Some Sandy Springs residents say its north end revitalization task force’s recommendations are flawed, and that includes at least one member of the group.
“I want to thank the city for serving on the north end task force,” said Melanie Couchman; she and her husband David are two of 12 community leaders on the task force. “I regret I could not support the final plan. I was hoping we could fulfill our mission of creating economic vitality and be inclusive of the residents. In my opinion, the task force was not successful. We conducted a poll of over 600 homeowners. They are split between Republican and Democrats. 25 percent said we should move forward and 75 percent said they were either confused or against the plan.”
Couchman was one of two residents who spoke out against the task force’s plan during the public comment portion of Tuesday night's Sandy Springs City Council meeting at City Springs. The task force includes one council member – District 2’s Steve Soteres.
It was formed to tackle a problem plaguing the city for years - suburban blight and related issues on Sandy Springs’ north end, including affordable housing. In 2018 it held public meetings in May, July (twice) and October to get residents’ input.
The task force’s findings were presented to the council at its annual retreat Jan. 22. Though the council did not vote specifically on its findings at Tuesday’s meeting, it did vote 6-0 to approve 10 budget priorities for fiscal 2020, including north end redevelopment.
According to a city document regarding the task force and north end redevelopment, residents said they want the following: a small-town feel with retail and residential space, walkable neighborhoods, outdoor activities/greenspace, connections with the Chattahoochee River, Roswell Road “tamed,” new partnerships with the schools, new things to do in the north end and to preserve the diversity that exists today.
Couchman said the task force’s plan calls for demolishing thousands of apartment units and driving up rents when new apartments are built.
“What impact will have on our schools? And the diversity will be gone," she said. "The process was flawed. … Residents never had an opportunity to comment on the plan. At that point the facilitators were unable or unwilling to answer the question and referred people to the city’s website. Twelve years ago one of the strong arguments for us was to take the city back and take control back from unchecked developers. It’s not too late. The city can take its time and get this right. We need to include all stakeholders … and seek approaches found in other cities. … Together, we can do better.”
Cheryl Barlow, another resident who spoke out against the task force’s plan, said one example of a problem with redevelopment is an apartment complex on Roswell Road near Abernathy Road, which was revamped.
“Four years ago the complex, called Province North, had two-story buildings with two- and three-bedroom apartments with reasonable rent for about $1,500 a month,” she said. “When the complex was demolished and replaced with a new one, we lost a lot of Spalding Drive (Elementary) students and five teachers.
“This complex has no more three-bedroom units and is no longer affordable for low-income families. … I’m concerned we must further address the issue of who we want to live in the city. My hope is we’ll keep our invested residents and attract quality residents who want to stay here.”
Wednesday Soteres said he fully supports the task force’s recommendations and praised the group for its hard work.
“This plan is just the beginning,” he said. “There is still work to be done by the staff as well as community members as we forward the ideas into actionable activities. The mission of the task force was to create a vision and plan for revitalizing the north end that is achievable and sustainable, that benefits the city as a whole, and creates a place for the families presently living in the neighborhoods. I believe the framework presented by the task force is in alignment with that mission.
“Mayor (Rusty) Paul challenged the task force to think big and broadly, and I commend the group for taking that challenge to heart for the betterment of the community. We shared many differing opinions as we developed the plan, which I think helped the task force create a more comprehensive, well-thought framework from which to work.”