What is the vision for revitalizing Sandy Springs’ north end?

Loretta Shattles would like to see the city add parkland and sidewalks and/or walking/bicycle trails.

“I’m hoping they’ll get a little more architectural control, and it’s not just some dead shopping centers, making a little more greenspace, (being more) people friendly,” she said. “Right now it’s Roswell Road and a thousand cars. If they could create some walking paths, people would walk more if they didn’t have to struggle with this road out here.”

Shattles was one of more than 200 residents and property owners who attended Wednesday’s north end revitalization open house/visioning session at the Sherwood Event Hall. City officials said they were expecting about 100 attendees but were pleasantly surprised by the standing-room-only crowd that gathered.

One of Mayor Rusty Paul’s goals for his second term, which started in January, was to improve the city’s north end/affordable housing, including creating a task force to help accomplish that mission. So in March he announced his task force, and the city council approved a formal program to begin planning for redevelopment of the city’s north end.

The task force, which had its first meeting in May and its first public one July 11, is comprised of Jack Arnold, Carolyn Axt, David Couchman, Melanie Couchman, Charles Crosby, Colin Hubbard, Patrick Jones, Richard Munger, Meaghan Shannon-Vlkovic, Ronda Smith, Steve Soteres and Gabriel Sterling.

At the open house, as attendees entered, they were split into groups of 10 to 12 individuals each, and scribes, who were volunteers and city employees, posed questions to each group.

Residents speaking in one group said they like living in a suburban community that has access to the major highways and is close to the heart of Atlanta. Another group suggestions included the city building a family friendly sports complex, adding more affordable housing and encouraging diversity.

“Really what this is about is listening to the citizens and getting feedback on what it is they would like to see on the north end,” said Soteres, the only council member on the task force and whose district includes part of the north end. “(Open house emcee) Otis (White) is going to pose these questions on what everyone can give their input on, what their vision is for Sandy Springs. So that’s what this purpose is. We have a mission statement, but … our job is to listen to what the people want.”

Smith, who is also president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, said the task force hosted the open house “to hear what the people’s view is and to understand what everybody’s wants and needs are, particularly those most affected by any redevelopment plans or revitalization efforts.”

Both task force members interviewed said it’s crucial to get residents’ input on the north end’s revitalization.

Finding more affordable housing in Sandy Springs is a major component of the task force’s mission. According to the city’s website, households making $65,000 to $100,000 annually comprise of only 13.4 percent of the city’s residents, likely because of a lack of housing developments in their price range.

Data from the city also shows the citywide retail vacancy rate was only 6.9 percent last year but was 20.9 percent in the north end. The north end’s problems have persisted despite the investment of $39 million in transportation and streetscape projects since 2006, according to the city’s website.

Shattles’ husband Larry said in his group he raised the question of what impact will improvements to Georgia 400, both at the Interstate 285 interchange and north of it, where bus rapid transit express lanes are being added in the next six years, have on the north end.

“I see all the work going on, but I’ve never really heard how it will affect us,” he said. “I might be dead and gone by the time they’re finished with what all they have to do.”

David Centofanti, who has seen Sandy Springs’ previous efforts come to fruition with initiatives like The Next Ten comprehensive plan, said he’s pleased the city is seeking public feedback on the north end.

“I think that by getting the community’s input and really listening and drilling down to the core needs of what the people want, they’ve done this before with other projects and have been successful,” he said. “I think Sandy Springs is doing a very good job of doing these events, soliciting the feedback, getting the people involved. I expect the process to actually work because I’ve seen it work (previously).”

More meetings are planned for later this year. For more information on the task force or to submit input, visit https://bit.ly/2A7zuA2.

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