Serenbe: From the Source
I had the pleasure of meeting with Steve Nygren this week down at the Blue-Eyed Daisy Cafe at Serenbe. For those of you who do not know who Steve is, he was a highly successful restaurant entrepreneur who sold his portfolio of restaurants several years ago. He made a nice profit on the sale and has since moved down to the southwestern suburbs of Atlanta. Using the land he bought, he has created Serenbe.
Serenbe (pronounce Seh-Rin-Bee and not Suh-Rin-Bee) is a 900 acre master-planned community in Chattahoochee Hills (near Palmetto). It is just a few miles from the airport and a few more from downtown.
When I say “South of Atlanta,” what images come to mind? Foreclosed homes in Clayton county? Run down apartments near the airport? Dozens of broken commercials deals along Tara Blvd? Whatever your mental picture of “South of Atlanta” is, it usually isn’t favorable. But Serenbe is a horse of a different color.
For whatever reason, suburban development has largely bypassed the southwestern suburbs and much of the land remains, well, land. You don’t see grocery anchored-strip centers on every corner and an apartment complex every 20 feet. In fact, on the trip out to Serenbe on South Fulton Pkwy, you will drive by several miles where there is literally nothing built on either side of the road. It’s just land.
So, you drive through the country and arrive at a small, unassuming entrance that you probably wouldn’t even notice if you weren’t looking for it (just the way Steve likes it, by the way). You turn right onto Selbourne Lane and after about a half mile and past a HUGE barn you run across a pristine little cluster of single family homes. There are probably 15-20 of them clustered together. All unique, but also somehow cohesive. They all evoke the same sense of comfort and community. Open windows and inviting porches let you imagine passing the afternoons sipping sweet tea and chatting with your neighbor.
Next to this cluster is a small group of town homes and some ground level retail. Same story here: each TH is unique but still seems to fit the atmosphere of the place.
The next little hamlet is Serenbe’s equivalent to Main and Main. Here you will find the restaurants, cafes, retail spaces, and European courtyard. This is where Blue-Eyed Daisy is and where I met Steve for lunch. Here you will also find several local retailers, an art gallery and the Hil Restaurant (which I recommend as a dinner option).
The rest of the property has undeveloped lots for sale, a large meeting facility, the famous B&B, animals, a greenhouse, miles of walking trails, and much more. This is, after all, 900 acres.
Which brings me to my next point. One of the best aspects of Serenbe is the greenspace. By using density and tightly clustered homes, Nygren has been able to keep a huge % of the space as dedicated green space. This is not, and will never be, a concrete jungle. Yes, there are several buildings and the master plan calls for many more to be built, but you get the impression that Steve always wants this to be a peaceful, tranquil, and organic experience for residents and visitors. So he will be keeping as much of the natural space as possible.
Speaking of the master plan, I have seen it. It is ambitious . . .
Steve is envisioning a self-sustained community that will include schools, meeting centers, office space, gyms, farms, a movie theater, a hotel, retirement communities, and much more. Again, density is the key. Serenbe has setbacks off of Atlanta-Newnan Rd and Hutcheson Ferry Rd of 300 feet. So even when all phases are complete and the site is completely built out passersby won’t have any idea about the expansive community hidden behind the trees. When and whether he will be able to pull off all this construction is up for debate. I am told he has a strong relationship with BB&T and I am sure they will help him decide the appropriate time for new construction.
This I do know: Lot sales and development were at the same level in 2010 as they were in 2007. That makes Serenbe one of the few commercial/mixed-use projects to be able to maintain momentum through the recession. So, extrapolating from that fact, I wouldn’t bet against Steve building his oasis before any of us expects.
So this is my little tip-of-the-cap to Steve Nygren and all of the people at Serenbe. They have created something special just south of us and people are starting to take notice. Don’t take my word for it. Go check it out yourself.
If you happen to be strolling by Blue-Eyed Daisy on a sunny Saturday afternoon, pop your head in and ask if Steve is around. Chances are he will be sitting there sharing his vision with a prospective client or simply sharing an apple pie with one of his daughters. Either way, he will be smiling and enjoying the peaceful life at Serenbe and you should too.
(For more info on Serenbe, visit www.serenbe.com)