A concept heavy on residential redevelopment of the River Springs Center – the former Loehmann’s Plaza – met the most approval among four concepts presented to members of the North End Revitalization Committee during a virtual meeting on Aug. 31.

Committee members reviewed four concept plans for the site at 8610 Roswell Road. The first plan was based on existing development code and zoning for the site. The second plan would require minor changes and the final two plans did not take the development code or zoning into consideration.

The committee members were polled and said overall they want to see a mixed-use redevelopment with retail and residential. They would consider taller buildings than the current three-story limit to increase the amount of residential units. The Neighborhood Center with 158 residential units and 20,700 square feet of retail and office was seen favorably, though committee members weren’t asked to choose one concept over the others in the polls. 

Consultants and city staff are unveiling redevelopment concepts for four separate shopping centers in the North End that have been identified as most needing revitalization. Feedback from the public, committee members and Sandy Springs City Council members determined that the four sites need a mix of housing options at multiple price points. Comments favored mixed-use redevelopments, with residential and retail, along with green space, plazas and connections to parks and trails. Building height limits of five to six stories were wanted.

Zoning at the River Springs Center limits buildings to three stories, Sarah McColley, TSW project manager said. The city hired the architectural firm in December to create the redevelopment designs.

The shopping center property covers 9.8 acres. It has 24 existing retail tenants and 425 parking spaces.

The four outparcels between it and Roswell Road were considered an opportunity for site acquisition to increase the size of the project. A single-family residential neighborhood is to the west of River Springs Center. The existing detention pond north of the property offers an opportunity for an enhanced stormwater park, if the HOA is agreeable.

The former Loehmann’s Plaza off Roswell Road at Hightower Trail has 24 existing retail tenants. The businesses fronting Roswell Road are not part of the shopping center property, though the city’s consultants suggest redevelopment for those commercial spaces.

Concept 1: Existing Zoning

Commercial retail – 32,000 square feet (ground floor)

Multi-unit over retail – 337 units

This plan would turn an entrance into the center and  what was a parking lot aisle into a street with a 70- foot wide right-of-way and angled parking. Multiple three-story buildings would house commercial space on the ground floor with multi-unit residential on the top two floors. A parking deck would be located at the back of the property. The 30-foot buffer between the site and the neighboring subdivision would be kept.

Challenges: The requirement that ground-floor commercial development face all streets could create too much commercial space. Developable land gets limited by street width and design requirements. Limiting the buildings to three stories makes it financially difficult to support a parking deck.

Concept 2: Missing Middle Housing

Civic space – 1,500 square feet

Townhomes of varying sizes – 74

6-plex Multi-unit residential – 24 units

Townhomes over flats – 28 units

Single-family homes – 24 units

Total: 149 units

This plan would put single-family homes on the north and northeast sides of the property. Townhomes and townhomes with flats would fill the center of the property, with three-story “6-plex” multi-unit buildings would be on the south end.

Challenges: Rezoning to a residential multi-unit designation would be necessary. In addition, a reduction in lot sizes for multi-unit, single-family detached and townhome units would be required.

Concept 3A: Neighborhood Center

Retail – 12,000 square feet

Office – 8,700 square feet

Multi-unit residential – 279 units

Townhomes – 28 units

6-plex Multi-unit – 12 units

Live/Work – 10 units

Total: 379 units

Multi-unit residential units would be in buildings at the north and south of the property. The larger building on the north end of the site would be five stories on the eastern side, with the building stepping down to three stories next to the adjacent residential subdivision. Townhomes and Live/Work units would occupy the center of the property, with retail and office developments to the south. A building with two floors of multi-unit above office and parking would rise on the southern end of the property, at Hightower Trail.

Challenges: Rezoning to residential mixed-use or to SX-6 to allow taller buildings would be needed. Stand-alone multi-unit buildings would have to be approved and height bonuses might be necessary to make this concept financially feasible. The requirement for steel and concrete construction would have to be removed.

Option 3B: Neighborhood Center

Retail: 12,000 square feet

Office & Retail – 8,700 square feet

Townhomes – 76 units

6-plex Multi-unit – 12 units

Live/Work – 10 units

Townhome over flats – 22 units

Single-family homes – 11 units

Total: 158 units

Challenges: Rezoning to residential mixed-use would be required, and like option 3A, reduced lot sizes for all types of housing units plus reduced street widths would be necessary.

North End Revitalization Committee member and Council of Neighborhoods President Ronda Smith asked about the stormwater detention property considered for a park just north of the North Springs Center.

McColley said the property is owned by the Huntcliff HOA, and land acquisition would be necessary to pursue the park idea. If the developer paid to build the park and maintenance was the responsibility of the center’s property owners, it might be feasible.

“How we might consider housing affordability at this site and others?” asked Andrea Worthy, Sandy Springs Economic Development director.

Jonathan Gelber of Bleakly Advisory Group said developers will look to market rates to set prices to make redevelopment economically feasible. Based on current market rates, he said townhomes would sell for about $450,000 to $650,000. Apartments would rent from $1,5000 to $1,600 a month.

“That’s way above what [people who need] affordable housing can afford to pay,” Gelber said.

Setting price points for affordable housing won’t work, he said. A developer will look at the proposal and find a project elsewhere.

“There has to be some sort of program, funding mechanism or subsidy associated with that,” Gelber said.

Using a standard Housing and Urban Development calculation of 20 percent of 80 percent of the median housing price, affordable housing at the site would mean a $178,000 townhome. You won’t get down to that price point by making a unit smaller and installing Formica countertops, he said.

Committee member Ken Dishman said he looked at the reveal of the North Spring Center concepts during the meeting with different views. 

“At the last meeting, it was stated that none of this is really going to be possible unless the character of Roswell Road changes,” he said.

By making the changes to make Roswell Road in the North End a more walkable streetscape with medians, it will change the game for all of the centers, Dishman said.

“I think that any of these options become a lot more exciting in the context of a changed Roswell Road,” Dishman said.

The North End redevelopment plans all anticipate Roswell Road in the North End undergoing streetscape improvements to make it more walkable with the addition of landscaping and medians. (City of Sandy Springs)

Residents can examine the concepts in detail and offer their opinions and comments at a virtual open house at http://spr.gs/northend. Comments on the River Springs Center (former Loehmann’s Plaza) can be made through Sept. 7.

The North River Village redevelopment concepts will be revealed on Sept. 7, and comments will be taken from Sept. 7 through Sept. 14. The North Springs (former Big Lots center) concepts will be shared on Sept. 14, and the comment period will open on that date and end on Sept. 21.

Comment on the Northridge Shopping Center (Goodwill location) ended on Aug. 31.

Meetings are streamed online at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82248712137.

Update: This story has been updated to include the street address of the shopping center.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.