Internet pioneer Brewer champions NU in Atlanta

Having made a fortune by founding the Internet service provider MindSpring and later merging it into EarthLink, Charles Brewer is in an enviable situation: he’s able to develop a new urban project in Atlanta “without borrowing a dime.” In the past three years, Brewer has invested $8 million to buy 28 acres, clean up its extensive industrial residue, and build the streets, utilities, and other underpinnings of the new neighborhood he calls Glenwood Park. When completed in 2006, Glenwood Park should be a model of environmentally conscious urbanism. And, says Brewer, “we should make some decent money.”

“I had always avoided real estate like the plague,” the 45-year-old Internet entrepreneur-turned-developer told New Urban News in a phone interview. “I didn’t like what anybody was building.” After leaving EarthLink in August 2000, Brewer “started poking around in the general direction of the natural environment” (a longtime interest), ended up reading Suburban Nation in a single night, and “got instantly hooked,” he says.

Soon he formed Green Street Properties, with himself as chairman, Katharine Kelley (who led development of Post Properties’ Post Riverside and Post Parkside new urban projects) as president, and Walter Brown as vice president. “I like old towns and cities, and conventional development leaves me cold,” says Brewer, who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and earned degrees from Amherst College and Stanford University.

At Glenwood Park, two miles east of downtown Atlanta, Green Street Properties and its partners — The Meddin Company and the Novare Group — have civilized a state highway by getting it transferred to the city’s jurisdiction and then instituting traffic-calming measures that allow it to serve as the development’s sociable main street, lined by trees and shops. That took a year. They worked with the city on adoption of Traditional Neighborhood Development street standards, with narrower widths and tighter corners. That took seven months.

paying attention to the environment

They pursued a series of environmentally enlightened measures, including:

• Breaking up and recycling 40,000 cubic yards of concrete that covered the site, formerly used by Vulcan Materials.

• Removing 40,000 cubic yards of wood chips (enough to cover a football field to a depth of 36 feet), which were then burned to produce energy.

• Recycling 700,000 pounds of granite block, which will be used in the development’s parks.

• Installing new sewer lines and an innovative stormwater system that will reduce runoff by two-thirds. Landscaping will be irrigated with reclaimed groundwater, not potable city water.

• Planting more than 1,000 trees — some of them in the streets, between parking spaces — to reduce the “heat island” effect of pavement and to make pedestrians more comfortable.

• Requiring homebuilders to use an EarthCraft House program, which stresses energy-efficient design, water conservation, and ways of limiting soil erosion.

Because it borrowed no money, Green Street Properties has not been pressed to compromise its design principles. Glenwood Park will feature 50,000 to 70,000 square feet of shops and office space in its “town center,” serving its own residents and people nearby. An existing brick building will become 22,000 square feet of office condominiums above covered parking. The first of Glenwood Park’s 60 single-family houses will be completed by early September. Brewer says the development will eventually have “a fine-grained mix of housing types,” including 100 to 130 townhouses and about 200 apartments. One goal is to introduce “a really great townhouse,” something that is sorely lacking in Atlanta, the company says at its website:

Dover, Kohl & Partners of Coral Gables, Florida, with Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh & Associates of Atlanta, produced the plan for Glenwood Park, which won a CNU Award in 2003. The objective, Brewer says, is to create a sociable, walkable community where there’s less need for driving. At a developer breakfast two years ago, Brewer sang a tongue-in-cheek rendition of the reggae “Redemption Song”: “Oh, please don’t build the cul-de-sac. Yes, let the streets connect. If you don’t, you’ll have congestion. And your life will be a wreck.”

The company estimates that pedestrian-friendly design, bike lanes, direct access to MARTA rail service, and proximity to downtown Atlanta, will reduce driving among Glenwood Park residents by 1.6 million miles per year (the equivalent of removing more than 100 cars from the roads) when compared to the region’s typical driving patterns.

Kelley, who was senior vice president of development for the Atlanta region at Post Properties, says that though Post has stopped developing new urban projects, “four or five good [new urban] projects are going on” in the region, and “the communities are renting or selling well.” Brewer portrays Glenwood Park as only the first of his new urban undertakings — and one that may nudge the region in the right direction. “We could have a real city here in a way we never had,” he says. “It could be quite wonderful.”