Renewed hope for redevelopment of North End Sandy Springs

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Sandy Springs wants developers to remodel four shopping centers into mixed-use developments.

Weeks after Sandy Springs changed rules for development, a long-shuttered shopping center is being reimagined as luxury housing.

A permit application to demolish structures at the vacant North Springs Shopping Center was filed Friday, according to Sandy Springs’ website.

The shopping center is one of four strip malls that the city has sought to steer developers to. (The others are Northridge Shopping Center, North River Shopping Center and River Springs Shopping Center.) California-based Fairfield Residential has plans under review with Sandy Springs to build an upscale apartment community at the nine-acre site which has been vacant for years.

The unapproved plans obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show the developer wants to build 286 apartment units across seven buildings, a parking deck, swimming pools and streets.

The North End community runs north along Roswell Road from Dalrymple Road to the city of Roswell border over the Chattahoochee River bridge. Residents along the corridor live in million dollar homes, seniors citizen developments, aging townhomes and apartments. Some renters face escalating prices and uncertainty about remaining in Sandy Springs. What all residents have in common is a lack of choices for retail, restaurants and supermarkets.

The dearth led Mayor Rusty Paul, during a Dec. 21 City Council meeting, to say that if nothing is done to help redevelopment, the North End will become a slum.

“... It will create a problem not only for the homeowners but for the people who rent in that area,” he said. “Because when an area deteriorates it doesn’t just affect that one piece of property, it affects the area around it.”

Paul commented moments before Council members voted to approve development code amendments for the creation of the new North End Mixed-Use zoning district. The change, intended to attract developers, allows builders of multi-family housing to use wood instead steel on structures taller than three stories and larger than 100,000 square feet. Now building heights could go as high as 12 stories with certain conditions such as retail space on the ground floor.

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Northridge Shopping Center is one of four strip malls that Sandy Springs wants developers to remodel into mixed-use developments, The others are North Springs Shopping Center, North River Shopping Center and River Springs Shopping Center

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Northridge Shopping Center is one of four strip malls that Sandy Springs wants developers to remodel into mixed-use developments, The others are North Springs Shopping Center, North River Shopping Center and River Springs Shopping Center

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

caption arrowCaption
Northridge Shopping Center is one of four strip malls that Sandy Springs wants developers to remodel into mixed-use developments, The others are North Springs Shopping Center, North River Shopping Center and River Springs Shopping Center

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Finding solutions to housing needs

Melanie Couchman, a resident of the city for more than 30 years, said that while amending the city code should stimulate building in the North End it doesn’t address affordable housing problems. She and her husband served on a 14-member city task force in 2018 that included nine developers brainstorming on what’s needed to transform the North End.

“Everyone wants nice restaurants and retail but without housing, how will businesses be able to attract workers,” Couchman said via email to the AJC.

The second phase of a housing study intended to help the city craft an affordable housing policy was put on hold a year ago. Couchman said that without that information, “there’s no plan of attack on housing issues.”

Developers’ outlook

Jan Saperstein, former owner of Sandy Springs Plaza in downtown, said location is most important to commercial builders and the North End might not be enough of an economic draw for them.

While the pandemic has changed shopping habits, Saperstein said he believes the North End would be viable as a destination similar to Canton Street in downtown Roswell, an international farmers market, or even a college.

“When is the last time a school went out of business,” he asked.

Developer and Sandy Springs resident Cheri Morris said the potential to build along the riverbank in the North End makes it an “ undiscovered gem.”

Her firm, Morris and Fellows, developed the restaurant district in Alpharetta City Center and revitalized downtown Woodstock.

Morris said older developments such as some of Sandy Springs’ strip malls might no longer meet the needs of the overall community, but it’s expensive land that produces income for owners. They might not want to sell or it might be too costly for interested buyers, she added.

Morris said, separately she can envision multiple property owners collaborating on a concept that features separate buildings for restaurateurs and retailers.

“You need more land than is owned by any one current property owner,” Morris said. “I believe if somebody made a wonderful place with a group of restaurants with greenspace, restaurants and retailers (it would create) synergy.”

Morris said this is what spurred growth in downtown Alpharetta.

“We were very careful with our plan and tied into the city’s trail system and that began to generate office development and home development,” she said. “In the North End, retail, office and residential over the river would be a game changer.”

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