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An empty Harry's Farmers Market will turn into $650,000 homes

Empire Communities targets old suburban shopping centers, office parks

Fernleaf Park Empire Communities
Empire Communities wants to build single-family homes on the site of the former Harry's Farmers Market in Alpharetta.
By Douglas Sams – Editor-in-chief, Atlanta Business Chronicle

A North American homebuilding giant is turning vestiges of Atlanta suburbia into modern versions of attainable housing.

Empire Communities Corp. will redevelop the former Harry's Farmers Market in Alpharetta into 149 single-family homes at roughly 7.6 units per acre, dense by suburban zoning standards. The homes will cost about $650,000.

Starting in the late 1980s, Harry's and its sprawling parking lot on Upper Hembree Road was filled with weekend grocery shoppers. Over time, its popularity waned as organic grocery concepts emerged.


Harry's closed roughly a decade ago and has been mostly vacant for years. A few years ago, Amazon.com briefly planned a distribution center there until it scrapped the plan and put the property on the market.

Paul Corley, regional president with Empire Communities, aims to reinvigorate the languishing site. He recently told Alpharetta City Council members he believes he can keep its new single-family detached homes priced in the $600,000s.

The plan reflects the irony of how expensive attainable housing is along Georgia 400 and the way developers are using density to make numbers pencil out.  

"We're averaging about 2,000 square feet," Corley told council members. "You get there with a smaller product."

Atlanta homebuilder targets old suburban shopping centers, office parks

The Harry's redevelopment also shows how the typical wooded lot, for years prime housing sites along the corridor, is becoming scarce. Corley, speaking at a recent Atlanta Business Chronicle housing panel, said his latest targets for new sites include old shopping centers and office parks.

“There isn’t a lot of land left,” Corley said. “You've got to be creative.”

Farther south on Georgia 400, Corley may have an opportunity to apply his creativity at another outmoded property.

Years ago, Embassy Row was a suburban office park in high demand, serving as the home for Atlanta tech companies such as Internet Security Systems Inc.

Now, the heyday has long passed for ISS — later acquired by IBM — and Embassy Row, a 600,000-square-foot collection of mid-rise buildings along Georgia 400 just north of Interstate 285 and Perimeter Mall. Last year, Insignia Managing Director Chaz Lazarian, whose firm owns Embassy Row, told Atlanta Business Chronicle, “We’re trying to get our arms around the property.”

Embassy Row is one of several aging properties along Georgia 400 that Corley sees as an opportunity for suburban renewal.

“They have a lot of parking. They are flat. And they have great locations,” Corley said.

Atlanta faces a housing shortage. Cities respond with denser zoning.

Housing construction has not returned to levels prior to the Great Recession. One estimate last year put the deficit of metro Atlanta housing, especially at attainable and affordable levels, at close to 400,000 units.

Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs are exploring ways to locate more housing closer to existing job centers. Alpharetta and Sandy Springs have started allowing for denser housing developments, like the transformation of the Harry's Farmers Market.

“The mayors have started to pay attention to it,” Corley said of the housing need. “Sandy Springs completely changed their [zoning] codes, which was a brilliant thing.”

Corley said if city officials continue to embrace more housing, Empire could add up to 200 units per year throughout Perimeter and deeper into the northern suburbs along Georgia 400. If so, get used to the notion of $600,000 as the going rate for attainable housing, Corley and others say.

John Hipes, an Alpharetta City Councilman, recently pressed Corley about his ability to maintain attainable pricing on new homes. Hipes described another Alpharetta housing project near Avalon where pre-construction pricing was first estimated at $800,000. Now those homes are priced at more than $1 million, Hipes said. A new development near North Point Mall featured prices initially set between $350,000 and $400,000, but now they are at $600,000, Hipes said.

Corley responded, "Whatever submarket we are in, we are trying to be as attainable as possible.

"But," he added, "that definition is certainly changing."




Full article: https://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/news/2024/05/14/empire-communities-alpharetta-harrys-market.html