it comes time to talk details about things like parking or specific locations on the zoning map. Read more

Popcorn Time: Placemaking 101

We spend a lot of time talking about the specifics of placemaking – parking regulations, zoning ordinances, code clauses – but these are all pieces of a bigger picture. We find that before diving into the details, it is critical to understand the macro concepts behind placemaking. If you’re interested in creating great urban places, grab some popcorn (or a turkey sandwich) and take a look the videos below, the first of which are from our friends at Strong Towns, who do an excellent job of summing up these big ideas behind successful placemaking endeavors.

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Big Reflections on Small Development

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On October 14th, more than one hundred architects, engineers, developers, and community leaders gathered at the Center for Civic Innovation in downtown Atlanta for the Small Developer’s Bootcamp, hosted by the Atlanta Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, the Georgia Conservancy, and Kronberg Wall Architects. This diverse group of individuals was on hand to hear two small-scale development experts – R. John Anderson and Jim Kumon – discuss the practicalities of development that fall within the “missing middle” spectrum: buildings in between the single family home and the looming apartment multiplex. Throughout the day-long workshop, topics ranged from efficient floor plans and building design to loan types and financial negotiation tactics.

The room was full of seasoned developers and designers well-versed in the vocabulary and methods of real estate development, but also present were a large number of newcomers for whom the Bootcamp was a whiplash introduction to the development world.
Three of those newcomers just starting their careers as professional designers at Kronberg Wall – Eric Bethany, Sanaa Shaikh, and Elizabeth Ward – took some time to reflect on the concepts and ideas from the Bootcamp that resonated most with them.

Read more for Eric Bethany’s thoughts on the demystification of the development process – check back later this week for more reflections.

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Small builder/developer bootcamp

Missing Middle 2

While these photos include buildings probably dating from the 1920s, we are not necessarily promoting a historic style. Moreso that apartments built in the 1960s are usually so amazingly ugly, and that zoning laws from that general time period made buildings like these illegal in most communities from that point forward.

I’ve been spending a lot of time mulling on both the small developer/builder Facebook group and the upcoming small builder/developer bootcamp coming to Atlanta. Part of the conundrum I have been trying to get my head around is this: what is a reasonable combination of experience, scale, and location that fits a small developer? We work primarily in Atlanta, with most of our clients being seasoned developers. We tackle really messy, hard projects, and we see countless ways that a newbie can get put through the buzzsaw, and quickly. However, we are seeing that there are folks involved in the industry – architects that design these projects, residential and commercial property brokers, and builders – that have experience with some, but not all, of the pieces needed to do their own deal.

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