Members of Sandy Springs’ north end task force grappled with its potential role in gentrifying the area with its proposals for redevelopment at its Oct. 3 meeting. Some members disagreed on the task they are charged with — not displacing the lower income people who live there currently or ensuring workforce housing exists in the redevelopment plan.
“We are half kidding ourselves if we don’t address that some people are going to be displaced,” Colin Hubbard, a developer, said.
The “North End Revitalization Task Force” was created by the city and is focused on creating practical solutions for redeveloping the north end, which, for task force purposes, is defined as the area along Roswell Road between Dalrymple Road, Ga. 400 and the city’s border with the Chattahoochee River.
The group is considering a variety of potential projects that range from creating new community centers to stronger school partnerships. Main tenants of the “revitalization” are creating higher-end retail and new residential developments.
The task force has been charged by Mayor Rusty Paul with avoiding displacing the working-class residents of the city’s perhaps most diverse area.
The task force agreed this is a hard ask, but disagreed on what the specific ask is. Gabe Sterling, a former City Council member who previously represented the north end, argued the task force should focus on suggesting policies that encourage affordable housing. It shouldn’t focus on making sure each individual that currently lives there can immediately remain in the north end when redevelopment begins.
“If we focus on the individual human being, it makes this lift nearly impossible in real life,” Sterling said.
Most developers on the group agreed, while the affordable housing advocates said the proposals do need to focus on relocating people who are displaced by the redevelopment.
Jeff Garrison, a retail developer, agreed the task force should focus on those policies that encourage “the invisible hand” of the market to create affordable housing.
“Gentrification is going to happen. Do we want it all to be lower income up here or do we want to spread it throughout the city?” Garrison said.
Richard Munger, a residential developer, said most of the existing affordable housing should be redeveloped because it is “on its last leg” and “functionally obsolete.”
Melanie Couchman, an affordable housing advocate, pushed back against that, saying that while not luxury housing, it is still functional and valuable for people who live there.
“Somebody that’s working for $40,000 or $50,000 and has kids in school, that eight foot ceiling doesn’t mean anything to them,” Melanie Couchman said. “Nobody is saying that we don’t want redevelopment. The value has to be placed on the families.”
Intentional relocations that assist people displaced by redevelopment is, while complex and difficult, possible, Meaghan Shannon-Vlkovic, an affordable housing adviser, said.
“It’s not unheard of,” Shannon-Vikovic said. “We have to agree that it’s addition without subtraction.”
Shannon-Vlkovic said she can bring examples of affordability has been created in redevelopment projects in other cities.
Munger said he believes the market could support a mixed-income redevelopment once a “sense of place” is created. The task force’s proposal needs a “catalytic” project that transforms the area. Without that, it will stay the same, he said.
“We can’t get so laser focused on one thing,” Munger said of focusing only on displacement.
The group’s members presented ideas on several other topics at the meeting, including school partnerships, green space creation and the limits of the city’s current zoning rules. The task force will present highlights at a public open house currently set for Oct. 18 in City Hall.
That may change, pending finding available space in the north end. The first open house was held in a north end event hall that is unavailable for this meeting, but members agreed the city should try to find space in that area if possible.