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Overview What is Serenbe

Serenbe is a 1,000 acre community located under 30 minutes from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson
International Airport. It is a national model for the future of balanced development in the U.S.—
focusing on land preservation, agriculture, energy efficiency, green building, walkability, high density
building, arts and culture, and community living for multiple generations. With a projected 70% of
future building occurring in the greenfield, Serenbe demonstrates how urban development models
can succeed on the edge of a metropolis while preserving a vast majority of the greenspace. Serenbe’s
ultimate goal is to demonstrate how development can accommodate the need for housing with minimal
impact on nature—Serenbe’s land plan call for a preservation of at least 70% of the acreage, while
accommodating as many or more people as traditional subdivision-style development, which would
disturb nearly 80%.

Serenbe was the first hamlet built in Chattahoochee Hills, a 40,000 acre city with an overlay plan that
calls for preservation of a minimum of 70% of the acreage. Serenbe’s founders, Steve & Marie Nygren
and Rawson Haverty, have created an urban model promoting walkability and community living, with private residential homes (currently, approximately 170 residents), commercial space, art galleries, original shops, stables, and a 20-room inn with conference facilities. Serenbe has devoted 30 acres to farming—the Serenbe Farm is certified organic and biodynamic with a thriving CSA program and Saturday markets. The community is home to three thriving restaurants—Blue Eyed Daisy Bakeshop (the nation’s smallest Silver LEED certified building), The Farmhouse (which has received national critical acclaim in Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines, and is consistently featured in local publications), and The Hil (owned by executive chef Hilary White, and has received national critical acclaim in Food and Wine magazine, and was named a Best New Restaurant by Atlanta Magazine and the Atlanta Journal Constitution).

Central post boxes, porches pulled to the street, and other mindful elements foster community and
create a social fabric, all enhanced and enriched by the Serenbe Institute and community programming.

Serenbe is also a cultural venue for neighbors and out-of-town visitors, providing free events
throughout the year such as a MayDay celebration, July 4th parade, concerts, artist bazaar, farm
tours, visiting artists and scholars, and lectures with local historians. In 2009, the New York Times
dubbed Serenbe a “Sonoma for the New South.”

In 2008, the Atlanta chapter of the Urban Land Institute awarded Serenbe its inaugural Sustainability
Award, the Atlanta Regional Commission honored Serenbe as a “Development of Excellence” with
special merit in conservation, and EarthCraft named Serenbe the EarthCraft Development of the Year.


History of Chattahoochee Hill Country Development

The vision for Serenbe was born at the height of Atlanta’s sprawl in the 1990s, in an effort to protect the rural land just southwest of the city known as the Chattahoochee Hill Country. Development was closing in on this countryside; had landowners turned a blind eye to this inevitable sprawl, the 40,000 acres would likely now have subdivision-style traditional development that has plagued every other area surrounding metro Atlanta, which would’ve resulted in the disturbance of nearly 80% of the land.
Steve & Marie Nygren led the process to gather other landowners in the area to discuss a way to avoid losing the rural character of the land, while accommodating the inevitable need for development. A series of public meetings and discussions led to the eventual formation of the Chattahoochee Hill Country Alliance, whose mission was to protect the land from traditional development while meeting the realistic need for inevitable development. In 2001, the Alliance obtained a grant and hired a professional planning firm to facilitate the process and document their vision. The result was the Chattahoochee Hill Country Community Plan, a plan now incorporated in the South Fulton 2015 Amended Comprehensive Land Use Plan and the Fulton County Chattahoochee Hill Country Overlay District Ordinance, both adopted in 2002. By combining various land use tools, from outright land purchase for conservation to conservation easements and innovative development strategies such as mixed-use villages, CHC has fostered environmentally friendly regional growth, and ensured that at least 70% of the 40,000 acres will remain greenspace.

Adopted in April of 2003, the Fulton County Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Ordinance provides a mechanism for managing development by concentrating it in areas the community designated for development. The Chattahoochee Hill Country Land Use Plan represents the first plan in the region that was developed by a community through a grassroots initiative, and has won recognition from the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Urban Land Institute, the Georgia Planning Association, and others.

The Nygren family partnered with Serenbe co-founder Rawson Haverty to be the first to demonstrate how this balanced growth can be accomplished—by building high density villages and hamlets surrounding community centers—by building the first hamlet in the Chattahoochee Hill Country, which now serves as a model for the area.

To further insure the future of the Chattahoochee Hill Country and the overlay plan, community members led an effort to incorporate the rural area, resulting in the City of Chattahoochee Hills, which became a city in December 2007. Several of the city’s first city council members are Serenbe residents.

 

 

The Serenbe Land Plan

Serenbe’s land planner Dr. Phill Tabb, AIA, worked to design the community as a constellation of
interconnected sustainable hamlets. The omega-shaped hamlet forms are unique and are carefully
fitted into the natural landscape forming an interface between green, wetland and watershed areas
of the site and the surrounding sloping hills. Each hamlet employs a transect-oriented spatial organization where lower densities at the edges transition to higher densities and greater mixes of use at
the center. The four hamlets are planned with similar housing typologies with a mix of single family
detached to attached dwellings, and they are planned with differing and interdependent clusters
of non-residential functions. Selborne Hamlet is oriented to the arts and particularly the visual and
culinary arts. Grange Hamlet is oriented to agriculture, equestrian center and the market. Mado
Hamlet is oriented to health and wellness with a host of facilities supporting these functions. And the
Hill Hamlet is oriented to greater levels of commerce, including a post office, grocery store, fire station
and other supporting retail. Each of the hamlets are connected by roads, trails, and bridle paths,
thereby creating an integrated whole. The overall masterplan with the integrated hamlets and the
omega-shaped hamlet design are intended to help contribute to greater levels of active living and a
coherent sense of place. The programmatic inclusions of the host of non-residential activities, including
the Bakeshop, Hil Restaurant, and Saturday Market all contribute to increased interaction among
the residents and a strong sense of community. It also has been important to attract a diverse population
of residents. It has been a major goal of the design to create a powerful sense of place so that
residents would enjoy spending a great deal of time living in the community. This contributes to a
sustainable way of living by reducing the need for between-place travel. Serenbe is a pedestrian place
and has a strong participation in the many variety of community activities.

Importance of Serenbe as a Greenfield Development Model

A recent white paper from the Urban Land Institute predicts that approximately 70% of future building
will be in the greenfield. Traditionally, greenfield development has been linked to urban sprawl.
Serenbe demonstrates how greenfield development models can succeed and preserve a majority of
the greenspace. Development must occur to accommodate the need for housing, but does not have
to occur at nature’s expense. This is accomplished by using the basic tenets of new urbanism—dense
building around community centers, just like many historic U.S. towns and English villages. Serenbe
demonstrates how to work with nature’s gifts rather than against them. Homes within Serenbe, for
example, are sited with minimal disturbance of the land and natural terrain, and are placed in relation
to the sun for maximum energy efficiency and natural heating and cooling, and windows are placed
for cross-ventilation.

Environmental Practices

All structures are built to the strict green building standards mandated by EarthCraft Home; in 2008,
Serenbe was honored EarthCraft Development of the Year. In addition to land conservation and
green building, Serenbe promotes clean technologies and green practices, such as recycling and composting, alternative fuel usage for maintenance vehicles, geo-thermal heating, and the farm-to-table movement with a partnership between the Serenbe Organic Farm and Serenbe’s three restaurants.

Addressing our planet’s shrinking water supply is of utmost importance to Serenbe. The community
is a cutting edge example of several water conservation practices: improved technology for water conservation and efficiency via water-smart appliances like dual-flush toilets, wastewater treatment using bio-retention and constructed wetlands, minimal landscaping, and stormwater treatment via natural buffers. The monthly water usage for Serenbe as a community is 25% lower than the national average.

Serenbe is 1000 acres; at least 70% will always be preserved green space. geo-thermal heated buildings
This market sells organic & local goods, including produce from the Serenbe Organic Farms Next door, the Blue Eyed Daisy Bakeshop is the smallest Silver LEED certified building in the nation Walkability:
everything in Serenbe is connected via a walking path All homes are EarthCraft Certified Native plants & organic landscaping (no lawns = no chemicals) Underground trashcans sort trash, recycling & compost Serenbe: Green at a Glance outdoor lighting regulations = clear, starry skies
(See more at serenbe.com) The Importance of the Farm The New York Times on July 1, 2009 ran a story: “Growing With the Crops, Nearby Property Values” and addressed how organic farms are becoming smart developments’ amenity of choice. This story featured Serenbe as one of a few national examples, and the only one in the South. “Open space improves the return for a developer,” Ed McMahon, a senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute, said. “We have 16,000 subdivisions around golf courses, where developers found they could charge a lot premium of 25 to 50 percent over comparable tract subdivision. But most people who live on golf courses do not play golf.” “The intent variation on this is blending in working agriculture, Mr. McMahon said. Living with a farm, he noted, can bring a buyer permanent views, wholesome activities for children, access to walking and riding trails and inclusion in an epicurean club.”

The Importance of Trees

A sample tree inventory was conducted over the entire Serenbe property by Arborguard Tree Specialists
using ArborScout technology (GIS and GPS) in February, 2008. This study shows that the trees
at Serenbe store 1,333,840 tons of carbon and sequester an additional 52,660 tons of carbon per year.
The trees also remove 1,484.01 tons of pollution a year from the air. In laymen’s terms:

Serenbe’s trees sequester the equivalent of 7,213 cars’ carbon emissions for a year, and store the
equivalent of 182,717 cars’ emissions for a year.

Or, Serenbe’s trees sequester the equivalent of 4,216 single family homes’ emissions for a year, and
store the equivalent of 106,792 single family homes for a year.

Guiding Principles At Serenbe we value:

  • Nature… because people can live more fully when connected to nature’s wonders
  • Passion… because living passionately is the most rewarding of lives
  • Creativity… because creative people live lives of great passion, and can help the rest of us do the same
  • Community… where people are accepted for who they are, not what they are

At Serenbe we exemplify:

  • a community where people authentically live, work, learn and play in celebration of life’s beauty
  • a place where connections between people, nature and the arts are nourished

At Serenbe we:

  • Bring people together to learn and explore ideas about the environment, sensitive development,
    and new ways of thinking and planning for the future
  • Model beneficial ways to both preserve and develop land
  • Connect artists, artisans, and art lovers to create and experience art in its fullest range and glory
  • Place special emphasis on the “earth-centered” arts to celebrate the cultural and ethnic heritage of the Chattahoochee Hill Country
  • Link our commitment to the environment with creative vision to create and celebrate art
  • Use today’s and tomorrow’s technology as tools to connect people with nature and the arts
  • Explore how the arts and technology can be integrated in support of one another in the creative process
  • Share valuable lessons about art, the environment, technology, and sustainable and green field development with others

The Serenbe Institute for Art, Culture & the Environment

The nonprofit Serenbe Institute’s mission is to inspire and develop holistic programs that promote individual creativity and intellectual growth in Serenbe, encourage and strengthen a sense of place, and enhance our community’s artistic and cultural qualities.

To carry out this mission and meet its obligations to the community, the Institute presents programs
and events to strengthen our community, identifies opportunities and needs in the arts and environment, and forms partnerships and collaborations with similar activities in the Chatt Hills and wider Atlanta community. The Institute presents programs in the arts…both visual and performing…that feature local artists, bring artists of unique talent and creativity to our community and our neighbors, and foster emerging artists from Serenbe, the Chatt Hills, and greater Atlanta. It hosts artists of accomplishment and promise in residencies throughout the year.

Celebrating the Chatt Hills’ extraordinary cultural heritage is a main goal of the Institute. Crafts,
cuisine, farming, animal husbandry… are regular parts of life in Serenbe. The Institute takes the lead
in presenting community events for young and old, building a strong, resilient, and sustainable community of people who share this vision.

The Serenbe Institute plays an important role in the protection and enhancement of our community’s
natural environment. Its programs celebrate the extraordinary natural beauty of Serenbe and its surroundings; it will be in the forefront of efforts to protect this precious asset for generations to come.

The Institute seeks to involve Serenbe’s residents in important community issues in meaningful
ways. Its role as facilitator and initiator means that it far removed from traditional “activities” programs found in other places. The Institute is focused on strengthening the ability of the community
to deal with issues of expectations, communications, and civility. It may initiate programs in the arts,
environment, or education to meet important civic needs, but it will spin them off on their own as a
responsibility of residents specifically interested in them. In that way, the Institute remains free and
flexible in addressing the changing needs of a growing community.

The Serenbe Institute is governed by a volunteer board of directors representing the community and
its neighbors. Most directors are actively engaged in presenting programs for the community, such
as musical events at the Blue Eyed Daisy bake shop and Studio Swan’s exhibitions and events. The
board is responsible for the Institute’s programs, its fiscal stability, and its successes in meeting the
needs of the Serenbe community.

One of the Institute’s strengths is the participation by a large number of residents on its board and
committees, including…

  • Visual Arts Committee – quarterly visiting artists, film series, visual art classes, public art projects, arts activities at May Day
  • Performing Arts Committee – musical performances around the community by local artists,
    residencies by New River Dramatists
  • Environmental Issues Committee – community recycling and composting program, tree planting initiative, Carbon Neutral program
  • Serenbe Fellows Committee – visiting scholars programs and community building initiatives
  • Traditions Committee - oral history program, visitor information program, new residents program, storytelling and heritage events
  • Civic Events Committee – the annual residents’ ball, community events such as July 4th and
    May Day in cooperation with Serenbe Development.
  • Education Committee – Montessori School advisory program, community education programs
    and planning
  • Special Projects Committee – project management for Community Center, Art Farm, and Fire
    Pavilion projects

Residents of Serenbe make a significant investment in the Serenbe Institute through participation in
the Property Transfer Program, paying a fee to the Institute on the sale of real estate and homes: 1% of
sales price on a home; 3% on a lot. Serenbe Institute board policy governs the use of these funds: onehalf
of the money is placed in an endowment fund to be a perpetual source of revenue for the Institute
from interest and dividends; one-half is available for use for programs and managing the Institute’s
day to day activities. These funds are supplemented by other gifts and grants, annual memberships,
corporate sponsorships, and other revenues.

The Serenbe Institute is an important part of the community. It works to make Serenbe the kind of
place we envision, where those things we value together…nature, passion, creativity and community…
will be here for generations to come.

 
Related Pages: Quality of Life, Sustainability, Founders, Development Team
 
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