The Sandy Springs Diversity and Inclusion Task Force plans to tell Mayor Rusty Paul that they recommend adoption of a zoning ordinance requiring affordable housing with all new construction, a proposal the City Council excluded from an updated zoning code in 2017.

Paul formed the task force early this year to suggest ways to improve inclusion in city government and the community. This followed Black Lives Matters protests that occurred in the city last summer. Jim Bostic, who chairs the task force, created subcommittees to begin work on creating proposals.

Diversity and Inclusion Task Force members met in person and via Zoom on May 11, with Olivia Rocamora, Jim Bostic and Raquel Gonzalez at City Hall (top left), Rabbi Josh Heller (top right), Jose Osorio (bottom right) and Nicole Morris. Clarissa Sparks, the new Recreation subcommittee chair with the regisnation of Desmond Curry, also attended virtually. (Zoom screenshot)

Housing & Transportation subcommittee chair Olivia Rocamora presented two sets of recommendations during the task force’s meeting on May 11. The first set seeks to improve communications by expanding distribution of local newspapers to apartments, including the Sandy Springs Reporter and adding translation services to documents and live city meetings.

 City staff would review redevelopment applications through a racial equity lens and require developers to reveal anticipated impact to neighborhoods and residents from development projects.

The second set suggested for adoption in the following fiscal year proposed more housing creativity for new construction through zoning changes and providing incentives for developers for housing affordability.

One zoning change the City Council rejected in its adoption of the comprehensive plan would make inclusionary zoning a requirement. The intent was to ensure all new construction includes housing affordability for residents earning $50,000.

Task force members wanted to know why inclusionary zoning was rejected in the past.

“I think looking at it from our perspective, we might judge differently, right? Thinking why would you exclude this, this is really important? So I would just love to hear if there are some valid reasons what they are,” task force member Nicole Morris said.

In 2017 the reason given was that a mandate could prevent redevelopment, especially in the North End. The city said it planned to form a task force to study affordable housing and add best practices in the code later.

Rocamora said the teachers and first responders who work in the city can’t afford or choose not to live here. She said Sandy Springs Fire Chief Keith Sanders told her only five of the 116 full-time fire department employees live in the city.

“These are our frontline workers, these are our heroes from the last year and beyond and I do believe that everyone believes in housing for them,” she said.

“The question is, what are we willing, what are we prepared to do about it. That’s really what the nuts and bolts of this is,” Bostic said regarding the recommendations for fiscal year 2022 starting in July.

Developer incentives to support housing affordability in apartment complex renovations or new construction might include lowering tax rates to developers, giving height variances or the city purchasing property and installing infrastructure before selling to a developer. But they’d have to deliver 25% of units as affordable housing for the long term.

Other options would come from the second phase of the Housing Needs Assessment.

In addition to inclusionary zoning, the task force wants the city to change its zoning laws to get creative with non-traditional housing including garage apartments. A recommendation to allow multifamily housing on the boundaries of any single-family neighborhood would effectively end protected neighborhoods.

“Let’s not kid ourselves that people don’t understand exactly what we’re talking about for zoning for multifamily housing throughout the city, and not just on the North End. I mean, one of the things that’s happened is that they moved it all to the North End,” Bostic said.

Bostic said he will join Rocamora in presenting the recommendations to the mayor within a few days.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis is a freelance journalist based in metro Atlanta.