By Katie Fallon
In what could have been a contentious confrontation between developers and residents, the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods hosted their annual meeting April 30 to discuss a vision for the future of Roswell Road.
Billed “Ugly Roswell Road: How Developers See a New Sandy Springs,” the meeting included a three-member panel of local developers and a four-member panel of residents.
Members of the residential panel included Glenridge Hammond residents Doug Falciglia and Thaea Lloyd, Mount Vernon Woods resident Bob Beard and Whispering Pines resident Bill Cleveland. All are members of their neighborhood’s homeowners association.
The verdict was handed down from developers Charlie Roberts, Kris Miller and Joel Griffin: Forget about overhauling the I-285 interchange, develop a vision and stick to it and concentrate on improving small sections of Roswell Road instead of a multi-mile stretch.
Each panel member was given a chance to present ideas on what the future of Roswell Road could include. Ideas focused on the town center, or central business district area, which has previously been identified by the Comprehensive Plan Citizen Advisory Committee as bounded by Cromwell Road to the north, Cliftwood Drive to the south, Sandy Springs circle to the west and Boylston Drive to the east.
Density issues have long been a contentious battle between developers and residents, as evident by citizen comments during numerous recent re-zoning votes. The developers at the meeting stressed time and time again that a consensus must be made in order for Roswell Road to move forward with smart growth.
“It should no longer be about residents versus developers,” said Griffin, chairman of The Griffin Company. “This only works well when we have a consensus. We know the model we’ve been using is broken.”
Roberts, CEO of Roberts Properties, said while he favored higher densities at major transportation intersections, he thought Sandy springs should remain a village-like city rather than a community like Buckhead or Midtown.
“World class doesn’t mean world high,” Roberts said. “I would challenge us to be more of a village with lower densities. I’m anti-height on Roswell Road.”
Meeting moderator and council president Larry Young asked the developers what the first step should be in redeveloping Roswell Road, whether it be addressing everything from transportation or planning to innovative financing or creating a government center.
Miller said the easier tasks, such as cleaning up the city and maintaining code enforcement, must come first before developers and residents create a common vision on what they want Roswell Road to look like.
“The community needs to come together and decide what it wants,” Miller said. “Come up with as many things that you support as you are against. Development may be inevitable, but quality development is not.”
The residential panel, however, acknowledged that a consensus must be met, but expressed concerns about how far growth would go. Similarly, the citizen panel also expressed concern over how the development of a city center along Roswell Road would impact the adjacent residential neighborhoods.
“How long do we grow and how big do we grow,” Falciglia said.
Miller said while growth was inevitable, quality growth was not and that residents will have to decide how they want to accommodate that growth.
Roberts initially placed fault for the recent lack of development along Roswell Road with the city council.
“Most of this council has generally not supported anything,” Roberts said. “It has fought everything.”
Roberts said his main priorities for improving Roswell Road were getting it cleaned, having stricter overlay district and code enforcement and getting better building designs and exteriors.
“You can change Roswell Road,” Roberts said. “It can happen, but you have to be behind it.”
Both Roberts and Miller, president of Ackerman and Co., said within the three to four block areas the city should focus on, benefits should be offered for combining small parcels and creating assemblages. The incentives could create, for instance, one 2-acre lot instead of four half-acre lots.
“Our model is broken,” Roberts said. “It doesn’t work anymore. We’ve got buildings that are 40 and 50 years old that need to change.”
Beard, however, said he was reluctant to endorse larger parcels if the entrances to the parcels were not distributed well and if pedestrians could not safely travels between different clusters of retail and restaurants.
“My big issue is connectivity,” Beard said. “To be economically viable, people need to be able to walk from one cluster to another. Pedestrian traffic is a critical aspect of anything successful.”
Two issues that residents in the audience expressed concern over were the I-285 interchange and the development of a centrally located government center that would house City Hall and city offices. Roberts, however, said those issues need to be put on the back burner for the moment.
“Let’s not put all of out eggs in a basket we know will be politically charged and hard to happen,” he said.
Emphasis was also placed on getting residents and visitors alike to spend their money in Sandy Springs and support local merchants rather than nearby retail meccas.
“We seem to be caught in the middle of the Galleria business district and the Perimeter business district,” Lloyd said. “We don’t want to be a wagon stop between the two.”
“I’m tired of people saying they avoid Roswell Road at all costs,” he said. “We must learn how to protect our environment and create financially viable town centers.”
While the audience at the SSCN, which included Mayor Eva Galambos and a majority of the city council, remained cautiously optimistic about the developers’ ideas and suggestions, it wildly applauded when Griffin described the type of mixed-use development the city should avoid.
“CityWalk is not smart growth,” Griffin said. “CityWalk is a replacement for a strip center. We’ve got a different vision than CityWalk. There will be more bad mixed use than good.”
Young said both developers and residents smartly reflected their wishes, but considering the young age of the city, change would take time.
“We’ve only been at this a year,” he said. “We’ve done a lot in year.”