A long-promised task force to spur redevelopment and propose affordable housing policy in Sandy Springs’ north end is set to be appointed at the March 20 City Council meeting.

The “North Springs Revitalization Task Force” has a proposed membership heavy on development industry executives. Among others nominated are current and former City Council members; the head of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods; and three people leading a previously secret mixed-income housing proposal, recently revealed by the Reporter, that has strongly influenced north end and affordable housing policy behind the scenes.

The city proposes hiring Civic Strategies, Inc., an Atlanta-based consultant, to run the task force meetings and a related “citizen engagement” process involving residents, property owners and business owners of both the north end and the entire city. The task force’s deadline for providing a final report would be Jan. 1, 2019. The consultant would be paid $9,000, according to city spokesperson Sharon Kraun.

The mission of the task force, according to a city staff memo, would be “to develop a vision and plan for redevelopment that are shared by the residents and private interests in the area – and will benefit the city as a whole. It is likely that the plan will suggest a role for city government, which would be framed as a set of recommendations for the City Council to consider.”

The memo nowhere uses the term “affordable,” but does say, “Any vision must include a wide range of options for housing and rents to foster change, but also to provide that families can continue to work and live in Sandy Springs.”

The proposed task force members include:

  • Jack Arnold, an executive with Stream Realty Partners, owner of the area’s North River shopping center, where a proposed Lidl discount grocer was rejected by the city last year.
  • Carolyn Axt, former Leadership Sandy Springs executive director involved in many major Sandy Springs nonprofits, and recipient of the city’s 2010 humanitarian of the year award.
  • David Couchman and Melanie Noble-Couchman, local philanthropists who are the advocates behind the previously secret mixed-income redevelopment concept. Noble-Couchman received the city’s 2011 humanitarian of the year award.
  • Charles Crosby of CORE Project Management, a Sandy Springs-based construction management company, and a board member of the Community Assistance Center, a north end nonprofit aimed at preventing homelessness and hunger in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
  • Jeff Garrison, a partner with the commercial real estate firm S.J. Collins Enterprises and a Sandy Springs resident.
  • Colin Hubbard, an executive with the development company Carter, which is one of the city’s private partners in the new City Springs civic center.
  • Patrick Jones, a Sandy Springs resident and executive with Walker & Dunlop Investment Sales, a multifamily housing investment advisory firm.
  • Richard Munger, a Sandy Springs resident and executive with the developer North American Properties, which agreed to one of the city’s first middle-income inclusionary zoning agreements in a Medical Center apartment building.
  • Meaghan Shannon-Vlkovic, an executive in the Southeast office of Enterprise Community Partners, which provides technical assistance on affordable housing creation and preservation. Enterprise is among the consultants involved in the Couchmans’ behind-the-scenes redevelopment concept.
  • Ronda Smith, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, a coalition of the city’s homeowners associations.
  • Steve Soteres, a Sandy Springs City Council member representing part of the north end, and a construction company executive.
  • Gabriel Sterling, vice chair of the Sandy Springs Development Authority. He recently stepped down as a City Council member representing part of the north end.

The task force members were selected by Mayor Rusty Paul privately with no formal nomination process.

For several years, city officials have worked on ideas for redevelopment the “north end” – the area of the city flanking Roswell Road roughly between Dalrymple Road and the Chattahoochee River. The area has many older shopping centers and apartment buildings. The city’s new land-use plan and code established a mixed-use vision for the area, and this year, the council made redevelopment there a formal city priority.

However, it remains to be seen what that means, as various residents and officials have differing ideas. Conflicting goals of gentrification and affordability are tensions in the concepts. Another tension is that redevelopment might gain middle-income housing by displacing today’s lower-income housing, and in one of the city’s most racially and ethnically diverse areas, too.

Complicating any resolution are already high property values. At the City Council’s annual retreat in January, officials said that major redevelopment likely must involve some form of financial subsidy from the city and other sources.

The Couchmans have long been a strong secret influence on the conversation and helped to move affordable housing into more prominent part of the conversation. Their concept involves a mixed-use, mixed-income community and a new community center, generally modeled on Atlanta’s East Lake.

The Couchmans also reviewed drafts of a policy document called “Realizing the Dream” that Paul was working on last year, apparently intended to guide the task force, according to internal city emails. Paul has not mentioned the document publicly and has declined to answer questions about it.

Update: This story has been updated with information about the cost of hiring the consultant, and with biographical information about Jeff Garrison.

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