Sandy Springs’ new North End Revitalization Task Force is co-chaired by a couple who advocated a secret mixed-income concept for that area last year. But one of those advocates promises the task force is working with a “clean slate,” not a preconceived concept.

“As you have reported, we have been concerned about the future of the north end for some time,” said Melanie Noble-Couchman, who co-chairs the task force with husband David Couchman. “…The task force will start with a clean slate, in its quest for finding a healthy balance that capitalizes on the strengths of the area, makes it possible for working families to live in our city, can be achieved with current market pressures, sustained for a long term, and fosters a robust economic and business climate. It will take all our neighbors, working together, to come up with a solution that is right for our community.”

Melanie Noble-Couchman

Appointed by Mayor Rusty Paul, the task force is intended to study ways to spur redevelopment and propose affordable housing policy along Roswell Road north of Dalrymple Road, where there are many older apartment complexes and shopping centers. It will meet through year’s end, including some type of public input process. The goal is to have a report from the task force ready for discussion at the City Council’s annual retreat in January 2019.

The task force is led by City Councilmember Steve Soteres, a construction company executive and area resident, who did not respond to a comment request.

Last year, the Couchmans privately presented a mixed-income redevelopment concept for a sub-area of the north end to the mayor, council and city staff. Internal city emails show their other behind-the-scenes influence over at least two years included: vetting a councilmember’s response to media questions about affordable housing; working with a top city planning official on a multi-year program of policy and public persuasion on affordable housing; and reviewing and commenting on a draft policy document written by Paul called “Realizing the Dream,” which the city now says is a private document.

Another task force member was also involved in the Couchmans’ mixed-income concept presentation: Meaghan Shannon-Vlkovic, an executive in the Southeast office of Enterprise Community Partners, which provides technical assistance on affordable housing creation and preservation.

The Couchmans’ concept was revealed by the Reporter after a review of internal city emails about affordable housing policy. In all public discussions about north end planning, including a March 20 vote approving its members, Paul and councilmembers have said nothing at all about that concept or the Couchmans’ other behind-the-scenes influence.

Paul has described the Couchmans only as helping him network with redevelopment experts, and that Enterprise Community Partners has a member because he once knew its co-founder, Jim Rouse, while working at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, internal city emails show Shannon-Vlkovic was nominated to Paul by the Couchmans.

The rest of the members is heavy on development and construction experts, along with Ronda Smith, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, and former City Councilmember Gabriel Sterling.

There appears to be no member directly representing apartment tenants, landlords or industry leaders. “We can’t accommodate every property owner, but their viewpoints are at the table,” Paul later said in an email, without clarifying who is intended to represent those constituencies.

The full list of task force members includes:

  • Jack Arnold, an executive with Stream Realty Partners, owner of the area’s North River shopping center, where a proposed Lidl discount grocer was rejected by the city last year.
  • Carolyn Axt, former Leadership Sandy Springs executive director involved in many major Sandy Springs nonprofits, and recipient of the city’s 2010 humanitarian of the year award.
  • David Couchman and Melanie Noble-Couchman, local philanthropists who are the advocates behind the previously secret mixed-income redevelopment concept. Noble-Couchman received the city’s 2011 humanitarian of the year award.
  • Charles Crosby of CORE Project Management, a Sandy Springs-based construction management company, and a board member of the Community Assistance Center, a north end nonprofit aimed at preventing homelessness and hunger in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
  • Jeff Garrison, a partner with the commercial real estate firm S.J. Collins Enterprises and a Sandy Springs resident.
  • Colin Hubbard, an executive with the development company Carter, which is one of the city’s private partners in the new City Springs civic center.
  • Patrick Jones, a Sandy Springs resident and executive with Walker & Dunlop Investment Sales, a multifamily housing investment advisory firm.
  • Richard Munger, a Sandy Springs resident and executive with the developer North American Properties, which agreed to one of the city’s first middle-income inclusionary zoning agreements in a Medical Center apartment building.
  • Meaghan Shannon-Vlkovic, an executive in the Southeast office of Enterprise Community Partners, which provides technical assistance on affordable housing creation and preservation. Enterprise is among the consultants involved in the Couchmans’ behind-the-scenes redevelopment concept.
  • Ronda Smith, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, a coalition of the city’s homeowners associations.
  • Steve Soteres, a Sandy Springs City Council member representing part of the north end, and a construction company executive.
  • Gabriel Sterling, vice chair of the Sandy Springs Development Authority. He recently stepped down as a City Council member representing part of the north end.

John Ruch

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

3 replies on “Sandy Springs’ north end task force starting with ‘clean slate,’ advocate says”

  1. Dear John Ruch,
    Thank you for your excellent reporting on this appalling, sneaky behavior by the Couchmans and Mayor Rusty Paul. As a resident of Huntcliff in north Sandy Springs, I have attended Mayor Paul’s town hall meetings in our neighborhood to tell us about his vision for this area including high-end retail and fine dining, a MARTA extension to Northridge, improving schools and clearing out the old apartment complexes. Never has he mentioned any exploration into the type of low-income “workforce” housing and redevelopment proposed by the Couchmans who do not live in this area. Please continue to keep us informed as this issue progresses.

    1. Please allow me to clarify my recent post regarding the north end task force. Low income residents have lived in Sandy Springs long before I moved here and they are good neighbors. My concern is that the mayor espouses one vision when speaking to a group of constituents while collaborating on a much different vision with others that he tries to keep secret. The only reason a “clean slate” task force was appointed is because The Sandy Springs Reporter exposed the behind-the-scenes actions by the mayor and the Couchmans. It is hardly a clean slate when the task force is stacked with developers and construction company executives eager to gain new business from the north Sandy Springs project and is co-chaired by the married couple who urged the mayor to keep their plans secret and provided his talking points when their actions came to light. Such lack of transparency by local government should be of concern to all Sandy Springs residents. Who knows what is secretly being planned for YOUR neighborhood?

  2. Thanks for bringing this issue to light. The north end of Sandy Springs, where I live, is home to many renters who should have a voice in our city planning . It is bad for our city and unjust to leave out the less wealthy members of our community. Sandy Springs is an affluent community that can share our resources with all our residents.

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