The Gist

- Sandy Springs created a special mixed-use zoning district for the North End.
- Developers could construct more stories by providing affordable housing units.
- The zoning category requires 25% of residential space to be single-units.

Sandy Springs City Council approved changes to its development code at its Dec. 21 meeting to encourage redevelopment of three North End shopping centers.

The code changes create a new zoning district, called North End mixed-use, for areas north of Dalrymple Road in assemblages of land of no less than eight acres, said Planning and Zoning Manager Michelle McIntosh-Ross. 

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.

The three targeted shopping centers are:

Developers will have the opportunity to seek rezoning to the new North End district that allows them to construct taller residential buildings and be exempt from steel and concrete construction codes with bonuses for providing affordable housing.

While the development code changes were approved, no property was rezoned to the classification, McIntosh-Ross said. That will require applicants to make requests through normal processes and hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.

Mayor Rusty Paul said the revitalization efforts were important because of what residents were telling him.

“I was hearing from a lot of residents in that area who were complaining, justifiably so, that there were not good restaurants, good shops. A lot of the shopping centers in that area were not necessarily being maintained as well as they could,” he said.

The zoning district requires a minimum of 25% of the total number of residential units to be single-unit detached or attached units. The zoning requires developers to construct the single-unit residences before any multi-unit residential could get a certificate of occupancy.

“Also, there’s a height bonus available for the developments that provide 10% of their multi-unit residential as affordable for those earning 80 percent of AMI (area mean income),” McIntosh-Ross said.

As for the specific zoning designations, the NEX-5/6 zoning district allows up to five story buildings. NEX-5/10/12 gives a special allowance for 10 stories for buildings more than 400 feet from Roswell Road. The bonus heights are available between 6 and 12 stories if they include ground-floor retail or provide the 10% of multi-unit residential as affordable units.

Paul said cities have three options with undervalued commercial development. The first would be to allow the area to continue to deteriorate until its property value got down to the point where developers would come in and redevelop it.

“But that would drag down all the other property value residential and all other property in that area as well,” he said.

A second option would be for the city to buy the property, but he said Sandy Springs doesn’t have the resources to do this.

The third option, which was the intent of the development code changes, was to incentivize the private sector to redevelop some of the larger retail areas under strict guidelines.

“We wanted to save the property values of the owners, particularly the residential owners in that area,” he said.

The Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods took note of Paul’s 2018 priority, which was to encourage investment along Roswell Road in the north end of Sandy Springs and enhance the quality and variety of housing, retail and amenities in the area. And to improve the quality of life for all residents, said Ronda Smith, the organization’s president.

That priority resulted in four years of efforts by a revitalization committee and task force to get to this point, she said.

“The Council of Neighborhoods has been involved in these last four years of efforts and supports these changes as a way to spur smart, mixed-use development and improve quality of life in the North End,” Smith said.

Some residents warned the city to look out for unintended consequences of this effort.

“We hope you just don’t consider the positive impacts the new development would have on this area. But please take into account the negative and possible unintended consequences the zoning changes may have to our protected neighborhoods and surrounding communities,” said Kathy Aurora of Huntcliff Homes Association.

City Council approved the development code changes with an amendment by City Councilmember John Paulson. He changed a line of the text amendment to say affordable units must be identical to market-rate units.

“I don’t want a situation where one part of the building is denoted the affordable housing wing,” he said.

He said the city should start at the North End with these redevelopment opportunities to see what reaction the market has.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.