The group tasked with proposing redevelopment ideas for Sandy Springs’ north end began pitching ideas for the area for the first time at its Aug. 22 meeting. Ideas were based on public input and including encouraging mixed-income housing; increasing homeownership; creating more greenspaces and connectivity to them; and taming Roswell Road.
The North End Revitalization Task Force has spent its previous meetings reviewing demographics and data, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the area and defining its mission. This meeting, held at City Hall, marked the first time the task force sat down to think through ideas.
“This is an important night. We’re sort of at a peak,” task force chair and City Councilmember Steve Soteres said at the start of the meeting.
The ideas supported by the task force mostly stemmed from suggested provided by residents at a July open house.
Other ideas included creating separate “nodes” with a distinct character and connecting those nodes; installing better internet infrastructure and attracting a young workforce.
The group also wants more connectivity to the riverfront, an “obvious unique amenity,” Gabe Sterling, a former City Councilmember, said.
The need to reduce congestion on Roswell Road brought about many ideas, including creating more access to other surface streets to divert traffic.
The task force frequently was drawn back to one of its main challenges: bringing redevelopment without causing gentrification, which Mayor Rusty Paul has instructed the group to steer clear of.
The group was often reminded by Otis White, the group facilitator, to not get into the weeds at this stage of the process. How the ideas will be accomplished will be determined at later meetings, he said.
But the topic drew debate among task force members.
“You are going to displace people,” developer Don Huffner said.
“As long as we can find another place for them to live we haven’t displaced them. There are ways that it can be done,” said Melanie Couchman, one of the task force co-chairs.
The idea to provide easier paths to homeownership was mentioned several times by residents at the open house, and is seen by the task force as way to bring more community investment from apartment renters.
“Even if we push for homeowners, that doesn’t mean we gentrify it,” said Carolyn Axt, a former Leadership Sandy Springs executive director.
The main factor preventing renters from buying a house in the north end is the “missing middle” housing, Sterling said.
“We have plenty of low-income housing. We have plenty of expensive housing. We have none in the middle,” he said.
The path to buying a house starts with keeping rental rates low enough that residents can save, Melanie Couchman said.
“You also can’t have $3000 rent and expect them to save for a home,” she said.
Each task force member will now determine which idea they are best suited to research and propose specific ideas for and focus on that during their month-long break. The next task force meeting is planned for Oct. 3 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at City Hall, 1 Galambos Way. The next public open house is scheduled for Oct. 18.