Sandy Springs hopes third study propels Roswell Road corridor into walkable and vibrant city center

By David Pendered

Sandy Springs has moved into the public comment phase of a redevelopment study of the Roswell Road corridor that has an interesting objective: Success.

Mayor Eva Galambos rattles off from memory two previous efforts that came to naught, the first of them in 1967. That was 38 years before the community incorporated, and occurred at a time when Sandy Springs wanted to become the retail district that instead went in 1971 to Perimeter Mall. A second study in 2002 fizzled out.

Roswell Road

From this? - Roswell Road and the adjacent area is being evaluated for its potential redevelopment. Photos: David Pendered

“In neither instance did we know the property owners, and in neither case did we have economic realities as part of the plan,” Galambos said Thursday. “I don’t want anymore plans that are pie-in-the-sky and not realistic.”

To conduct its third redevelopment study, Sandy Springs has retained Boston-based Goody Clancy. The firm won awards for its recent work in the bustling Emory University area, conducted on behalf of Clifton Community Partnership.

Goody Clancy has its work cut out in Sandy Springs.

The city has not been spared the reality of the recession and its lingering aftermath. Vacant storefronts and available homes remain in several developments that sprouted up during the heyday of the suburban renaissance movement, which swept Atlanta’s close-in suburbs in the early 2000s.

Part of the problem facing those projects is the vicious circle of construction finance, according to several developers who lost their projects to lenders.

Sandy Springs Place

To this? - Sandy Springs Place, a street just off Roswell Road, now offers townhomes next to tree-lined sidewalks.

The developers explained that new places are expensive to build. That means leases are expensive, which results in restaurants or shops pricing their products accordingly. Often, they are too costly for the everyday needs of many nearby residents and the shops fail.

That said, Sandy Springs’ current redesign effort begins with support from the business community. In April 2011, the Main Street Alliance presented its wish list to a receptive Sandy Springs City Council. At the time, Galambos said it was the first time property owners joined in the conversation about reshaping the city’s downtown area.

One of the alliance’s main recommendations was for commercial properties to be allowed to share parking, storm water retention and greenspace, rather than require each property to provide for itself. Another idea was to create zoning codes that allow homes and shops to be built on the same property.

Goody Clancy’s study will focus on redeveloping the Roswell Road corridor.

City Walk Sandy Springs

City Walk Sandy Springs has both vacant and occupied retail spaces.

The area remains a busy commercial core where pedestrians, bicycles and cars vie for space on sidewalks that serve as driveways into strip shopping centers. Some cross-streets that seem to be tiny actually serve as arterials that drivers use to travel among Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Goody Clancy also will evaluate the site of the now-vacant Target store, which the city purchased with ideas of demolishing and replacing with a City Hall or some type of public gathering place.

Galambos remembers the site as the home of Richway. The discount department store is what Sandy Springs got when its 1967 redevelopment called for Rich’s to build the type of flagship store that it later opened at Perimeter Mall.

The mayor said she thinks the Roswell Road corridor would benefit from more housing developments, such as condos or townhomes. The residents would support the shops and restaurants that hopefully will open. The area needs to have greenspace, though Galambos added: “We can’t be so green as to be unrealistic.”

Goody Clancy’s partners on the project include Kimley-Horn, W-ZHA, Zimmerman-Volk, and Farr Associates. The current schedule calls for draft versions of various designs to be complete from the end of summer through November.

Click here to see a link to the project from the city’s home page.

Click here to read about Goody Clancy’s urban design for the Clifton community.

Blue Stone, May 2012

The Blue Stone sign in May 2012. Note the changes in the business names compared to the sign in the photo to the right.

 

 

The Blue Stone, January 2011

The Blue Stone sign in January 2011 has more businesses than the current sign, in photo to the left.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

3 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    I actually like the potential of the central Sandy Springs area and much of the Roswell Road/Highway 9 Corridor from where Roswell Road starts in Buckhead up through Sandy Springs, Roswell and Alpharetta.
     
    The relatively high density of existing residential and commercial development and its potential to become an even higher density corridor due to the start of redevelopment efforts to create a walkable (and transit-friendly) downtown core that mixes light retail and residential development in “Downtown” Sandy Springs combined with more advanced ongoing redevelopment efforts of village-like downtown areas further up Highway 9 in Roswell and Alpharetta and, of course, the sputtering Buckhead Atlanta (originally “Streets of Atlanta”) development and redevelopment of the original Buckhead Village at the south end of Roswell Rd in Buckhead, could make Roswell Road/Highway 9 potentially a great candidate for a future streetcar line in the long-term (though, not necessarily in the immediate future).
     
    A future streetcar line on Roswell Road/Highway 9 would aid and accelerate the continuing redevelopment efforts of the entire Roswell Road/Highway 9 Corridor from Buckhead to Downtown Alpharetta (especially Buckhead Village, the aforementioned Downtown Sandy Springs, Downtown Roswell and Downtown Alpharetta).
     
     Report

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  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    The suburban renaissance movement that Mr. Pendered speaks of will continue after the economy recovers, likely even stronger than before and even more concentrated along high-frequency transit lines than when the trend started in earnest in the 2000’s as the rubberband of very low-density automobile-dominated sprawl has likely reached its outer limits not only physically, but also in terms of popularity and financial and economic practicality.
     
    Intense suburban and exurban development will still occur in the future, but it won’t necessarily be the type of low-density auto-dominated sprawling type of development that Metro Atlanta (especially) and much of the rest of the country has come to know in the post World War II era, but instead will occur in higher densities in and near the historic downtown and village areas of suburban and exurban cities and towns near transit lines and transit stations, particularly in and near the historic village-like downtowns that line existing freight rail lines that carry regional commuter rail and light rail lines that will serve as the corridors that anchor future intense suburban and exurban development as opposed to suburban and exurban development being anchored by freeway interchanges like it has been here in Metro Atlanta since the end of World War II.Report

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  3. Ken Bleakly says:

    If the economics don’t work you won’t get the pretty pictures built. I would question whether the current consulting team will have any more success breaking the economic impass of high land values supported by current strip retail rents and the citizenry’s resistence  to the densities required to justify those land values to make a project economic.  Also, in the post Great Recession environment vertical mixed use will be even harder to finance leading to a horizonal mixed use plan.  Finally, Sandy Springs doesn’t have the deep pockets of an Emory to “make” the numbers work.  Good luck to all involved, the Sandy Springs market is poised for a major transition over the coming decade and as a business owner in the area will welcome it.   Report

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