“A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.”
This is one definition of the word community. Ideally, communities grow from the ground up, guided by visionary leaders and residents uniting with skilled designers, architects and engineers who inculcate common goals into the built environment.
With its unique blend of work and play facilities, cultural venues and inviting outdoor spaces, all within a short drive of the big city of Atlanta, you might say the small town of Sugar Hill is out to preserve the Sweet Life… and with its own distinctive twist. From the beginning, leaders encouraged citizen involvement. Eleven years ago, a survey revealed that residents wanted more places to eat, to be entertained and to experience a cohesive sense of community.
When Pond came on the scene in 2008, Sugar Hill’s City Hall sat on a virtually barren stretch of road bereft of commercial businesses. The city had no central pulse. The City Manager, Bob Hail, had a vision for creating a unique identity for the city but needed assistance in implementing. Pond’s Greg Culpepper understood how Pond could assist in bringing the vision to life based on Pond’s long-standing relationship with the community.
“The main impetus for the project was laying groundwork for future developments. The regional detention makes it so developers don’t have to build their own little individual ponds. It’s not like other similar ponds that are dry and fenced in to catch stormwater, which become ugly and expensive to maintain. We could have done that but instead it’s an amenity pond, wet most of the time, and we designed a trail around it to turn it into an attractive feature that serves a purpose,” said Kevin Skinner, PE, Pond Principal and Design Director.
The pond is fully integrated within the city center, and its amphitheater, known as “The Bowl at Sugar Hill.” Overlooking the Bowl is the E Center, a mixed-use development that features a 406-seat performing arts theater, gymnasium along with 43,000 square feet of restaurant, retail, office and meeting space. As Skinner said, “The space is very well used, and it’s not an understatement to say it has become a central hangout of the entire city.”
Sugar Hill is proof that rolling out the welcome mat for independent businesses and people who appreciate thoughtful, livable development means the people will come.
Since 2010, Sugar Hill’s population has grown by 30 percent to more than 24,000 residents, with permits issued for 31 commercial buildings and 1,238 single and multi-family homes in the last five years.
Pond was also tasked with designing a traffic-calming roundabout adjacent to the new city hall and town green center. The project included extensive landscaping, on-street parking, utilities upgrades and streetscape improvement such as decorative brickwork, street trees, benches and lighting.
Aerial power lines were demolished and installed along roads at the rear of various multi-level buildings. From front-facing sidewalks along the main corridor no power lines can be seen. Pond had considered buried lines, but it would have been too expensive.
“The City wanted to slow down traffic and maintain a residential feel, and that’s exactly what we accomplished. The road parallels State Route 20, and they didn’t want drivers coming off it barreling through the area,” said Skinner.
The blend of harmonious design with practical, purposeful planning has strengthened the City’s identity, satisfying leaders’ desire to give Sugar Hill its own personality.
“We realize when we come up with a good idea, even though we don’t always know exactly how to carry it out. If something’s not working, we figure out how to make it work. Our main takeaway from all of our experience is that we keep moving forward,” said Kaipo Awana, Sugar Hill’s Planning Director.
City leaders are also attuned to the need for flexibility so, as that identity continues to evolve, it can be sustained. “The original downtown construction was conceived as more of a quaint idea rather than a vibrant, functional semi-urban center. In the last few years we’ve veered from the original plan, yet we’ve stuck to our vision, which grew out of community input over the last five years or so. I think in large part the community is excited about what’s going on, about our growth and all the amenities, and we are experiencing the current fruits of the plan,” said Awana.