Plans to replace a Sandy Springs church with a 201-unit senior housing building drew traffic and density concerns—and some grudging acceptance—from about 70 residents at a preliminary community meeting Jan. 25.

Developer Parc Communities said that luxury senior housing is among the least traffic-generating redevelopments possible for the Apostles Church site at Glenridge Drive and Hammond Drive. But its plan has some question marks, including a possible 3,000-square-foot health clinic that might be open to the general public.

An illustration of Parc Communities' proposed senior housing as seen from Hammond Drive, presented at the Jan. 25 meeting at Apostles Church. (Photo John Ruch)

An illustration of Parc Communities’ proposed senior housing as seen from Hammond Drive, presented at the Jan. 25 meeting at Apostles Church. (Photo John Ruch)

“I live in Sandy Springs,” said Parc Communities President and CEO Roy Dickson, sympathizing with traffic nightmares at the meeting, held at the church. “I understand all the dynamics. And I understand something is going to happen on a corner like this that is out of the ordinary in the way of density, something that is going to invite questions.”

Dickson and attorney Chip Collins, a former Sandy Springs city councilman, had lots of answers, including an offer to shave 12 feet of dirt off the entire site to reduce the new building’s height impact. No one in the crowd seemed thrilled, but several said that in today’s skyscraper-sprouting Sandy Springs, they were willing to settle for a relatively low-impact project.

“To be completely honest, this is not what I want…[but] this could be a much worse possible property—a gas station, for God’s sake,” said Scott Nelson, an abutting Glenridge resident.

Apostles Church has to sell after building an overly large new house of worship under a previous administration several years ago, according to a church official. The church and a preschool will have to move and all buildings in the complex, including the former youth house next door, would be demolished in the current plan.

Parc’s facility would be mostly four stories tall, reduced to three stories along Glenridge as a nod to residents’ concerns, and rising to five stories at Hammond. The building would be set back 85 to 95 feet from the street. About 55 percent of the 201 units would be one-bedrooms and the rest two-bedrooms, Dickson said. There would be eight full-time employees and part-timers for a dining facility and the possible health clinic.

But Parc’s nontraditional, “pioneering” concept of an independent living facility with “a la carte services,” as Dickson put it, worried some residents about possible greater-than-expected traffic impacts. Instead of paying a flat fee for services, residents—who could be as young as 55 under federal law—would pay about $2 per square foot in base rent and then more for any specific services they want, such as housekeeping or transportation. And at least to start, the dining facility would be a “bistro” serving only breakfast and lunch.

Dickson acknowledged that the new concept made some aspects unpredictable. “Yeah, I don’t know,” he said of the possible traffic impacts of the facility not serving dinner. “I haven’t crossed that bridge yet…We will be learning as we go as we deliver this new product.”

But Dickson said that the “social fabric” of the facility will attract people in their 70s and 80s who are less likely to drive, and invited residents to look at Parc’s existing senior housing in Alpharetta and Duluth.

Roy Dickson, president and CEO of Parc Communities, speaks to residents at the Jan. 25 meeting at Apostles Church. (Photo John Ruch)

Roy Dickson, president and CEO of Parc Communities, speaks to residents at the Jan. 25 meeting at Apostles Church. (Photo John Ruch)

The biggest question is the health clinic, which would be a new partnership with Piedmont Healthcare, featuring one doctor and four support staff. However, Dickson said, there is uncertainty on whether such a clinic would be open to the general public and what its zoning impacts would be. He called it “a discussion only at this point” and in one moment referred to it as “pretty unlikely.” Collins and Dickson said that Parc may seek pre-approval for the clinic and, if it turns out to be feasible, build it later by converting three of the residential units.

Dickson emphasized that it is still early in the process. The plan requires approvals for rezoning, a use permit and probably zoning variances. Parc intends to file those requests next month, which would be followed by another community meeting and hearings before the Sandy Springs Planning Commission and City Council.

He estimated demolition of the church complex would take 10 days and construction of the new building about 16 months, with an opening early next year if they move “aggressively.”

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