Hundreds of Sandy Springs residents and other stakeholders have told the city they want more housing and greenspace to be built around City Springs.
“We have seen development of City Hall, the city green, the Performing Arts Center, and the addition of retail space and dining,” Michelle McIntosh-Ross, the city’s planning and zoning manager, said during the July 19 City Council meeting.
The city retained Pond & Co. and marketing consultants to help plan City Springs’ future, she said. Those consultants presented preliminary findings for an update to the 2012 City Springs Master Plan.
Community members want housing that meets different people’s needs, more public spaces tied in with retail and office, and just more greenspace in general, said Lauren Blaszyk, Pond’s senior planner.
The greatest opportunity for the City Springs market is residential, Martin Anstey, a senior vice president for MDX Development Strategies, said. Retail would need to be neighborhood-oriented and cater to young professionals.
“I think that the takeaway here is that people want to see a variety of housing. I think it’s really important, especially in the City Springs district, that there’s an opportunity to offer some different types of housing so that people can, you know, age in place,” Blaszyk said.
The strongest opportunity from a market perspective is residential, Antsey said.
“There’s strong market support for higher-end, single-unit attached and multi-unit developments,” Antsey said. “Particularly we’re seeing this would be catering to younger professionals and downsizers, sort of empty nesters who want to stay in the area right now because there aren’t a lot of options for them.”
Pond staff surveyed residents by showing them a variety of images. Residents want to see greenspace incorporated with retail.
“I think if COVID taught us anything, it’s really that people like those outdoor spaces and we need those outdoor spaces for people to gather, for people to socialize, have fresh air and get outside,” Blaszyk said.
“There’s not a lot of retail being built anywhere in any market … It’s a fraction of what it used to be,” Antsey said.
City Springs also is near three major retail centers – Cumberland, Perimeter Center and Buckhead.
The best thing to do for retail is to go local and think neighborhood-oriented to cater to the young professionals who live in the area with restaurants, entertainment concepts and what MDX calls boutique independent, he said.
The community also preferred lots of greenspace in office settings, she said.
“Getting pedestrians and bicycles safely around and through the district I think is going to be really important,” Blaszyk said.
Only a modest demand will exist for office space in the next 10 years, Antsey said. The sector is undergoing massive changes, with some focus on coworking spaces.
“In our analysis, we do see City Springs is actually very timely in the sense of this vision of a walkable, high amenity place a lot of people, particularly younger people, want to work in,” he said. “They don’t want to work in their dad’s busy suburban business park.”
Greenspace was a theme for amenities for the surveyed residents, with the addition of pocket parks, expansion of existing parks such as Allen Park and adding public art.
Mayor, council question consultants’ actions
Mayor Rusty Paul pointed out that the images of potential development showed higher density and heights than the recommendations council was told. He asked if the photos weren’t reality, how do they reconcile what was shown and the expectations.
Antsey said some of the higher density is possible in the study area. They believe they can continue to reconcile expectations through public education during discussions about the market analysis, he said.
“Why would you as planners, why would you put us in that position?,” Paul said.
People do understand high density has to occur, and with continued engagement, the consultants don’t believe it will be a problem, Antsey said.
Councilman Tibby DeJulio asked why the consultants would exclude City Council members from the decision-making process.
“Ultimately, it comes down to the seven of us who are the elected officials who have to make financial decisions on here and yet you’re coming up here with all this information, and yet not once has anybody asked my opinion of what do I think about this or what do I think about that,” he said.
Assistant City Manager Kristin Smith said this was a presentation of preliminary findings from the community. As they begin to get specific recommendations, that’s when the council will be engaged, she said.
The second and final open house will be Tuesday, Aug. 30 in the Studio Theatre at City Springs.
“That will be an opportunity for the community to come out and give us input on the plan recommendations at that point,” McIntosh-Ross said.