Pandemic, rising housing costs make Sandy Springs reconsider its approach to development

A 2017 image of construction at City Springs, a 15-acre mixed-use development in downtown Sandy Springs. CHAD RHYM/Chad.Rhym@ajc.com
A 2017 image of construction at City Springs, a 15-acre mixed-use development in downtown Sandy Springs. CHAD RHYM/Chad.Rhym@ajc.com

The pandemic, Amazon and changing lifestyle patterns are causing Sandy Springs officials to re-think how to approach redevelopment.

Officials are considering incentives to lower costs for builders and draw them to the city’s north end. A Tax allocation district, expedited permits and lower fees, and a change in building codes is being discussed.

For the past three years, Sandy Springs has wrestled with the best way to make over one of its most valuable , yet aging corridors along Roswell Road north of Dalrymple Road, stretching up to the Chattahoochee River bridge. The area lacks commercial vibrancy and was described as “unhealthy” by Mayor Rusty Paul last week.

“Our goal is to turn the incentives into a positive outcome for the community,” Paul said during a city meeting.

Quality retail and a balance of luxury and affordable housing for the city’s workforce have been central to plans for transforming the north end. Sandy Springs officials want to turn four shopping centers — North Springs Shopping Center, Northridge Shopping Center, North River Shopping Center and the former Loehmann’s Plaza — into mixed-used developments.

Jonathan Gelber of Bleakly Advisory Group told City Council members that that in order to make Sandy Springs financially attractive to developers, the city should consider buying aging sites to clean them up and reselling them at cost to developers.

“We’ve got a market here where we are already over-retailed,” he said. “And as we go into the future with Amazon, with COVID, with all sorts of other mail orders, we’re not seeing enough demand to have ground floor (retail) in every single building in a mixed-use district.”

Gelber advised Sandy Springs officials to remove a code requirement that retail businesses be required on the first floor of a mixed-use project. The city could instead rent the first floor to the development authority or another Sandy Springs department, he suggested.

City officials will be considering Gelber’s suggestion that any new mixed-use developments be adjusted so that they rely less on retail development — a segment being drastically reshaped by online shopping as well as the pandemic.

In housing, Gelber said developers that include affordable units in their projects would be looking for ways to recoup money they would’ve otherwise brought in. The advisor suggested the city create a tax allocation district to help developers cover costs and to allow them to increase building density; as well as a tax abatement and a reduction or waive in impact fees.

Sandy Springs Communication Director Sharon Kraun said the advisor’s suggestions will be considered in a housing action plan drafted by HR&A Advisors.

HR&A performed a recent housing study for the city and was hired to come up with a plan to move forward. The study found that the lack of affordable housing put Sandy Springs at risk of becoming less attractive to employers for all income levels.

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