When it came time to downsize his home, Joel Lobel didn’t want to live in a condo.
“Who wants to live in a condo?” he asked, feigning indignation simply at the suggestion. He’d lived in houses and apartments. He thought living in a condominium somehow sounded too isolating, too cut off from the community.
“We looked at everything,” said the 71-year-old, who retired from the electrical supply business. “We looked at townhouses, smaller houses. I did not want to live in a condo.”
Then, five years ago, his wife convinced him to move into the Gallery, a 27-story condominium on Peachtree Road in Buckhead. Now he feels right at home in his ninth-floor condo overlooking Garden Hills and providing views clear to downtown Atlanta.
He knows his neighbors. He’s president of the condo homeowners association. He’s more involved with others around him now than he was when he lived in a neighborhood of single-family detached homes.
“To me, this feels more like a community than my neighborhood did,” he said.
Others who live in Buckhead condos say similar sorts of things. They see their condominiums as communities and as their neighborhoods. The difference between their neighborhoods and other, more traditional, ones, are that theirs are vertical and packed together, rather than horizontal and spread out. “I’ve lived in Buckhead 30-some years,” said Betsy Scattergood, who also lives in the Gallery. “I definitely think of [the Gallery] as a neighborhood.”
A number of Buckhead’s condominium complexes now are joining in a new association they hope will give greater voice to their communities. The Buckhead Condo Alliance, which formally organized last summer, has joined the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, and has begun sending representatives to listen in at meetings of other Buckhead community organizations.
Alliance president Ben Howard says representatives of at least 11 properties have attended the group’s meetings, and he hopes as many as 20 will become active during 2015. The organization takes in condo complexes spread along Peachtree Road from Lindbergh to Mathieson drives. The condos that have shown interest in the alliance contain about 2,400 units, or as many as 3,600 people, Howard said.
“Ideally, by the end of the year, we could get to 3,000 units,” Howard said. “That would make us one of the larger neighborhoods [in Buckhead].”
Howard, a 30-year-old municipal bond trader, lives in the Alhambra, a six-story condo on Peachtree. He’s in his second year as president of that condo’s homeowners association. In the past, he said, Buckhead’s condos have acted like individual islands scattered up and down Peachtree. He hopes the alliance can bring them clout.
The group traces its start to complaints a couple of years ago about weekly motorcycle gatherings in Buckhead that annoyed some condo residents. Howard remembers counting more than 145 motorcycles at one summer night gathering in 2013.
“Basically we put a small coalition together to look at that issue,” Howard said, “and we realized we’d created a network. Now we could do more things… To some ends, it’s a strength-in-numbers game.”
He also thinks that combining homeowners groups from the various condos means they can share information about the business side of running the properties to make them more efficient and perhaps save residents some money. Condo associations typically hire the people who run and maintain their buildings. Putting the leadership together in an alliance means they can share notes on what works, which contractors are reliable and perhaps combine to hire contractors.
“We’re just people who are concerned about our neighborhoods,” he said. “Our neighborhood spans a lot of Buckhead. It spans a lot of neighborhoods in Buckhead.”
The communities represented by the alliance take in all sorts of people, from 20-somethings to retirees. They build friendships through community social events. The Gallery throws holiday parties, hosts weekly socials during the spring, summer and fall, and holds art openings in its lobby gallery, Lobel said. At Mathieson Exchange Lofts, resident Cameron Hard, a 29-year-old commercial insurance consultant, says he’s gotten to know his neighbors by taking his dog to the condo dog walk.
“It’s a community of people with lots of different backgrounds who live together in a community,” Lobel said. “When you buy a condo, it’s really not your house. You have a community. You’re responsible to do certain things and be a part of the whole community.”