Affordable housing advocates that served on Sandy Springs’ north end task force and opposed the final plan because they believe it would drive gentrification and displacement say results of a survey they conducted show the community agrees with them. The survey comes as the City Council begins to review the plan’s recommendations to spur redevelopment in the area.
Task force co-chairs David and Melanie Couchman and their philanthropic Couchman-Noble Foundation formerly pushed a secret affordable housing concept that influenced the city’s policy discussions behind the scenes. One result of that effort was their appointment to the task force as co-chairs.
The report was reviewed at the City Council’s Jan. 22 retreat, where it received general support from the officials. Mayor Rusty Paul said he’s asked city staff to bring back cost estimates and recommendations for what could move forward.
The city-created task force worked for several months in 2018 to draft a plan to bring new development to the north end, ultimately deciding on six key proposals: build a multiuse trail; incentivize new mixed-use and mixed-income developments; make Roswell Road improvements; build new streets and pedestrian connections; create new access to the Chattahoochee River; and build a community center and swimming complex.
The council did not delve into specific parts of the plan or the controversies, but Councilmember Andy Bauman did note he believes it’s clear the city intends to avoid displacement.
“There may be disagreement about the consequences on these proposals, but I don’t think there is a disagreement about the mission, which is that mass displacement will be avoided,” Bauman said.
The Couchmans’ survey was advertised on Facebook earlier this month and did not disclose who was conducting it. The Couchmans hired a professional polling firm, 20-20 Insight, LLC, which is run by two veteran Democratic consultants, including Jeff DiSantis, the former director of the state party.
Over 600 people responded to the survey, according to a document provided by the Couchmans, About 75 percent of respondents want the city to “go back to the drawing board” and not implement the plan, according to the survey, which the firm said has a 4 percent margin of error. Twenty-two percent strongly favor the north end plan, the document said.
The survey questions “presented people in our community with the best arguments, both for and against the current plan,” the Couchmans said.
A few of the survey’s questions asked whether respondents were convinced by arguments the plan would reduce crime; make a profit for developers while risking taxpayer funds; displace residents like teachers, police officers and nurses; and destabilize schools, causing redistricting.