The Sandy Springs North End Revitalization Committee reviewed redevelopment concepts on Sept. 14 for the former Big Lots/North Springs shopping center at 7300 Roswell Road that attempted to meet housing demands of millennials and deal with environmental issues that may restrict where owner-occupied housing can be built on the site.
The meeting was the fourth and final introduction of redevelopment concepts for four North End shopping centers targeted by the city for revitalization. The other shopping centers include North River, River Springs and Northridge.
Tom Walsh, a founding principal of city consultant TSW, presented the plan that emphasized residential use especially on its boundary with North Springs, a residential neighborhood just behind the shopping center off Dalrymple Road.
Walsh introduced concepts that featured smaller townhomes and other housing types of 1,200 to 1,800 square feet, including some with one bedroom and one bathroom.
The property offers the most opportunities to redevelop because it has a single tenant, a fitness center, he said. The shopping center has 335 parking spaces. By adding the gas station and U-Haul properties on the north side of the property, it would create a 10-acre site, Walsh said.
An actual redevelopment plan for the shopping center arose in 2015 but has stalled due to pollution issues. The former Prestige Cleaners leaked toxins into the soil and groundwater at the site, according to the state Environmental Protection Division. A prospective buyer, Buckhead-based Blanchard Real Estate, was conducting the cleanup under a state brownfields program that limits its liability. The corrective action plan could occur before or during redevelopment, the EPD said. The company had been given an extension on the cleanup until March 2019.
“I think one of the things that needs to be acknowledged about the site is that there are some known environmental issues,” said Andrea Worthy, Sandy Springs Economic Development director. “We have some understanding that owner-occupied housing is especially hard to finance on a site with environmental issues.”
The concept plans recognize that by placement of owner-occupied housing away from the northern end of the site, where the issues are suspected to exist, though they may cover a larger area.
None of the redevelopment concepts proposed buildings above five stories. Most of the plans included a parking deck near the back of the property that in most cases had no ramps. Thanks to the topography, both the first and second floor decks could be reached directly at different entrances. That would save money in construction of the parking deck.
Other than the first option with minimal zoning changes, the concepts required rezoning to enable reduced minimum lot sizes for different housing types, reduced street widths and reduced lot coverage – the percentage of a parcel covered by impervious surfaces that include buildings, driveways and covered patios, Walsh said.
Committee members want mixed-use
Though polls of the committee members about the different concepts seem to be mixed, almost all attending members agreed that redevelopment should be mixed use. They weren’t so certain on allowing taller buildings
TSW’s Sarah McColley said a redesign of Roswell Road on the North End is necessary for any of the four shopping centers being proposed for redevelopment to succeed.
“We really need to make it a bikeable, walkable street,” she said.
The decreasing demand for more retail has been accelerated by the pandemic, McColley said.
Committee member Ken Dishman disagreed that demand for retail didn’t exist. The regional sales director at Expressive and former City Councilmember said his neighbors and other people whom he’s spoken to about redevelopment say they want to see quality retail to turn these shopping centers into destinations, pointing out the successful efforts of Avalon in Alpharetta.
Jonathan Gelber, vice president of Bleakly Advisory Group, agreed that quality, not quantity, is needed. The North End already has “tons and tons of square-footage of space that is not being utilized,” he said.
“So it’s a matter of increasing retail by improving it” he said, with a smaller footprint than the shopping centers now have that sits empty.
Dishman said he agrees the North End of Sandy Springs has a lot of undesirable retail space and empty space and he didn’t want more of that. He questioned the amount of office space in the plans.
Gelber said consultant anticipated consumer-facing office uses, including accountants and real estate offices, and not office buildings.
Ronda Smith, a committee member and president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, said she liked the transition of housing types to the protected neighborhood abutments.
She also described a housing type she and Worthy saw at the Aria development at 740 Abernathy Road NE in the city for sale as small as 940 square feet with one bedroom and one bathroom in two-story units. She thought that might allow more units squeezed into the same amount of space on the site.
Public comment sought
Worthy said the city asks that residents offer comment on this plan through Sept. 20, which has been uploaded to the North End website at spr.gs/northend.
The majority of comments posted about the shopping center say the city already has too many apartments and multi-unit housing developments. More retail and greenspace were proposed.
“Would legitimately rather have the current vacant lot than only dense apartments added. Absolutely no value add for adjacent neighborhoods and communities,” one comment said.
Another person commented, in part, “Please reduce the [quantity] of residential housing. The traffic that will back up on Roswell/Dalyrmple/Spalding will continue to be a problem. Instead can we focus on green space and something like a Ponce City Market or the food hall concept?”
A person who liked the concepts said, “This is an absolutely fantastic redevelopment concept which adds functionality and an overall increase in value to the area.”
Many people offered ideas such as adding something not found in the area like an aquatic center; making the site walkable; or rezoning it to allow for a brewery to encourage patrons to stay.
Those comments will be added to comments gathered over the past three weeks on the other three plans. City staff and consultants will combine it with committee members’ comments to update and revise these concepts. By early November, they plan to schedule dates for public comment on the next round of concepts.
Smith asked if any in-person public comment periods would be set. Worthy said that is their intention, including using the Sandy Springs Farmers Market as a place to share the concepts.
Retail – 20,000 square feet (ground floor)
Commercial office – 52,000 square feet
Multi-unit – 277 units
Townhomes – 14 units
Total: 303 units
“We really wanted to create something that would have a lot of energy along Roswell Road,” Walsh said.
He described it as a neighborhood similar to Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland, with buildings only reaching three stories at most. A set of townhomes would be adjacent to the protected neighborhood with the buffer zone separating them.
But, Walsh, said the three-story building limit makes building parking decks financially difficult. It’s also difficult to meet the 85% lot coverage requirements. Lot coverage refers to how much of a lot is covered by impervious surfaces such as buildings, driveways and covered patios.
The density limit also affects affordability of housing, he said. “If we wanted to have attainable housing, we’d need to have more density,” Walsh said.
Commercial retail – 43,275 square feet (ground floor)
Usable Green Space
Multi-unit- 158 units
Townhomes – 28 units
Live / work – 10 units
Total: 196 units
This concept begins to answer demands by millennials for smaller housing options, which might be as small as 500 square feet in a one bedroom, one bath unit.
Walkup apartment type units might be built on the edge of the property. Condo units with an elevator were proposed in the concept. Some townhomes and some live/work units were included. Apartment units also would be built over commercial retail space.
Development of this type of project should enable the city to get a traffic light installed at the Roswell Road and Dalrymple Road intersection, Walsh said. That would help slow down traffic on the long stretch of highway.
Rezoning would be necessary that also allows live/work or townhome units over commercial space.
Commercial retail – 37,600 square feet (ground floor)
Commercial office – 35,500 square feet
Multi-unit – 113 units
Townhomes – 29 units
Townhomes over flats – 40 units
Single-family homes – 4 units
Total: 186 units
This option creates a short retail street with outdoor dining, parallel and 60 percent angled parking. Office space would be above some retail. More townhomes and single-family detached homes would be built in this concept. In addition, what TSW called “6-plexes” were included, which are residential units each about 1,200 square feet in size. Walsh called them “great aging in place” units for the area.
In addition to the common rezoning requirements for all but the first concept, this plan would require rezoning to allow live/work units or townhomes over flats.
Commercial retail – 20,000 square feet (ground floor)
Commercial office – 52,000 square feet
Multi-unit – 419 units
Townhomes – 14 units
Total: 433 units
This is the only redevelopment concept calling for a taller building, up to five stories. The increase in density enabled more attainable housing and more housing at market rates, Walsh said.
Townhomes on the backside act as a buffer and transition into the protected neighborhood.
Building height limits would need to be increased via rezoning. The city’s requirement for steel and concrete construction on buildings higher than three stories also would need to be waived for this plan financially. Walsh said keeping the highest building to five stories still meets the international building code, which allows wood-frame construction up to that height.