A newly formed group supporting Sandy Springs’ north end redevelopment concepts has set a game plan to further boost the ideas as the city takes a closer look.
The group, dubbed the North End Sandy Springs Improvement Coalition, drew about 15 people to its second meeting, held March 28 in the clubhouse of the upscale north end neighborhood Huntcliff, where many of its current members live. It’s planning an outreach strategy to try to draw more members and supporters.
“It’s great to see so many people get engaged on our one goal, which is to improve the north end and move the needle on how things go,” said Josh Conklin, a resident who helped start the group.
The redevelopment concepts were drafted by the city-created North End Revitalization Task Force, which worked for several months in 2018 on ideas 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 improvement coalition was spurred by frustration felt by some residents at a February meeting by a different group that opposes the redevelopment concepts. That group, called Sandy Springs Together, was started by David and Melanie Couchman, two of the co-chairs of the task force, who fear the report’s recommendations could bring displacement and gentrification.
“I think there was kind of this feeling we didn’t have a voice or were being spoken for,” Conklin said.
City staff members are presenting summaries of the task force report to various city boards as it looks into the feasibility of the recommendations. The report is low on concrete funding options and costs, factors that can determine how redevelopment might change the area, which is what the two groups hope to sway.
“If this group fizzles, I think the north end will stay the same,” Conklin said. “The faster we get behind it, that’s going to spur development.”
The group laid out a game plan to try to bolster community support for the ideas, including possibly giving speeches to homeowners associations, mailing postcards, publishing videos and creating a website. One of the first steps is planned to be writing an open letter to the community and city leaders explaining why the group supports the concepts.
“The biggest thing is getting out the message,” one of the members said. “People don’t know this is happening.”
Another member suggested a group slogan as “finish the job,” referring to bringing the “spirit” of the development that Sandy Springs has seen in the central and southern sections up to the north end.
The group may also start meeting in other areas of the city and north end rather than just within the Huntcliff neighborhood, which was done this time out of “convenience,” Conklin said.
The improvement coalition wants to see more redevelopment happen and discussed that the report several times calls for creating mixed-income housing.
The Couchmans believe there was not enough protection for current residents in the task force report, especially due to the absence of anti-displacement and relocation strategy.
Conklin said he wants the current diversity of the north end and Sandy Springs is “key” and needs to stay. The affordable housing part of the concepts is a “good thing,” he said.
Another member at the meeting pushed back on adding more low-income housing, saying creating more “poverty density is not the thing to do.”
The report calls for a “catalyst” project funded in part by the city to spur development, which Suzanne Miell, a Huntcliff resident who helped start the group, said she believes is the right path.
“The reality is, the math doesn’t make sense for the developers” to buy and redevelopment or improve retail and residential properties, Conklin said.
The catalyst project could bring large-scale redevelopment instead of “piecemeal.” And it doesn’t necessarily mean tearing down existing apartments, Miell said.