A resident votes on a north end proposal at the Oct. 18 public meeting held in City Hall. (Evelyn Andrews)

Some Sandy Springs residents thought the proposals laid out by the north end task force at an Oct. 18 meeting are the right course the city should take for the area, while others were concerned about the potential displacement that could result. Proposals included creating a “Greenline,” a multi-use path that would run through the north end and encouraging development of “mixed-income” housing.

The “North End Revitalization Task Force,” which was set up by the city in March and began its work in July, started its process with a public meeting where residents provided ideas for projects and initiatives. Most of the task force’s proposals have stemmed from that process, Otis White, a consultant leading the process said, but it has also added additional projects to the list.

Still to come is the process or steps needed to make these ideas happen.  The task force has been charged by Mayor Rusty Paul to avoid gentrification, but has at times members have disagreed about its affordability goal. They frequently cite the Atlanta BeltLine as an inspirational project, though that multi-use path and park plan has spurred gentrification in many intown neighborhoods.

The task force presented 14 “big ideas”: creating a set of villages, each with distinctive character; creating the “Greenline,” a lighted trail for walking and biking; expanding greenspace; slowing traffic and adding more crosswalks and bike lanes on Roswell Road; creating a landmark marking the entrance to the north end; creating a pedestrian bridge over the Chattahoochee River near Morgan Falls; adding new ball fields and swimming complex to Morgan Falls; partnering with the Fulton County School District to use school facilities; creating mixed-use complexes; creating a community suitable for all ages; encouraging housing for all incomes; increasing home ownership; attracting “creative industry” jobs and companies; and making the north end a “major destination for visitors.”

The meeting began with a residents voicing concerns about the lack of diversity on the task force, which is heavy with developers and appears to be entirely white. Members also include the president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, affordable housing advocates, former City Councilmember Gabe Sterling and current City Councilmember Steve Soteres, who chairs the task force.

Meeting attendees voted on the 14 proposals, which were posted around a City Hall conference room, using color-coded stickers that signified support or concern for each idea.

Nearing the end of the meeting, most votes on 1 to 5 scale were in support of the plan’s ability to transform the north end.

One north end homeowner and single mother said, though she does like some of the ideas, she was concerned some of the proposals could cause housing values and property taxes to rise  pricing her out of her home, which she has lived in since 2007.

Another resident said he supports the proposals, especially ones that would bring more pedestrian connectivity and access to the riverfront.

“I think it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s an area that has been neglected.”

Improving access to the Chattahoochee River was strongly supported at the first public meeting, and one proposal addressing that would be to build a new pedestrian bridge over the river in the Morgan Falls area, which was proposed and studied in 2009. That proposal received mixed support, with some people saying the city should instead revisit the stalled plan to build a pedestrian bridge parallel to the existing vehicular Roswell Road bridge.

One resident worried the idea to encourage more homeownership is targeted at removing rental housing.

“This is the PC, smarmy way of saying ‘clean out apartment residents and demolish apartment complexes,'” the resident said.

Some thought encouraging “creative-industry companies,” which included marketing agencies, tech start-ups and graphic design firms, to come to the north end could bring a rise in housing prices.

“Have you seen San Francisco lately? These types of industry will attract many high-end, transient earner and less middle-class families,” one person said.

Another said, “Only if the people who live in the area can work there. Otherwise real estate prices will rise to the nearby employee salaries and people will be displaced.”

Another had concerns many of the ideas are in conflict with each other. Mehmet Cakmak said he is unsure how the city could increase homeownership while also encouraging new rental developments, or how it could promote tourism while reducing traffic congestion.

The idea to have some sort of “landmark” marking the entrance to the north end and Sandy Springs brought mostly criticism, with comments asking why this would be needed and “what’s the point?”

The “Greenline,” which would be a lighted and landscaped multi-use trail, received mostly votes for support. One comment worried it could increase crime.

Making the north end a tourist destination brought some support, but others said the area should remain a residential neighborhood and the ideas should focus on existing residents.

“Keep the north end quiet, residential,” one resident said. “Don’t make it into a bustling, busy, noisy area.”

Residents were also able to write additional ideas the task force should consider. Among them were discouraging developments of new strip malls and redevelopment the existing ones, taxing developers to pay for infrastructure improvements and advocating for MARTA rail expansion.

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