Pill Hill has far less housing nearby than some other major Southern medical centers, and building more could take hundreds of cars off the roads, putting a big dent in the notorious local traffic congestion. Those are among the findings of a market study commissioned by Toll Brothers, the company planning to build apartments—some of them tailored to suit hospital workers—in Pill Hill’s Peachtree Dunwoody Pavilion redevelopment.
Toll Brothers plans a 335-unit apartment building on what is now a parking lot adjacent to MARTA’s Medical Center Station. Of those residents, the study from Atlanta’s Noell Consulting Group estimates, at least 20 to 30 percent would work in Pill Hill and 30 to 40 percent would commute daily by MARTA.
“Increasing the number of multifamily units in Pill Hill, especially at the [Pavilion site], which is just a stone’s throw from the hospitals, would lead to an increased density that would allow for more employees to walk to work,” the study says.
The plan follows twin trends of building housing close to employment centers and near public transit stations, said Charles Elliott, managing director for apartment living at Toll Brothers.
“I think this is a trend that’s not just focused on the medical employee necessarily,” he said. “I think a lot of cities are struggling with traffic infrastructure.”
But for the Pill Hill version, Toll Brothers would tailor some of the units to medical employees and work with hospital human resources departments to market directly to them, said Elliott and Stephen Bates, the company’s director of acquisitions in metro Atlanta. Among the amenities, they said, would be units with “buried bedrooms”—windowless rooms that allow night-shift workers to sleep during the day.
Pill Hill, centered on Johnson Ferry and Peachtree-Dunwoody roads in Sandy Springs, is home to Emory Saint Joseph’s, Northside and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite hospitals, as well as traffic that can back up into neighboring Brookhaven and Dunwoody.
North American Properties sparked debates about Pill Hill housing last year with its plans for a 305-unit apartment building on Johnson Ferry. North American has experience in building housing targeted for hospital employees in Nashville, Tenn., and convinced Sandy Springs officials that more Pill Hill housing could reduce vehicle traffic.
Toll Brothers, a Pennsylvania-based national developer of luxury housing, is now following suit as a partner in the mixed-use redevelopment of the Pavilion office park, which is still in the Sandy Springs review process. Noell’s market study for the project is proprietary, but Toll Brothers agreed to share the summary of its findings.
A major finding: “There simply are not enough multifamily residential units to meet the pent-up demand in the Pill Hill market.” About 8,400 people live within 1 mile of Pill Hill, but only 1,066—about 12.7 percent—work there, the study says. That is far lower than Houston’s Texas Medical Center, where 33.7 percent of nearby residents work there, and the University of Alabama Hospital center in Birmingham, where the rate is 27.3 percent.
A survey of five high-end apartment complexes that are near Pill Hill indicate that “pent-up demand,” the study says. The complexes reported that an average of 24 percent of their residents—about 390 households—work in Pill Hill and that living close to work was the main driver of their housing choice.
The low ratio of housing to jobs is a big factor in traffic nightmares in Perimeter Center in general, the study says. While 8,400 people live in that 1-mile ring around Pill, that same area has about 78,700 “high-paying” jobs. A mile distance is the rule of thumb for how far people are willing to walk to work, the study says, so that means tens of thousands of people are commuting in, most by car.
Living near public transit also can cut car use. Noell surveyed seven rental complexes, totaling 2,118 units, near unidentified MARTA stations and found that an average of 21 percent of residents rode MARTA daily and 46 percent used it at least twice a week.
What does all of that mean for the Pavilion project? Bates said Toll Brothers was attracted by those numbers—and believes it can beat them.
The study projects that at least 20 to 30 percent of Pavilion residents would be Pill Hill workers, and possibly more if the program of internal hospital marketing to employees is effective. “It would be Toll Brothers’ goal to have occupancy numbers above that,” Bates said.
And 20 to 40 percent of residents are projected to use MARTA to commute, and 50 percent to use it for some trips—estimates that Noell also believes are conservative.
Pill Hill’s housing market
About 12.7 of residents living within 1 mile of Pill Hill work there, much lower than medical center areas in Houston (33.7 percent) and Birmingham, Ala. (27.3 percent).
High-paying jobs within 1 mile: 78,700. Residents living within 1 mile: 8,400.
Pavilion housing projections
At least 20 to 30 percent of residents would work in Pill Hill; at least 20 to 40 percent of residents would use MARTA to commute.