Members of a committee reviewing Sandy Springs’ concepts for North End shopping center redevelopment want to see higher-density proposals for the North River Shopping Center with a desire to limit building heights to five or six stories. Existing tenants also pose a challenge at the site for any redevelopment.

The committee heard from consultants during a virtual meeting on Sept. 8 that the existing ownership and tenants at the shopping center at 8765-8911 Roswell Road are unlikely to change soon, so the city would need to work with them to achieve change. Redevelopment in phases was suggested.

“Notably there are seven existing tenants and so that is a real constraint on that site, which is a bit different than some of the other sites that we have been looking at, said Bill Tunnell, founding principal of TSW, during his presentation of the concepts.

Tenants in the shopping center include Samad Mediterranean Grill & Market, Springs Bottle Shop, Tapout Fitness, JU-C Bar, Master Pius Martial Arts, a Dollar General store and a Family Dollar store. A Stars and Strikes entertainment facility closed after the pandemic began. A cafe and store based on the “Caffeine and Octane” exotic-car shows is planned to open there.

Owner Stream Realty in 2017 sought to bring a Lidl grocery store to the site, but withdrew amid community opposition based on the same desires for mixed-use, higher-end redevelopment.

The shopping center also was part of a concept first secretly envisioned in 2017 by David Couchman and Melanie Noble-Couchman, which aimed to use redevelopment as a means to increase affordable housing in the North End. Their efforts influenced the city’s Next Ten Comprehensive Plan, with “affordable” and “workforce” housing language kept in the plan to enable their ideas. The Couchmans later became members of a city task force about the North End, which produced the shopping center concept study process. They now head Sandy Springs Together, a group expressing concern that the city’s proposals could spark gentrification and displacement.

The North River concept plans are available online with a survey for residents to share their thoughts on the proposals. The shopping center is known as North River but is called “North River Village” in the conceptual plans.

Stream Realty, which owns the development, recently signed retail tenants to long-term leases after its own redevelopment plans fell through, Tunnell said. Stream could not immediately be reached for confirmation.

City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said Stream had shown some plans to the city, but had not gone through the application process.

“I think it’s fair to say that any redevelopment that happens on this site would need to happen over a period of time,” Tunnel said.

Sharp elevation changes throughout the site create another challenge for redevelopment. A condominium complex is “behind” North River to its east. The consultants from TSW suggest the site has an opportunity to connect with that residential development. Some of the concept plans show townhomes built adjacent to a section of the existing residential units.

The available property is larger than consultants at first thought, because a former bank property to the north and a section of property to the south with parking spaces also have the same owner.

Committee weighs in on concepts

Committee member Ronda Smith, president of Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, like most of the group, didn’t like Option 1. This proposal only developed a small section of the property.

“You’ve got to get density on the ground, or nothing is going to make this happen,” she said.

The committee members mostly favored building heights of five or six stories if a diversity of housing could be achieved, Economic Development Director Andrea Worthy shared via email after the meeting.

Smith asked if the committee could see the numbers that consultants were running on the development.

The formulas in the pro forma analysis – the assumptions and calculations that projects the financial return the proposed redevelopment is likely to create – will not work if someone picks and chooses the values they want to see for density, unit prices or other figures, Jonathan Gelber of Bleakly Advisory Group said. 

“No, we don’t get to play ‘Monopoly.’ I get that,” Smith said. But she wanted to understand the feasibility of the concepts, she said.

Gelber said sometime at the end of the month the consultants will have completed running the calculations on the different concepts and could provide them to the committee after that.

Smith wasn’t happy with trying to push townhomes into the Winding River condo development in what presumably is common space for the residential development. A fractured ownership would make it difficult to accomplish, he said.

Steve Soteres, a committee member and a member of the City Council, said he wanted to make sure Winding River homeowners don’t get the wrong idea.

“I don’t want anybody thinking we’re coming in to take their land,” he said.

Darious Moore, a resident of Winding River, asked to see a concept that only shows street and trail connectivity between the redeveloped shopping center and the condo development.

By the end of the discussion, Tunnell said the final concept plan might only include trail and street connectivity directly with the Winding River property that Moore asked to see.

The next committee meeting will be Sept. 14 at 4 p.m. via Zoom or phone call, during which the North Springs Center (former Big Lots) concepts will be presented.

North River Shopping Center – 8765-8911 Roswell Road

Acreage: 12.7 acres

  • Zoning: SX-6 Shopfront Mixed Use (building height limited to 3 stories)
  • 7 existing retail tenants
  • 541 parking spaces

Option 1

Commercial retail – 38,000 square feet (ground floor)

Commercial office – 23,000 square feet (upper-story)

Multi-unit (above retail) – 150 units

The lowest density proposal, a single “block” of the property now occupied with parking spaces would be the site for a four story, multi-unit residential building with a parking deck. Following existing zoning code and regulations, the first floor would be required to house commercial space. The existing food hall in the center of the retail strip center would get a second story for office space.

Adding commercial space in the multi-unit building facing all streets would create too much commercial space for redevelopment, Tunnell said. Building height limits of three stories and street width requirements also would make it difficult.

Option 2A

Commercial retail – 82,800 square feet (ground floor)

Commercial office – 23,000 square feet (upper-story)

Hotel (100 rooms)

Multi-unit (above retail) – 297 units

Townhomes – 59 units

Live/work – 45 units

Total: 401 units

This is more of a buildout plan for the entire site,” Tunnell said.

A mix of housing types including apartments and townhomes is proposed, with a density of 32 units per acre. A three-story hotel with its own parking deck would be on the southern end of the property beside Roswell Road.

The proposal also suggests working with the condo development to the east to possibly add a combination of townhomes and live/work units to the south where street frontage might support ground floor, non-residential use.

This option for redevelopment of North River Shopping Center shows buildings up to six stories with mixed use and parking decks. (Sandy Springs)

Option 2B

Commercial retail – 94,900 square feet (ground floor)

Commercial office – 40,900 square feet

Hotel (100 rooms)

Usable Green Space

Multi-unit (above retail) – 548 units

Townhomes – 27 units

Live/Work – 22 units

Total: 597 units

The density of 47 units per acre makes this concept begin to hit the sweet spot for a developer’s investment, Tunnell said.

Two of the “blocks” planned for townhomes in Option 2A would instead have six story, mixed-use (commercial and residential) buildings with parking decks. That would increase residential units to almost 600, Tunnell said.

Option 2C

Commercial retail – 94,900 square feet (ground floor)

Commercial office – 40,900 square feet

Hotel (100 rooms)

Multi-unit (above retail) – 688 units

Townhomes – 27 units

Live / Work – 22 units

Total: 737 units

This concept adds stories to two blocks of mixed-use buildings to raise the density to 58 units per acre, Tunnell said.

“In no cases are we thinking that we are digging huge underground parking caverns. Those tend to be prohibitively expensive,” he said.

The 10-story buildings might rise high enough for views of the Chattahoochee River, though he said the distance, topography and tree canopy might prevent a river view.

“It would certainly be marketable and a developer would be thrilled to do that I am sure,” Tunnell said.

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