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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. --A developer is preparing to start a 400-home project in Atlanta's affluent northern suburbs, the latest sign of the region's improving residential market.

FrontDoor Communities recently acquired 158 acres in south Forsyth County, with plans to develop its first Georgia project. The transaction marks the largest residential land acquisition in metro Atlanta in seven years, the developer said. A joint venture involving FrontDoor and Lamar Wakefield, a founding partner of the Atlanta-based architect Wakefield Beasley & Associates, completed the acquisition at the end of last month.

The price has not been disclosed.

FrontDoor is marketing the project as "Traditions." It will take shape at Ga. Highway 9 and Majors Road, along the Ga. 400 corridor, where the first signs of Atlanta's improving residential market have emerged.

The project's first phase will include 95 homes ranging from $300,000 to $500,000 and will break ground as early as September. It could be fully built-out in the next five or six years, depending on demand.

"I think this underscores that we can now see several good years out in front of us," said FrontDoor CEO and partner Terry Russell.

Russell is familiar with the Atlanta market. He's the former CEO of well-known Atlanta homebuilder John Wieland Homes.

FrontDoor is the latest developer to indicate metro Atlanta - home to one of the nation's hardest hit housing markets during the downturn - is turning the corner. Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN), one of the nation's largest builders, recently said it was optimistic about continued growth in Atlanta. PulteGroup, Atlanta's largest homebuilder, sees much of the same. It broke ground late last year on a project in Marietta. Demand was brisk enough that it began developing the second phase in May.

Pulte (NYSE: PHM) also announced May 31 that it's moving its headquarters from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. to Atlanta, citing more sales in the Southeast as one of the reasons.

In Atlanta, parts of affluent intown neighborhoods and cities along and north of the Perimeter are seeing most new residential sales and development. The resurgence is generally centered in housing submarkets supported by job growth and good school systems.
In counties such as Gwinnett, Fulton and Cobb, single-family housing permits are on pace to almost double from last year.

FrontDoor believes its Forsyth County project occupies part of this "demand corridor," Russell said. Still, it's a bit of a departure for the company.

FrontDoor has developed in Charleston, S.C.; and Naples and Orlando, Fla., but it's best-known best for urban and suburban infill projects of about 100 homes.

"This project is not that," Russell said. "It works out well for us, though. It's in a great location, the gateway to the westside of Forsyth County. It's going to be architecturally centric, not just big boxes."

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