Mixed-use, park-dotted concepts for MARTA’s North Springs and possible future Northridge station areas in Sandy Springs drew general support from more than 70 residents attending a city planning meeting July 18. But residents also worried about increased traffic, especially from commuters living outside the city.

Residents brainstorm with a Next Ten planner at the MARTA station small area plan meeting July 18 at Heritage Hall. (Photo John Ruch)

“We agreed that, overall, we’re heading in the right direction with that [North Springs] station,” one resident reported back from her brainstorming group, adding that a potential Northridge station is “a positive.”

“If you build more, you won’t have enough parking,” warned Trisha Thompson, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, about North Springs in a group discussion. “You don’t have enough parking now.”

The meeting at Heritage Hall on Blue Stone Road was the latest in the city’s “Next Ten” process, which combines a rewrite of the land-use plan and zoning code with detailed “small area plans” for certain key areas, including the MARTA Red Line stations.

At an initial meeting in March, residents suggested some features that made it into the updated concept plans. They include a pedestrian bridge across Ga. 400 at North Springs, and more affordable housing in the mix for both station areas.

North Springs is the current north terminus of the Red Line, located between Ga. 400 and Peachtree-Dunwoody Road just north of Abernathy Road. The Next Ten planning team, led by consulting firm Rhodeside & Harwell, proposed a “high-end” townhome development and a parkland fronting on Peachtree-Dunwoody. Besides the pedestrian bridge, a plaza would be created between the station’s two existing parking garages.

A station either just south or just north of Northridge Road is on MARTA’s drawing board as part of a potential Red Line extension into Alpharetta that would be more than a decade away. Because the exact site of a new station isn’t clear, aside from sticking to the west side of Ga. 400, the Next Ten planners have two alternative concepts.

A conceptual design of redevelopment around the North Springs MARTA Station presented at the July 18 Next Ten meeting. (Photo John Ruch)

In general, they call for dense housing with some retail, a new street grid, and green-space-lined paths possibly running to Roswell. One alternative would add a 5- to 6-story office building to Northridge’s Pointe office park to create a “campus” and fill projected demand.

Increased traffic was a concern with both plans, but especially the Northridge station, especially if it ends up being the Red Line’s terminus for years or forever. Envisioned as a relatively modest station in a planning process in 2014, the Next Ten concepts now label it a “commuter” or “collector” station, depending on the alternative. Either way, it means a station that draws regional MARTA riders.

“We don’t want North Springs Part Two,” one resident said.

The initial meeting in March began with interruptions from some residents concerned about MARTA’s expansion and the mixed-use ideas. The July meeting kicked off in a similar way, with some residents asking whether federally subsidized low-income apartments would be part of the plan and objecting to market-projection data that seemed to show no demand for condos.

Mayor Rusty Paul came to the presenters’ rescue at least four times, repeatedly asking attendees to hear the full concepts before critiquing them, and assuring them that market projections are not plans.

Mayor Rusty Paul jumps into the discussion to clarify the meaning of housing market projection data during the July 18 Next Ten meeting. (Photo John Ruch)

“That’s not necessarily what we’re going to do,” Paul said. “There’ll be plenty of opportunities to micromanage going forward.”

The mayor also attempted to reassure attendees that “apartments would disappear” for the Northridge station, which might be built by displacing hundreds of rental units in the Ecco apartments area.

Paul indicated his own preference for mixed-income housing around the stations. “It’s a tale of two communities” in Sandy Springs, he said, with many affluent residents and a 12 percent poverty rate. “We don’t have a middle class,” he said.

The majority of residents in the brainstorming session appeared to agree. The housing terms varied—mixed-income, middle-income, affordable—but tended toward, as one resident put it, not “catering to just high-end development.” Most comments preferred ownership units, however.

Even the most skeptical group said they would rather see more multifamily housing at Northridge instead of hulking parking garages. “We don’t want to look at parking decks,” that group’s representative repeated three times for emphasis.

Various parts of the Next Ten process are in the works. An update on a Powers Ferry Landing small area plan was scheduled for July 19 and the overall Comprehensive Plan for July 20. More community meetings are slated for the fall and a possible plan adoption in November. For more information, see thenext10.org.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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