Disagreements over what affordability policies should be included in the north end task force’s report could result in two differing plans being submitted to the City Council.

The group has been meeting since May, discussing proposals to spur redevelopment in the city’s north end and hosting public input meetings. It is now in the final stretch of its process. The group has narrowed down its initiatives to six and members presented first drafts of a report at its Nov. 14 meeting that is expected to be presented to the City Council at its January retreat.

From left, Richard Munger, Jeff Garrison, Jack Arnold, City Councilmember Steve Soteres, Melanie Noble-Couchman and David Couchman discuss housing policy at the north end task force’s Nov. 14 meeting. (Evelyn Andrews)

The task force plans to present a proposal to the council that recommends several other projects, including a new multiuse path and community center. The group generally agrees on those parts of the proposal, but the developer and advocate factions have been vocally disagreeing on key pieces of the housing component. Each side has different opinions on the affordability goal of the task force and how displacement and preservation should be handled.

Two developers, Jeff Garrison and Richard Munger were assigned by the consultant leading the group to draft the official housing redevelopment plan that the rest of the group would provide feedback on.

Disagreements between the advocates and the developers have not all been worked out, and may lead to the advocates submitting a separate, alternative plan to present to the council, although they all hope they can agree on a unified version. The advocates, philanthropic couple Melanie Noble-Couchman and David Couchman and affordable housing advisor Meaghan Shannon-Vikovic, came to the meeting with an alternative plan in hand.

The task force was asked by Mayor Rusty Paul to present actionable recommendations and practical solutions to the City Council, and it is unclear how two different plans could be received by the council.

The developers’ plan

The plan calls for creating mixed-income developments, starting with one “catalyst” project that could serve as a template for future developments. It would be guided by a new city-appointed committee. The project would likely need some public funds or incentives and city flexibility with the current zoning ordinances and building codes, the report said. The “best place” for this project would be the North River area, the report said.

Also proposed is creating a new “North End Revitalization District” and overlay that could provide developers relief from some regulations as incentives.

The affordable housing component of the north end report is intended to serve as a framework for citywide policy, but there are few specific affordable policies included the main plan. One proposal, which was also included the advocates’ plan, calls for incorporating an “affordable housing impact statement” to be used during the zoning process. Another would waive fees for developers that agree to build mixed-income housing.

The advocates’ plan

The advocates’ proposed changes include calling for the preservation of existing affordable apartments with some renovation and creating an anti-displacement policy. They also proposed the city hire a director of housing with an expertise in mixed-income developments and preservation. But they do agree that the catalyst should be in the North River area.

The advocates’ plan, suggested by some on the task force to be called the “minority report,” also calls for a comprehensive study on the potential effects redevelopment could have on gentrification and resident displacement, among other measures. An affordable housing consultant should be brought on to help the city define what mixed-income housing should be, the report suggests.

“We are very concerned about the workforce we have in Sandy Springs and the impact this could have on them,” David Couchman said.
Garrison and Munger pushed back on the idea that preservation can be a key component of the proposal.

“We are not the north end task force of preservation,” Garrison said. “We hope it is new.”
They also argued that the city would have the leverage and need to implement affordable housing protections after growth, spurred by the catalyst project, begins.

“After the spark, then you can govern the change,” Garrison said.

Shannon-Vikovic said her definition of revitalization can include preserving and improving existing apartments and affordable housing.

“I get it, it’s about economics,” Shannon-Vikovic responded. “But it’s a city that has the opportunity to put some of these protections in place.”

The five other task force proposals include creating the “Greenline” trail; Roswell Road pedestrian improvements; connections to Roswell Road communities; new access to the Chattahoochee River; and a community center. The sections of the reports on these components received general support by the task force.

No specific location was proposed for “The Greenline,” which would be a multi-use trail for cyclists and walkers. The report recommends the city use TSPLOST funds or a possible “loan” from the city’s general fund to pay for the project. Gabe Sterling, a former City Council member, led this section and the others dealing with transportation.

To create connections on Roswell Road, the report recommends minimizing parking spaces created in the north end to “make sure land is used in its most productive way.” It also calls for working with MARTA to create connections to future transit stations.

The sections of the report on the Chattahoochee River and community center were led by Ronda Smith, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, and Charles Crosby, a construction management executive and board member of the Community Assistance Center. These projects could be potentially funded through a tax allocation district, bonds, TSPLOST funds or city loan, according to the reports and discussions at the meeting.

To create more access to the river, the report proposes creating a trail along Roberts Drive and acquiring more land near Morgan Falls. The community center component also proposes building a natatorium, or swimming complex, that could be located on the same site, depending on resources, Crosby said.

The final version of the report will be presented at the task force’s last meeting on Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 1 Galambos Way.