MARTA’s Red Line never got a warm welcome in northern Sandy Springs, and a city planning meeting March 28 about redevelopment visions around the North Springs and proposed Northridge Road stations drew similar skepticism. But the group of about 30 residents in attendance proved willing to support at least small-scale transit-oriented projects, especially if it means redeveloping older apartment complexes.

Consultant Elliot Rhodeside (standing) leads one group of residents in discussion at the March 28 "Next Ten" meeting about the MARTA station plans at Sandy Springs' Sherwood Event Hall. (Photo John Ruch)

Consultant Elliot Rhodeside (standing) leads one group of residents in discussion at the March 28 “Next Ten” meeting about the MARTA station plans at Sandy Springs’ Sherwood Event Hall. (Photo John Ruch)

The meeting at the Sherwood Event Hall on Roswell Road was the latest by consultants running the city’s “Next Ten” process, which combines a rewrite of the land-use plan and zoning code with detailed plans for certain key areas. The general concept for the MARTA station plans is more mixed-use and pedestrian-friendly development. But the consultant team, led by the firm Rhodeside & Harwell, didn’t get far into a presentation before several audience members interrupted with concerns.

“I think half of the people here didn’t want a MARTA station at all,” said one resident, recalling opposition to North Springs, which opened 15 years ago. Barbara Kaufman, a 30-year area resident, questioned the “walkability” talk, saying, “It sounds like you’re trying to force a lifestyle change I’m not making.”

“What was done 20 or 30 years ago shouldn’t matter,” replied resident John Mason, saying that demographics are changing and younger residents want MARTA access. “It’s a mindset that has to change,” he said in a later interview, referring to old concerns about MARTA drawing crime, and called a possible Northridge station “a godsend for that area.”

The consultants presented general ideas for mixed-use development around the stations, with both playing off of a potential extension of the PATH400 multi-use trail from Buckhead. But mostly they cited some issues and opportunities with the area to solicit residents’ input.

North Springs station sits between Ga. 400 and Peachtree-Dunwoody Road roughly between Abernathy Road and Spalding Drive. Undeveloped land on its Peachtree-Dunwoody side is a mixed-use opportunity, the consultants said. Consultant Joel Mann of Nelson\Nygaard also noted the accessibility issues with the station. It is designed to prevent Ga. 400 drivers from exiting onto Peachtree-Dunwoody and vice versa, and it lacks any connection across Ga. 400.

“You have half of your market unable to walk there,” Mann said of Ga. 400 acting as a barrier. “You can see it, but you can’t get to it.”

Some residents said the community wanted the station that way to protect the neighborhood. But Mann said the city might “need to revisit some of those decisions from the past” with community input.

A Northridge plan is even more challenging because that station is only a general proposal made by MARTA for a still unfunded Red Line extension. There is no specific station site selected, with MARTA promising only that it would be on the west side of Ga. 400—likely replacing rental apartments rather than single-family houses.

Consultant Deana Rhodeside said that “established single-family area…that needs to be protected and respected” also limits the mixed-use opportunities. But, she said, the city could still “invest in placemaking around the MARTA station” and “spur redevelopment.”

In a workshop part of the meeting, residents gathered at tables with maps. There was general support for smaller-scale, “higher quality” redevelopment of older apartment complexes, but also some concern about providing affordable rental housing options for various age groups. The groups also saw opportunities for more green space, wider sidewalks and better lighting. Some specific infrastructure ideas included a pedestrian bridge across Ga. 400 at North Springs and an extension of Colquitt Road to Northridge Parkway to improve connections.

City Council member John Paulson said he’s “impressed” with the consultants’ ideas as they tackle the balance between neighborhood character and better transit access. “I understand the sensitivity of this community,” he said, adding, “We have development opportunities here.”

The MARTA station presentation will be available for more public comment on the Next Ten website at thenext10.org. Another detailed plan is in the works for the Powers Ferry Landing area in western Sandy Springs, but that is going before a stakeholder group this week rather than a full workshop, Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said. The Next Ten process is slated to continue into the fall.

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