Mixed residential and retail development define Serenbe

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Mixed residential and retail development define Serenbe

(Editor's note: This is the final entry in a six-part series on the Serenbe development.)

Even though Betsy Marlow doesn’t live in Serenbe, she feels like she’s part of the community.

Actually, she’s the manager of The Bilt-House, a trendy boutique in the Serenbe green development southwest of Atlanta. The store, one of three owned by Jan Bilthouse, occupies the first two floors of a three-story, live-work building that displays the shop’s blend of home goods, local artwork, handmade furniture and artsy clothing.

Marlow lives in a nearby city but socializes with the friends she’s made in the Serenbe community. For instance, she’s attended wine tastings and folk-music concerts at the wine shop next door.

“Everyone in the community is your family,” Marlow said.

Mixing business and pleasure

The live-work dwellings blend commercial and residential living spaces, a feature of the high-density development plan for the Serenbe neighborhood, located in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga. Some owners live above their store; others lease either the residential or commercial portions of the building.

Steve Hawthorne, a Serenbe resident and a marketing consultant with the retailers, said their presence helps introduce prospective homebuyers to the community. People come to shop at the stores like The Bilt-House and become curious about the community. Even the retail employees who don’t live in Serenbe help make an impression.

“The first question shoppers ask people in the stores is, ‘Do you live here?’” Hawthorne said. “The retail folks are real front-line ambassadors.”

The mix of homes and commercial spaces was an integral part of the high-density development planned for Serenbe. Steve Nygren, founder of Serenbe worked with other landowners and Fulton County to develop zoning laws that would allow residential, commercial and retail buildings to be built next to one another.

Traditional zoning laws prohibit that kind of development, instead segregating retail and residential, placing businesses at a distance that forces consumers to drive. The new laws also allow large and small single-family dwellings to be built next to multi-family and attached units.

“All these things were illegal under the zoning at the time we started,” Nygren said. “Now we have a complete mix of housing, and it’s amazing what that does for a community.”

The mixed-use development plays into the concept of high-density development as well. The Serenbe neighborhood consists of about 1,000 acres, and about 70 percent of that will be preserved from development. The residential and commercial development will be concentrated on the remaining 30 percent of the land.

The residential and commercial development is concentrated in neighborhoods separated by buffer zones of forest. The homes are built closer together than in most developments. They have no lawns, and most homes don't have garages, so residents park on the street.

Trails that crisscross the neighborhood make it faster to walk to the shops and restaurants than it is to drive through the winding streets. The Blue-Eyed Daisy Bake Shop is a common walking destination, as are the other restaurants, the shops, the farmers’ market and the children’s play areas.

Planning for people

The developers planned a neighborhood in which people spend less time in their cars to help residents interact.

“The more mixed-use development you can create, the more connections people will have in the community,” said Rawson Haverty, one of the partners in Serenbe. “Here you can walk to work, walk to school, walk to eat.”

Currently, Serenbe residents have to leave the development for groceries and other shopping basics. But as the Serenbe population grows, additional stores will open to serve the people. Serenbe’s developers worked to make sure that some of the retail spaces were being used even before population in the development could support the stores. Most of the stores rely on consumers from outside the development, who flock to the shops and restaurants as retail destinations.

From the beginning, commercial activity was seen as a vital part of the community, as it was in many towns long ago when the corner grocer lived over the store.

 “The idea of density makes all the difference,” Hawthorne said. “It’s less expensive to build that way and it automatically creates a sense of community.”

Read the entire series on Serenbe:

A sustainable community rises in Georgia (VIDEO)

Sustainable design leads to a sense of community in Serenbe

Serenbe thrives on sustainable land development and agriculture

Arts, education build on sustainable values of Serenbe

Homebuyers flock to energy-efficient cottages at Serenbe’s Nest

For more information, see our Sustainable Communities Research Center


What do you think of mixed-use development? Continue the conversation in the comments below!

Topics: Sustainable Communities

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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