Sandy Springs’ north end task force began wrapping up its process by narrowing down its list of ideas at its Nov. 1 meeting and assigning members to write portions of the report that will be presented to City Council.
The group reviewed public input gathered at the last meeting to inform their decisions and narrow the priorities. The task force also again discussed the need and process to limit displacement remained a major sticking point on the group.
The task force chose to stick with six points: the “Greenline” trail; new mixed-use and mixed-income developments; Roswell Road pedestrian improvements; connections to Roswell Road communities; new access to the Chattahoochee River; and a community center.
The task force had proposed a wide range of ideas at the public meeting. Projects or priorities that were axed included making the north end a tourist destination; attracting “creative-industry” companies; building a natatorium at Morgan Falls; and creating distinctive “villages,” among others.
Those ideas were taken off the table based on public feedback or due to a desire to center the proposals on key elements of revitalization.
The task force ended the meeting by discussing what their expertise is and why they were asked by the mayor to serve on the task force following concerns about the make-up and perceived lack of diversity.
The community center idea changed substantially after the latest public meeting.
The idea for one community center where the public could gather was strongly recommended by residents at the first public meeting in July. Since then, the task force expanded the idea to several centers within each “village.”
The village idea received heavy pushback at the latest meeting, with residents saying they feared it could segregate the community. There was also confusion about the vague description of the village concept.
The task force chose to remove references to the village concept and instead focus on creating one community center.
“The north end is screaming for a community center,” Melanie Noble-Couchman said. “It was in the first community meeting we had and we’ve lost it somehow.”
The conversation about how to handle potential displacement continued from the last task force meeting, which affordable housing advocates continuing to argue provisions to protect residents and assist those displaced need to be in the plan. The affordability piece of the task force’s report is expected to provide guidance for the entire city.
“You have a lot of naturally affordable housing right now, if some of this will require razing some of those buildings, who are you going to tackle that affordability issue?” said Meaghan Shannon-Vikovic, who works at an affordable housing firm.
Task force members who are involved in real estate investments and developments, including Patrick Jones and Jeff Garrison, argued the market will drive the prices and that providing help for every displaced resident shouldn’t be considered.
“We can all agree to disagree,” Garrison said.
Each of the six ideas has been assigned to some of the task force members for them to flesh out for the report that is expected to be presented to the City Council at its January retreat.
Not all the members are spearheading the writing of any of the ideas, and the assignments are focused on people’s expertise, said Otis White, a consultant leading the process.
Garrison and Richard Munger, a residential developer, will lead the writing of the development ideas and suggest recommended starting points. Shannon-Vikovic will provide affordable housing knowledge.
Gabe Sterling, a former City Council member with an interest in transportation, will lead the writing on the Roswell Road pedestrian improvements, Greenline trail and community access ideas.
Rhonda Smith, the president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, and Charles Crosby, a construction project manager, will write on Chattahoochee River access and the community center.
The first draft of the reports will be reviewed at the task force’s next meeting on Nov. 14, which will be held in City Hall at 6 p.m.
Other members will provide feedback on the plans, but in some cases, particularly on the development idea, White noted they may not be able to agree. He proposed an idea to create some kind of alternative report that could also be presented to City Council so all viewpoints are represented.
“If I’m doing all this work at night after I put my kids to bed and it gets tucked away, I’m going to be very upset,” Shannon-Vikovic said.