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Coming To A Rural Area Near You: Urban Mixed-Use Development

Jeff Grant and his partners have owned a sprawling tract of land in south Henry County since 1985. At one point, one of the partners lived on it, but other than that, the 158 acres have remained untouched.

Rendering for the apartments at Bridges at Jodeco

That is set to change over the next few years. Grant — a native of Henry County and the principal of Jodeco 158 — is aiming to turn the plot's dirt and trees into the type of intensive mixed-use project seen commonly in Atlanta, some 30 miles to the north.

“That piece was bought more for the beauty of it. It wasn't really bought for true speculation,” Grant said. “Now that things have evolved the way they have, I guess we were lucky in a good sense.”

Jodeco 158 is not the only firm eyeing mixed-use on the fringes of Metro Atlanta, areas more known for their insular shopping centers, homes on big plots of land, gas stations and fast food.

Other developers are eyeing mixed-use, including WA Engineering — which is seeking approvals for a 100-acre project next to the Tanger Outlet Center off Interstate 85 in Commerce, 70 miles north of Atlanta — and the Pacific Group, which is preparing to develop a mixed-use project with single-family homes, offices and ballfields in Dawsonville, some 60 miles north of Atlanta.

Forest Development Group also is proposing a 465-acre mixed-use project called Reeves Creek in Stockbridge, anchored by a county-owned convention center and more than 1M SF of commercial and multifamily projects.

View of Downtown Woodstock, a city-center mixed-use project master-planned by Morris & Fellows

Morris & Fellows President Cheri Morris said it is not surprising that mixed-use projects are popping up farther from Atlanta's core. The same factor that is driving urban-style projects in cities like Duluth, Alpharetta and Woodstock — the desire for walkability — is driving such projects in more rural areas. Morris & Fellows developed Downtown Alpharetta's mixed-use city center, which it recently sold to CBRE Global Investors.

“In some ways, it's like we're going back to the way things used to be, in which most people could walk or just [take] a short ride to a retail area that was the town square,” Morris said.

Jared Lombard, the program manager for the Atlanta Regional Commission Livable Centers Initiative, said developers are attracted to the mixed-use model because they see how established projects get tenants to pay premium rents for their areas.

“Local governments finally … have updated their policies to make it easier to do these types of developments,” Lombard said. “It's been done before, so people are more comfortable with these.”

Jodeco 158's Bridges at Jodeco preliminary plans call for 300 luxury apartments, 90 townhomes, 176 single-family homes, a hotel, a fitness facility, a theater and lots of restaurants and retail. The first phase is slated to begin construction this year with the apartments, opening in 2020.

Grant said Jodeco's area of Henry County is ripe for an elevated mixed-use project, given the area's population growth over the years.

“If we want to go to a nice restaurant, we have to go to Atlanta,” Grant said. “It's been proven on the north side. I think we have the population, I think we have the same average income. I just think the time has come on the southside to have a nice development like this.”