Sandy Springs plans to study redeveloping four large shopping centers on the north end as it moves forward with a task force report that could bring large-scale redevelopment.

The city plans to put $1.5 million toward north end planning in next year’s budget that will fund the study and another on Chattahoochee River access.

The city last year created the North End Revitalization Task Force, which drafted a report on how to accomplish that goal, with ideas ranging a new multiuse trail similar to the BeltLine to a massive city-supported “catalyst” project that could inspire other developers to build the north end. The ideas are controversial with some residents forming a group to push for redevelopment while another fears possible gentrification and displacement.

The city has decided to first move forward the retail and trail development pieces of the report. The city is seeking a study on how to redevelop four retail strip malls on the north end and how to access the river, said Councilmember Steve Soteres, who chaired the task force.

The Northridge Shopping Center at Roswell and Northridge roads is among the four centers for which the city is commissioning redevelopment studies. (Google Maps)

The targeted shopping centers are Loehmann’s Plaza Shopping Center, 8610 Roswell Road; Northridge Shopping Center, 8331-8371 Roswell Road; North River Village Shopping Center, 8765-8897 Roswell Road; and North Springs Center, 7300 Roswell Road, the request for proposals said. North Springs is south of Dalrymple and technically outside of the task force’s north end area.

The study is expected to be finished by the end of the year and would include “detailed concepts for how each property could be developed to attract developer interest,” a presentation provided by Soteres said. The RFP requires the selected consultant to hold public meetings and online input. Two meetings will also be held at each of the properties, the document said. The study will include recommended redevelopment uses, three illustrated concepts and estimated costs.

Soteres discussed the study at a May 14 meeting held by the North End Sandy Springs Improvement Coalition, a group supporting the task force report. Soteres was part of a panel that also included Council of Neighborhoods President Ronda Smith and Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce President Tom Mahaffey. The panel conversation included broad discussion how to revive retail on the north end and attract business. But Soteres also laid out the next key steps the city is planning to move forward with the report’s recommendations.

Soteres said the city is taking a look at building codes that could change and remove some roadblocks to development. The city Development Authority is looking into ways to provide incentives for companies to come to the north end, he said. And the city is working with the Atlanta Regional Commission, a regional planning authority, on how to better connect to the Chattahoochee River, he said. A feasibility study on if trails and river access are possible is also planned, the presentation said.

Some of the work is being funded by the $250,000 that was allocated to the “North End Revitalization” last year. The city has proposed putting another $1.5 million towards the north end in next year’s budget.

A study on a possible route for the task force’s proposed “Greenline” trail is expected to be finished later this year.

“All of this is going to take time,” Soteres said. “There’s no silver bullet.”

Soteres said none of the city’s planning includes buying and tearing down apartments. He said people who live in those north end complexes have started to believe that in part from a group canvassing the north end.

“People are becoming afraid that something evil is going to happen to them, but it’s not,” he said.

The task force’s report has drawn criticism from some residents, including the task force’s co-chairs, who say it could lead to displacement and gentrification. Those co-chairs, David and Melanie Couchman, have started a new organization called Sandy Springs Together to draw opposition to the report. They have been canvassing in the north end to provide information on the task force’s report and their displacement concerns.

The Couchmans said they don’t believe the city is intending the buy and demolish apartments, but that incentivizing development could encourage private businesses to do so.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul defended the report in his May 14 “State of the City” address and said the city does not plan to demolish apartments, as Paul said some have claimed.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “They’re an essential part of our community. They cut our grass…they serve us in the restaurants.”

Other residents attending the coalition meeting did call for apartments to be gone, asking how the renters can be incentivized to “get out.” Another said the public schools should remove their charters so that “kids in horrible communities” could no longer attend. The panel members did not respond to these comments.

Josh Conklin, a resident who helped form the coalition, said those calls should not be the takeaway from the meeting and that the group is focused on moving forward “positively.”

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