Dozens of residents attended an Oct. 14 “open studio” kicking off the city of Sandy Springs’ new Roswell Road corridor plan.
The attendance was a far cry from the 35,000-plus drivers who crowd the road each day. But it made for a good start to one of the “Small Area Plans” that is part of the city’s overall “Next Ten” reboot of its planning and zoning.
The central Roswell Road area around the City Springs project already has a 2012 master plan. The new effort covers the stretches roughly north of Abernathy Road and south of I-285.
John Williams, a resident of the Riverside Drive area, pored over maps and data posted on the walls inside a vacant storefront in the Sandy Springs North Shopping Center. He praised city staff for the materials.
“This is really well-presented. Good job,” Williams said. In a later interview, he added that he was impressed the materials included information gathered at the first Next Ten public meetings earlier this year.
The event had an open-house format, with large maps, photos and comment sheets stationed around a room. Many city staff members, including Community Development Director Michelle Alexander, were available for discussions near the maps and at tables.
Residents had various ways to give input: talking to staff members, drawing directly on maps, and posting notes or stickers on the wall-mounted info sheets.
Unsurprisingly, traffic was a major concern reflected in the comments, with many stickers approving better transit and improved access for pedestrians and bicyclists. Some transportation and demographic data presented on the walls partly explained why.
Over 80 percent of vehicles in the corridor carry a single driver, the data reported. And a big amount of that traffic is commuters, because Sandy Springs businesses employ an estimated 110,000 people—only 7,000 of whom live in the city.
Residents were asked to post sticky notes with their opinions of the present and possible future of development on the north and south sections.
The northern stretch was described in some comments as “vacant and sketchy,” “useful” and “haphazard.” One said the area is “‘difficult’ if developed—where do Class C renters go?”
What should the future look like? “Michigan Ave. in Chicago,” asserted one comment. Other comments more modestly requested “upscale” shops or a “long commercial mall with some office parks.”
For the southern stretch of Roswell, comments complained about “lack of sidewalks,” “unfriendly to small businesses” and “hodge podge [sic] architecture.”
“Park once, walk to multiple nice shops and restaurants,” said one comment about that area’s future vision. “Better ‘branding’—feels very much like an in-between place,” said another.
One type of input sheet asked about various types of redevelopment, such as mixed-use, in a different way. Since people may not understand real estate lingo, the sheet included several photos of real-life examples of such projects. Residents could place stickers directly on the photos to indicate their preferences.
The information on the walls also gave some numbers on the amount of Next Ten input received so far. The staff tallied hundreds of comments so far from online sources and earlier meetings about the overall planning process. About 940 unique visitors have viewed the recently launched Next Ten website, thenext10.org, and nearly 600 comments have been received.
Those are big numbers, but still small percentages of the city’s population. The city has many more opportunities for public input coming up. That includes a city van that will visit several sites around town this weekend to give Next Ten info and collect any opinions.
The Roswell Road corridor is one of four areas receiving special, more detailed study in the Next Ten process. The others are Powers Ferry Road along I-285; the Perimeter Center Improvement Districts area; and MARTA’s North Springs Station and possible new station at Ga. 400 and Northridge Road.
The Next Ten also includes two big-picture efforts: an updated Comprehensive Plan guiding all city development goals, and a new Unified Development Ordinance that will replace the existing zoning code.