The city of Sandy Springs is weighing creating a Community Improvement District to help fund projects on the north end as it moves forward with recommendations from a task force plan, including mapping the possible route for a “Greenline” trail and requesting proposals for shopping center redevelopment.
The city’s studies came out of recommendations from the North End Revitalization Task Force, which last year drafted a report with ideas ranging a new multiuse trail similar to the BeltLine to a massive city-supported “catalyst” project that could inspire other developers to build the north end.
A Community Improvement District is a self-taxing group of commercial business owners that funds infrastructure projects. By law, CIDs cannot tax any residential owners or properties, including single-family homes, condos or apartments.
Worthy said in a presentation at the June 18 City Council meeting that the city is doing the CID review internally to see if businesses are interested and to determine which properties “could be impacted.”
The presentation also revealed a map of the Greenline trail’s possible route.
The trail is proposed to run to the upscale Huntcliff neighborhood, Chattahoochee River, Roswell Road and Sandy Springs Charter Middle School.
The Greenline would be a multiuse path for pedestrians and cyclists similar to Buckhead’s PATH400 and Atlanta’s BeltLine.
The city has also had “recent conversations” with developers about proposals they’ve made for some north end properties, Worthy said.
Although the developer’s proposals weren’t detailed, a map in the presentation showed they include a group of commercial buildings on Dunwoody Place that hold Pontoon Brewing Company and the Sandy Springs Theatre Company, among several others. Two others are a retirement community and car dealership on Hightower Trail.
The city also plans to explore creating a “boulevard” on Roswell Road, which is called for in the city’s land use plan and task force recommendations. The initial section would run from Dunwoody Place to the river. The boulevard project would include adding a landscaped median, pedestrian and bicycle paths and trees while keeping both directions two lanes, according to an illustration.
The city’s shopping center study is expected to be finished by the end of the year and would include “detailed concepts for how each property could be developed to attract developer interest.”
Sandy Springs Together, led by the two former co-chairs of the city’s north end task force who now oppose many of the recommendations, released a statement saying the shopping center redevelopment study could have affordable housing consequences that should be understood before the city moves forward.
“Rebuilding outdated shopping centers will be a welcome addition to our city’s infrastructure but as we have seen in town after town — including Atlanta’s well-intended Beltline — the danger of gentrification and displacement is very real,” Sandy Springs Together said in a written statement. “If we are to avoid negative consequences of gentrification that will surely follow this redevelopment, we must first address affordable housing. The city shouldn’t go from one alternative to another without conducting a full impact study of the city’s affordable housing needs and its ramifications.”
In response to a question from Councilmember John Paulson, Mayor Rusty Paul said that he thinks the city has “made it very clear from the very beginning we would try to provide retail opportunities first.” Buying apartment complexes to tear them down does not “make sense,” he said.
Sandy Springs Together has argued that the city may not be planning to directly remove affordable housing, but that the city’s plan to inspire redevelopment may spur gentrification.
The study targets the Loehmann’s Plaza Shopping Center, 8610 Roswell Road; Northridge Shopping Center, 8331-8371 Roswell Road; North River Village Shopping Center, 8765-8897 Roswell Road; and North Springs Center, 7300 Roswell Road, the request for proposals said.
At least two of the north end shopping centers that are the subject of the redevelopment study already have their own short-term plans in the works, and it’s unclear how they would be affected. An activist group is criticizing the study as a thrust for gentrification.
Changes may come to the Northridge Shopping Center amid the study. The shopping center, where a Kroger closed in 2017, was recently sold. Rafat Shaikh, the president and CEO of Safeway Group, Inc., the new owner, said the company expects to fill the space left by Kroger “soon” and is negotiating with “several” potential tenants. He did not provide more details.
Shaikh said he had not heard of the study from city and wanted more information about it.
Worthy said she had spoken to the owners of the other three shopping centers and the broker of Northridge. The feedback from the owners has been “very positive,” she said.
“They see it as a potential opportunity to market it for potential redevelopment,” Worthy said. It will show the property owners, “This is really what you could do with your property should you chose to do so.”
Public meetings will be held during the study process. Two meetings will also be held at each of the properties, the document said. The study will include recommended redevelopment uses, three illustrated concepts and estimated costs.
A redevelopment of the North Springs Center is already planned, but has been stalled since 2015 due to a dry-cleaner pollution cleanup. The owner got a cleanup extension from Environmental Protection Division to March 2019, and no further extension has been requested.
The cleanup at the 9-acre site is being conducted by a prospective buyer, Buckhead-based Blanchard Real Estate, which has taken new groundwater samples to determine if additional cleanup is necessary, EPD spokesperson Kevin Chambers said. The data has not been supplied to EPD yet, he said.
Blanchard and an attorney for the longtime owner, North Springs Associates, did not respond to a request for comment.
The owner of the North River Shopping Center, Stream Realty, did not respond to a request for comment. Stream’s Southeast regional director, Jack Arnold, served on the city’s task force.
The owner of the Loehmann’s Plaza Shopping Center also did not respond to a request for comment.