Streetfront-oriented townhomes will replace an office park in a project approved by Sandy Springs City Council on April 19 as a breakthrough residential development on northern Roswell Road. One current tenant said the progress comes at a historic cost because it will demolish an 80-year-old former bank that still has a basement vault.

The Style Taxi building in the Emerald Office Park at 6870 Roswell Road. (Special)

Acadia Homes got the rezoning and most of the variances it requested to replace the Emerald Office Park at 6870 Roswell Road with 18 townhomes priced in the low to mid-$400,000 range.

Council member Gabriel Sterling praised the project as “breaking through the iron wall of redevelopment” on Roswell beyond Abernathy Road. It’s the first new residential development on that stretch since the 2008 market crash, he said, and the council hopes it will spark imitators.

The project also involves some units with porches fronting directly on Roswell Road—the kind of pedestrian-oriented look and feel the city is seeking to establish along the corridor in its “Next Ten” reworking of city planning and zoning.

Developer attorney Pete Hendricks described the current property as “blighted” and said the townhomes will help spread “gentrification” of the area.

But Edith Grose of Style Taxi, one of the office park tenants, has another description of the property: historic. The building the taxi company has occupied for 13 years appears to be a former bank dating to 1935, she said. She provided photos from the building’s basement showing a thick metal door with a combination lock.

Edith and her late husband Lacey Paul started Style Taxi 38 years ago, and Edith said she fears moving will hurt the business. She raised the building’s past with city officials and nonprofit groups, suggesting a commercial redevelopment that would save the structure, but it has no official historic status and the city has no historic preservation review process.

“I really think if the people of Sandy Springs really knew what they had, they would not tear down this building,” Grose said in an email. “There are not that many buildings in this city that have been preserved, so it is not too late to start.”

The vault-like door with a combination lock in the basement of the Style Taxi building in a photo provided by the company.

Traci Clark of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation said the building is historic in the basic sense of being more than 50 years old. The Trust would need more information to determine whether the building has “historic integrity” that is worth saving, Clark said, adding that Grose did not follow through on sending the Trust some photos. In any case, Clark said, there is nothing to prevent the building’s demolition.

Melissa Swindell of Heritage Sandy Springs said the local historical society has no information about the building in its files.

The property has an unusual triangular shape that Hendricks, at the April 19 council meeting, called “almost like a piece of pie.” While the council liked its residential flavor, the approval didn’t come easily. The shape made for what Hendricks called “extreme constraints” and several setback-type zoning variance requests.

Mayor Rusty Paul and council members questioned the developers at length, and the approval included a detailed, last-minute appendix of conditions distributed via email. Developer team member Clint Walters said he hadn’t seen the list before. Council member Andy Bauman said the list came out of discussion among the councilmen and the mayor about assuring high-quality materials.

“Clearly, this is an improvement over the status quo,” Bauman said, but added that the council now also seeks to answer the question, “Is this the best we can do?”

One item that remained up in the air was whether the complex will be gated. City officials want to put pressure against gated communities as they promotes walkability and interconnected parcels.

“As you drive down Roswell Road, it says, ‘Don’t come in,’” city planning manager Ginger Sottile said of a gate.

Walters, on the other hand, said that’s exactly the idea: “I just think, at this price point, people like a gated community.”

The project also had the conditional support of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, according to city staff and the developer. No one spoke in opposition at the City Council meeting.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.