Renderings of the proposed Campbellton Apartments. (Credit: Prime Engineering, Inc., via What Now Atlanta)

A proposed Southwest Atlanta development has drawn the ire of neighbors who say blueprints make the residential complex look “like a prison.”

Members of the Skip Mason’s Vanishing Black Atlanta History Facebook group blasted plans for the 200-unit mixed-use project, which is expected to rise on Campbellton Road and include 13,000 square feet of commercial space, after What Now Atlanta reported on the venture

“Looks like inmate housing,” one comment said. “So prisonesque,” said another. “They are concentrating the ghetto in Southwest Atlanta.” “Horrible! I thought it was an office building.”

Details about the five-story development — dubbed the “Campbellton Apartments,” according to permitting records — are scant, although critiques of the design provide an example of contention regarding how “conventional” apartments are designed in the city, as well as what those projects mean for the landscapes of their respective communities, according to Atlanta’s planning commissioner Tim Keane.

After fielding complaints from neighbors about the project, Keane said changes will need to be made to the design, which came from local firm Prime Engineering. The architect could not be reached for comment.

“Understandably, they’re concerned,” Keane told Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview. “But the concerns could be deeper than what we can see in the renderings. What is this thing going to be like in seven to 10 years? My initial thought was we need to sit down with them and intervene in this.”

Neighbors’ concerns about this proposed complex deteriorating into something of a “ghetto,” Keane added, aren’t unfounded, and his office intends to prevent that from happening. 

Keane also said this isn’t just a problem in lower-income areas. “I think it’s indicative of design everywhere,” he said. “This is a national discussion about the poor quality of design for conventional and cookie-cutter apartments.” 

Atlanta City Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet, who represents the district where the Campbellton Apartments could be built, told Atlanta Civic Circle community input is needed before the project gets off the ground.

“They haven’t done any community outreach yet,” Overstreet said of the development team, noting that she intends to meet with project leaders soon. “This particular approach is definitely not ideal. It gives the appearance that they do not want to work with the community.” Still, she said that she’ll give the developers “every opportunity to work with the community.” Overstreet added,“There are definitely quite a few questions I have that I would like to talk to them about.” 

“We definitely need improvement in the area,” she continued. “Economically, developmentally — we need all of that right now. We don’t want to be unaffordable, and we don’t want to be all affordable.”

Darin Givens, co-founder of urban design blog ThreadATL, said in an interview that Prime Engineering’s renderings aren’t suggestive of “any kind of nefarious intention.” Rather, “it’s an early sort of proposal rendering, not a finalized rendering that you usually see.”

Unfortunately, Givens said, projects in historically underinvested areas don’t get the kind of planning care that more expensive ones in affluent communities get, since developers aren’t as pressured by investors to turn a big profit. Additionally, better design, of course, is more costly.

Givens said, though, that “boring, blank designs” can have a negative psychological effect on communities they’re developed in. “They affect people in terms of having higher stress or feeling less engaged by their neighborhoods,” he said. “It may not be as heavy a problem as housing insecurity, but it’s worth talking about.”

Atlanta, Keane said, isn’t exactly famous for “a tradition of great design, but I think it’s getting much better. Developers and architects and builders and the industry are improving substantially. But, in Atlanta, like most cities where you see conventional, minimal-investment design, we need to address it, because every building matters. Every building needs to make the city better.”

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