Consultants presented final draft plans on Nov. 5 for redevelopment of four shopping centers in Sandy Springs’ North End that added green space and reduced building heights in some concepts to reflect public comment on their initial ideas.

“We’ve added more green space in particular on North River Village and North Springs,” said Sarah McColley of TSW, consultants in land use, zoning, urban design and outreach.

The North End revitalization project kicked off in March with 200 community members participating in a public meeting. A virtual pop-up meeting had 162 participants. In August and September city staff and consultants presented multiple concepts for each of the four shopping centers that varied from following all zoning requirements to more extensive rezoning and building code changes to achieve. The community participated in virtual meetings for each shopping center and added comments through interactive websites.

Final concepts and an accompanying report will be presented to City Council in December.

McColley said the consultants learned that the community wants a mix of housing options. Overall feedback themes included:

  •   Need a mix of housing options that are attainable at many price points, including single-family homes and different forms of multi-unit buildings.
  •   Desire for parks, plazas, green space and connected parks and trails.
  •   New buildings should not be taller than 5 to 6 stories, but can go taller to support more housing options
  •   Support for public funding of infrastructure, such as streets and public spaces, and parks to accommodate higher-quality redevelopment, “attainable” housing and more green space.

Jonathan Gelber of the Bleakly Advisory Group said his team studied the financial feasibility for each concept, looking at the sites the same way a property developer would look them. That included buying the site; demolishing existing buildings; designing and site preparation for development, and building roads, stormwater systems and other infrastructure.

To a question on the possibility that all four sites would be redeveloped at the same time, Gelber said that is unlikely. The North End of the city has gone 30 or 40 years without any significant building or demolition and the demand won’t suddenly change, he said.

TSW’s Bill Tunnell pointed out existing obligations at several of the sites.

“Especially North River, it has existing leases in place that will make it very unlikely it would get redeveloped in the near term anyway,” Tunnell said.

“What we’ve had for the last 40 years… is the status quo,” Gelber said. “Very little product of any type has been added.”

Asked about affordability, one of the outcomes sought in these redevelopment concepts, his response was not optimistic.

“From a market perspective, very few people are lining up to do these at market rates,” Gelber said. “Right now, we aren’t even doing it with zero affordable housing.”

COVID-19 has had two major impacts on development, he said. First, the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries have taken a huge hit in the short term. Housing has taken a huge hit also, especially apartment housing. Most of the job losses have been in moderate- to lower-income ranges.

“These are the workers who have been put out of work by COVID. They generally live in apartments,” Gelber said.

But a huge demand has existed for housing everywhere in the region as an underbuilding of housing has existed for 20 or 30 years, he said. A lot of pent-up demand for housing exists, with the city’s demand for 300 to 500 units of housing annually.

With major retail centers to the south, southeast and north, including Perimeter Center and Roswell, little demand exists for more, he said. The redevelopment concepts need to feature space for local, quality retail opportunities and not try to create destination shopping, Gelber said.

Community members can comment on these plans through an interactive website at spr.gs/northern, and click on the draft concepts link. A video of the Nov. 5 presentation also is available.

One of the concepts for redeveloping North River Village shopping center proposes taller mixed-use buildings whose density helps make creating green space plaza areas possible.

North River Village (8765-8897 Roswell Road)

The 12.7-acre shopping center has a significant grade change with the southern end of the site farthest from the Chattahoochee River is about 30 feet above the building pad with existing buildings.

“It does have existing tenants, some of which are doing reasonably well even during COVID,” said Bill Tunnell of TSW.

Two of the redesigned options add a 1-acre public park, he said.

The first option would add 524 residential units with a density of 41 units per acre and more than 133,000 square feet of commercial space.

Tunnell said rents attainable at all four shopping center sites would make it difficult to justify the expense of structured parking.

A second option trades the five story multi-family buildings for more townhomes. It also trades a public park for more townhomes to make it work financially.

The third option answered questions on what would happen if the site went to taller buildings, as high as 10 stories. The 892 residential units made possible bring the density up to 70 units per acre.

This option would require higher rents than the market supports to include structure parking.

This neighborhood center option for redeveloping the River Springs (former Loehman’s) shopping center might be financially feasible with the larger number of housing units made possible by taller buildings. (Sandy Springs)

River Springs Center (8610 Roswell Road, former Loehman’s)

As this property sits behind other commercial property obscuring its view from Roswell Road, consultants determined the site was better suited for residential development.

The first option limited buildings to three stories with small areas of green space between buildings. It would create 385 multi-family housing units, just under 32,000 square feet of commercial space and 2.1 acres of green space.

Limiting buildings to three stories makes building a parking deck financially difficult.

The second option adds “missing middle” housing, defined as multi-unit housing types such as duplexes, fourplexes and bungalow courts that are not bigger than a large house. Multi-unit buildings would add 24 units, adding to the 72 townhomes, 28 townhomes over flats and 19 single-family homes. Green space would drop to just under an acre in this concept.

But this concept does not work financially as the possible revenue from resale of lots falls short of land acquisition and site preparation costs.

A neighborhood center was chosen as the third option for River Springs Center. It adds more mixed-use housing, with 314 multi-family units, 25 townhomes and 10 live/work units. Commercial space of 18,000 square feet comes mainly in retail and office on the Hightower Trail side of the property.

This concept could be financially feasible with rezoning and other modifications to zoning requirements.

A variation to this concept would replace the 314 multi-family units with 63 townhomes. Twenty-two of the townhomes would be over flats.

Tunnell said this strategy is one other cities tried to pursue and how Atlanta used to build.

But McSolley confirmed this concept doesn’t work financially either based on land and site prep costs.

A mix of taller buildings of 8 or 10 stories for multi-family housing may fit the Northridge shopping center as it is near a 12-story office building and other multi-family housing to the east and northeast. (Sandy Springs)

Northridge Center (8331-8371 Roswell Road)

“This center has 13 existing tenants, one that is currently in the old Kroger space,” said TSW’s Ryan Snodgrass.

He said after receiving public comment on the initial concepts, none of the revisions saves the Goodwill store.

All concepts look to connect to a green space with an active stream on the north side of the property with a trail.

With limited visibility to the site from either Roswell or Northridge roads, consultants focused on residential uses.

The first option includes 148 units, limited by sticking to current zoning that restricts buildings to three stories.

“The buildable area for the site is relatively light because we do have a lot of topography that is restricting that,” Snodgrass said.

But with so few housing units with a density of 14 units per acre, the concept is not financially feasible for private development.

The second option doubles the density with 28 units per acre and 298 units total. Aller buildings allow a bit more plaza space. Snodgrass said with a 12-story office building to the east and other multi-family units nearby, increasing building heights fits on the site.

Even doubling the number of units wasn’t enough to make the concept financially feasible with land and site prep costs, plus structure parking.

“Developers want to see in the range of 300 units before they start relying on structure parking,” Snodgrass said.

A third option creates 720 housing units in two different types. Multi-family buildings reaching eight and 10 stories are part of the concept, with smaller buildings of three stories on the southern part of the site.

The added density – up to 68 units per acre – makes this option feasible, he said.

This large park space planned for the North Springs shopping center was added to meet requests by the public, but without a public/private partnership consultants say it’s not feasible.

North Springs Center (7300 Roswell Road, former Big Lots)

A large green space was added to the north end of all options for this redevelopment concept in answer to public comments. Another change was limiting building heights to a three-story maximum, McColley said.

The first option creates 198 multi-family units and 15 townhomes, with 44,400 square feet of commercial space and almost 5 acres of green space. That green space is closer to a public park.

But based on market assumptions this option is not feasible. Rents would not support the cost for structured parking.

Reducing the green space by a little over an acre down to 3.75 acres, the second option adds more mixed-use housing, though the total number of units is nearly the same. Multi-units drop to 166, with townhomes rising to 34 units and four single-family units get added to the site. Commercial space increases to 57,300 square feet.

With enough modifications and concessions, this concept might work financially. A public/private partnership with the city to help with housing, the green space or some of the public infrastructure might achieve that.

A third option reduces and splits the green space to fit more housing units. Multi-family would include 117 units, with 31 townhomes, another 40 townhomes over flats and two single-family homes. Commercial space falls slightly to 51,450 square feet.

The green space, though split, is almost the same as the second option with 3.73 acres.

But this concept also would need modifications and concessions to make it financially feasible.

“We do know that there are some environmental issues on the site,” said Andrea Worthy, the city’s economic development director.