Mayor Rusty Paul likens Roswell Road to a broken and worn tiara, with the proposed City Center as the crown jewel in the middle.
But, he said, the tiara needs to be refurbished. “I think Roswell Road has the potential to be . . . where we all gather, where things happen. Instead of avoiding it, it’s a place where you want to go.”
Paul was speaking to a crowd of about 50 people gathered when the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods held its annual meeting May 13 at the Heritage Sandy Springs building. The voluntary neighborhood advocacy group hosted Paul along with a panel of local developers.
“Things are going in the right direction,” Paul said, explaining that the city has shaved about 32 hours a year off the commute time from the Chattahoochee River to the city limits by coordinating lights and traffic management.
Paul said Roswell Road can become more vibrant, in part, by creating a retail environment where people want to go to shop. He said he visited Woodstock recently, which has a nice small-town center divided by only a railroad track from urban housing, retail and restaurants.
“It physically looked a little bit out of place, but it worked,” Paul said. “Mothers in strollers were going down shop to shop to shop. By 11:30 a.m., people started showing up in the restaurants. By noon, the place was buzzing. If Woodstock can do it, surely, surely we can do better.”
Trisha Thompson, the council’s vice president, introduced the panel that followed Paul’s remarks. “Our main Roswell Road corridor affects the neighborhoods both in real estate values and the image of our community,” she said, adding that the panel was going to address Roswell Road north of Abernathy and inside I-285 to the city limits, since those areas, unlike the city center area, are not supported by a master plan.
John Lundeen, president of Coro Realty Advisers, said one challenge is that “we don’t have a grid system. Without a grid system it’s very challenging to have this vibrant, town type of environment.”
He also said the city should try to attract local retail tenants rather than national big-box stores in order to create an area like downtown Roswell or Decatur. “Those are the areas that are the most successful,” he said.
Developer Charles Roberts of Roberts Properties, said that Roswell Road needs a “catalyst” for change that includes shops people can walk to, a mix of commercial and residential and a feeling of safety.
Roberts says he’s told the mayor Roswell Road needs an overlay zone. “First, [it offers] more control, more attention to landscaping, architecture, awnings and beauty,” he said.
He says supervision by a governing board will make Roswell Road neighborhoods more attractive and bring better tenants. “It is a tedious job,” Roberts warned, saying it cannot happen overnight.
Hudson Hooks with JLB Partners, which is developing the Gateway mixed-use project near the intersection of Roswell Road and Windsor Parkway, said residents moving to the southern Roswell Road area offer a great opportunity for redevelopment.
“Roswell Road is an opportunity for developers because you’ve got blighted areas mixed in with unbelievable residential areas,” he said. “It’s a perfect storm for developers to get things done.”
Hooks said one challenge is that as rundown apartments are demolished, others become more valuable. But, he said, in the next 20 years there will be a big push by developers up and down Roswell Road.
He also agreed that an overlay zone would have made things easier for him on the Gateway project. “We would have gotten to the same place in half the time,” Hooks said.
Roberts said that as a longtime North Springs resident, he’s sensitive to the needs of Roswell Road.
“My hot button is Roswell Road. The neighborhoods are really beautiful,” Roberts said. “But it’s the Roswell Road piece that needs a lot of attention.”
He warned that the city shouldn’t get so busy with the jewel of the City Center that it “forgets the tiara.”