We are excited about the future of the North End in Sandy Springs and fully support smart development that creates a place for families presently living in the neighborhoods. It’s important that any changes reflect the voices of everyone who will feel the impact, not just the developers who stand to profit.

David and Melanie Couchman of Sandy Springs Together.

Our community is at a pivotal point. What we do now will determine whether our future is one where all families can live, thrive and grow. Sandy Springs Together supports the revitalization of the North End by redevelopment of underutilized shopping centers, the addition of walking paths, access to the river, and a community center. These are needed improvements and will certainly stimulate economic development.

True progress is welcome – but let’s talk about what’s not smart development.

It’s not smart to start these projects before we understand the impact on our communities, families and traffic. Look no further than the Beltline in Atlanta, where good intentions resulted in disappointment. Starting prematurely endangers the diverse fabric and culture of our city.

There is a better way: We need to hear all voices in our community before we “dig.”

We must learn from our own history. We’ve lost more than 1,000 affordable apartments and their families since 2014, creating disruption for the families affected and to local businesses, employers and public schools.

For the first time, the children of working families are less likely to do better than their parents. This problem is impacting middle-income families, including teachers and first responders. From 2011 to 2016, rents rose at five times the rate of a family’s income. Young families, with rents taking more than 50% of their income, can’t save for a home down payment, and with high home prices and student loan debt, many don’t qualify for mortgages, disrupting a natural progression to home ownership.

Priced out: Many teachers, healthcare workers and first responders living in apartments are being priced out of our community. Myths about crime in the older apartments and poor school performance have been debunked with data and further demonstrated by high occupancy rates (94%) and continued property improvements.

Higher housing costs (homeownership or rentals) contribute to traffic problems by forcing families to move out of Sandy Springs, further from employment centers, increasing the 102,000 people who already drive into Sandy Springs every workday. GDOT is proposing billions of taxpayer dollars to build express lanes. Why not make housing for people who work in Sandy Springs a priority? Or expand MARTA? Doesn’t that make more sense?

Apartments are an asset: Given today’s land-acquisition and construction costs, many cities have created policies and incentives to protect this valuable resource and the families living there.  Forward-thinking cities realize that existing apartments are a necessary component of a growing and thriving community.

We encourage our city to do the same. Together we can do this.

Melanie and David Couchman are philanthropists focused primarily on Sandy Springs. Melanie received the 2011 Sandy Springs Martin Luther King Jr. Day Humanitarian Award. They are founders of Sandy Springs Together (sandyspringstogether.org) and served on the North End Revitalization Task Force.

Editor’s Note: Another group advocating about the future of Sandy Springs’ North End is the North End Sandy Springs Improvement Coalition, northspringsrevival.com.