Pinewood Forrest: A New Kind of Company Town Takes Root Outside Atlanta

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Roughly half of the 234 acres at Pinewood Forrest, a mixed-used development adjacent to Pinewood Atlanta Studios, will remain dedicated to open green space, parks, gardens and untouched woodland. (Photo: Pinewood Forrest)

Walkable, master-planned communities sometimes have an uncanny resemblance to the sets found on film studio backlots.

Maybe it’s the relative scarcity of cars (and at certain hours, people). Maybe it’s the mishmash of businesses, housing types and architectural styles packed into a compact area. Perhaps it’s the “Truman Show” associations, cheery facades and the occasional whiffs of manufactured nostalgia. Or maybe it’s just all the golf carts.

Call them what you will — cozy, quaint, contrived, even creepy — there’s no mistaking a pedestrian-centered New Urbanist community for a car-dependent cookie-cutter subdivision.

Pinewood Forrest, a 234-acre mixed-use “experiential development” currently under construction 24 miles south of downtown Atlanta in semi-rural Fayette County, is a study in true blue New Urbanism: Driveways and garages are hidden away, pedestrian pathways and street-facing porches are front and center and the Mayberrian — or maybe Stars Hollow-esque — vibes likely will be moderate to strong. At Pinewood Forrest, residents — if they don’t already reside direct above it — will ideally live just a hop, skip and jump down the street from their place of employment.

Overhead illustration of Pinewood Forrest, Fayetteville, Georgia
Strategically located across from Pinewood Atlanta Studios, Pinewood Forrest ultimately will have a total of 1,300 housing units split between single-family homes and apartments, along with a range of amenities. (Photo: Pinewood Forrest)

Strategically located across from Pinewood Atlanta Studios, Pinewood Forrest ultimately will have a total of 1,300 housing units split between single-family homes and apartments, along with a range of amenities. (Illustration: Pinewood Forrest)

What sets Pinewood Forrest apart from other master-planned communities of the same ilk is that a large share of its residents will walk to work each day at a major film and television studio complex, complete with backlot, located just across the street.

This isn’t to say that Pinewood Forrest itself will come to resemble an actual backlot set as it's built out in four phases over the next five to nine years. Developers and town planners have learned a lot from the semi-eerie early days of New Urbanism — more so than ever, they have a firm grasp or what works and what doesn't. The community, which will eventually sport 700 single-family homes and townhomes along with 600 multi-family units flanked by a series of parks and greenways with a retail and restaurant-laden town center — the Village Square — in the middle of it all, does, however, take on the role of de facto company town of sorts for Pinewood Atlanta Studios.

Acting as the epicenter for Georgia’s booming $7 billion a year film and television production industry, the sprawling facility — the largest of its kind in the U.S. outside the Los Angeles area — is run by British multinational Pinewood Group, which operates several film and TV production facilities across the globe including its legendary flagship studios outside of London.

Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, a native of Fayette County, serves as co-owner of Pinewood Atlanta Studios and as lead developer of the burgeoning mini-city that’s being erected on what was once a wheat field right next door.

Wanted: Storytellers, makers and car-eschewing boomers

Just as Pinewood Forrest isn’t your average New Urbanist enclave, it’s also not your average company town. Residents, of course, aren’t required to be badge-carrying employees of the studio complex across the way where blockbuster hits including "Spider Man: Homecoming" and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" were shot.

Instead, the development’s sales team has cast a wide net extending well beyond Atlanta-based film and television professionals keen on living adjacent to where they work.

Referring to the community’s target demographic as the “next generation of creative storytellers and makers,” Pinewood Forrest president Rob Parker explains that while the focus is largely on the creative class (including a fair number of West Coast transplants), working empty-nesters and baby boomers also will feel right at home at Pinewood Forrest. Parker points out that both of these groups — millennials and boomers — are increasingly seeking the same thing when it comes to housing: smaller footprints and walkability.

On the walkable commute front, a pedestrian bridge eventually will span Veterans Highway, a major thoroughfare that physically separates Pine Forrest from Pinewood Atlanta Studios. The humble electric golf cart, a staple of both film studios and many New Urbanist communities, also will shuttle commuters and visitors alike between Pinewood Forrest and the Pinewood Atlanta complex. In fact, golf cart culture in Fayette County is already incredibly strong. Its largest city, Peachtree City, is nationally famous as a strange sort of golf cart utopia where almost everybody in town (burglars included) owns and drives one in lieu of a car.

“Pinewood Forrest evolved from the idea of creating a community that existed before the automobile,” Parker explains. “It’s a community that meets the needs of connectivity. People intersect with each other.”

Welcome to Y'allywood

As for the intersections of people, Parker envisions this occurring on spacious, handsomely landscape sidewalks; from front porches, community gardens, playgrounds and pocket parks; in the vibrant Village Square or at the on-site wellness center; or along 15 miles of trails and pathways that lace the development, linking each of its distinctive neighborhoods to the town center and other amenities.

“Nobody will live more than a block from a park,” explains Parker noting that roughly half of the total development site will be consist of open green space including 50 acres of preserved woodlands and wetlands that envelops the community as a sort of green force field.

In this regard, Pinewood Forrest takes a cue from Serenbe, a farm-centered planned community located about a 30-minute drive to the northwest in incorporated Chattahoochee Hill Country. Like Serenbe, Pinewood Forrest uses land preservation and smart development as a buffer from the unfortunate Atlantan tradition of reckless sprawl and everything — strip malls, car dealerships, soulless tract housing — that comes with it.

Speaking with Atlanta magazine last October, Pinewood Forrest's town planner Lew Oliver referred to Serenbe as "a trailblazer for us."

Also similar to Serenbe, Pinewood Forrest will include a tourism component. Yet whereas the former showcases its bucolic, down-on-the-farm setting in order to attract burnt-out city dwellers in need of a recharge, the latter hopes that the excitement of being in close proximity to a major film and television studio will lure a steady stream of visitors. While Pinewood Forrest very much shares DNA with pioneering New Urbanist communities like Seaside, Florida, it functions more as a sort of miniature Burbank, California — an entertainment industry-centric place to stay, shop or grab a bit of eat while visiting the working heart of the “Hollywood of the South” or, as it’s better known, Y’allywood.

Future phases of Pinewood Forrest will see the construction of two hotels — one a posh boutique property from hospitality management company Hay Creek and and the other a larger convention-ready complex — to accommodate a constant flow of out-of-towners. In addition to tourists looking to stay close to the action for a night or two, extended stay options will be available for film and TV folks working on shorter-term projects at Pinewood Atlanta. What's more, the multi-family flats directly above the Village's squares retail, restaurant and gallery spaces will offer flexible leases for the highly transient film and television workforce.

However, Parker notes that leasing options will be smartly capped to ensure the creation of a permanent base community and prevent Pinewood Forrest-ers from being too in and out, in and out. A community simply cannot thrive if its entire population is in L.A. or New York for more than half the year.

Clean energy that taps below the Earth's surface

If car-light living is the heart of any New Urbanist community, Pinewood Forrest also boasts fairly impressive muscle when it comes to environmental sustainability.

As Parker explains, Pinewood Forrest’s 600 single-family homes and townhomes (construction is wrapping up now on 20 homes being built as part of phase one, which will include a total of 160 homes) all embrace a five-part approach to sustainability.

Firstly, each residence, drawn close to the street and plotted for social interaction, not isolation, will take up smaller footprints than less-dense communities where privacy is paramount. Secondly, the homes will be tightly sealed to promote energy savings. The four local builders that comprise the Pinewood Forrest Builders Guild will work to higher-than-average green building standards. As a press release states, the community’s own mandatory green building program is “more stringent and streamlined than existing national certification programs.”

While Pinewood Forrest won’t have its own onsite solar power plant a la Babcock Ranch, a built-from-scratch mini-city north of Fort Myers, Florida, all homes are solar-ready. Fourth, integrated smart home technology will enable homeowners to operate their abodes in a more efficient and effortless manner.

Last but not least is the perhaps the impressive — and unique — green home building element of Pinewood Forrest: All of its single-family residences — from larger estate homes to Georgia Piedmont-inspired micro-cottages — will be outfitted with geothermal heat pumps in lieu of standard HVAC systems. As a result, Pinewood Forrest has emerged in its infancy as the first large-scale geothermal community in the United States.

As the video explainer below details, clean and renewable geothermal power uses the constant temperature located just below the Earth’s surface to heat and cool a home. Geothermal systems offer 70 percent energy cost savings when compared to traditional heating and cooling units and boast the added benefit of being much more long-lasting and low-maintenance than the conventional alternative.

Tucked underground where they’re not exposed to the elements, geothermal systems can last up to 50 years without requiring replacement compared to the average 12-year lifespan of traditional HVAC set-ups. And because they’re hidden away and operate silently, geothermal systems, from an aesthetic standpoint, remain blessedly out of sight and out of mind. Pinewood Forrest will be a rare sight — a sizable residential development unmarred by noisy, unattractive compressor units.

In lieu of using an outside company to install and manage the geothermal systems, Pinewood Forrest’s development team is taking on the endeavor itself. The cost of the systems will be factored into the homes’ mortgage payments. “It’s a no-brainer decision for homeowners,” says Parker.

“It’s something that’s really smart for the homeowner and for the environment,” says Parker of the first-of-its-kind non-optional geothermal scheme. “It comes together in a package that makes sense.”

Parker notes that when all five aforementioned elements — mandatory geothermal, optional rooftop solar, smart home technology, a tight building envelope and a petite physical footprint — work together at an individual home, the results will be close to net-zero energy usage.

While it will be a good while before Pinewood Forrest begins to resemble a full-fledged community, things are moving along at a clipping pace much like they do across the street within the bustling sound stages of Pinewood Atlanta Studios. The first round of residents are slated to move in this November while the inaugural retail and commercial office spaces will be completed by late 2018 or early 2019.

Even at this early stage in its existence, it’s easy to see how this quasi-company town in the heart of Y’allywood will play a starring role in the development of smart, sustainable master-planned communities to come. Whereas metro Atlanta was once notorious for being home to an unrelenting sprawl-beast, developments like Serenbe and Pinewood Forrest have emerged as case studies in how to responsibly fend it off.

“We have the opportunity to do something remarkable," says Parker.