Housing policy debate continues as Sandy Springs’ north end task force winds down

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.

As Sandy Springs’ north end task force winds down, some of its members are still at odds on affordability goals that should be included in its proposal. The task force plans to present a proposal to City Council that recommends several other projects, including a new multi-use path and community center.

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 the report at its Nov. 14 meeting that is expected to be presented to the City Council at its January retreat.

For several meetings, tensions between the developers and affordable housing advocates have been clear. Each side has different opinions on the affordability goal of the task force and how displacement and preservation should be handled. Those disagreements have not all been worked out, and may lead to the advocates drafting a separate, alternative plan to present to the council, although they all hope they can agree on one plan. Two developers, Jeff Garrison and Richard Munger were assigned to draft the housing redevelopment 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.

The advocates, philanthropic couple Melanie Noble-Couchman and David Couchman and affordable housing advisory Meaghan Shannon-Vikovic, said they hope components of their plan can be worked into the original. Their 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 how to preserve workforce housing.

“We are very concerned about the workforce we have in Sandy Springs and the impact this could have on them,” David Couchman said.

Shannon-Vikovic said she was on board with the catalyst project, but that her definition of revitalization can include preserving and improving existing apartments and affordable housing.

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.

Once the city gets control of the area and it is seeing investment, then it is in a position to begin recommending and creating protections, Munger said.

“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.”

Other proposals

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 sections 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 the 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.

To create more access to the river, the report proposes creating a trail or side path along Roberts Drive between Roswell Road and the Island Ford Unit of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area that would connect to a proposed future pedestrian bridge on Roswell Road. The National Park Service could be a partner on this project to pursue federal dollars, the report suggested.

There are other unused parcels owned by Georgia Power and in the Huntcliff neighborhood that could potentially be used for access, the report said.

It also suggested the city pursue land acquisition near Morgan Falls to create a trail connecting the park to Roswell Road, with potential connections across Ga. 400 to Dunwoody.

The community center component also proposes building a natatorium, or swimming complex. The report cites a “long-term desire” from the community and results of a recent survey done for the city’s parks and recreation master plan update that shows the community would support one.

The swimming complex and community center could be on the same site, depending on what land and funding is available, 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.

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