On Dec. 21, the Sandy Springs City Council will consider a recommendation from the planning commission to change our city code making the North End a separate district. The recommendation would also remove the steel and concrete requirements for new construction of buildings over three stories, allowing for all new construction up to six stories to be built with wood.
Allowing wooden construction would make it possible to reduce building costs and open up possibilities for more affordable housing.
“The proposed text amendments do not modify the existing zoning of any property. Any rezoning effort would require a separate zoning map amendment process, including two community meetings, a Planning Commission public hearing, and a hearing before the Mayor and City Council.” (Sandy Springs Planning Commission, 2021)
More info: Sandy Springs Planning Commission Report
It’s a possible change worth exploring, but there are several unanswered questions:
- Where does the zoning change apply? Originally, the change presented in the Nov. 4 public meeting only applied to three underutilized shopping centers – the Kroger Shopping Center, the River Springs Shopping Center and the North River Village Shopping Center.
On Nov. 17, the Planning Commission discussed removing the steel and concrete requirement for the site-specific locations of the shopping centers to cover, more generally, the North End. State law prohibits municipalities from requiring steel and concrete construction for buildings less than 6 stories. Given this law, could the proposed changes apply to the entire city?
- What will be the impact of removing the steel and concrete requirement? How will our city be prepared for “unintended consequences” of such a dramatic change to our zoning code? Would an impact study be appropriate? The North End is home to our most concentrated density of racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse residents. Will this change have an impact on the current housing affordability? Will removing the steel and concrete restriction be ENOUGH to create building opportunities for affordable housing?
Our current zoning allows for the redevelopment of certain areas without public input, called “by right” zoning. Would the acceptance of wooden construction for buildings up to six stories – coupled with the “by right” zoning – allow for permit approval without public input? How would that affect future building?
- What is the family income the city is targeting for housing?
Do the proposed changes contribute to solving our housing affordability issues? The city’s recent Housing Needs Assessment study showed that we need over 6,000 housing units for families earning $50,000 a year. Will that need be met by these plans?
Will removing the steel and concrete requirements lower the construction costs ENOUGH to incentivize developers to include significant housing options for our neighbors with low and moderate incomes? Do we need to do MORE to incentivize them, or will we wind up allowing increased density of more luxury properties that are financially out of reach for people making $45,000-$85,000, like our teachers and first responders?
- What is the feasibility of mixed-use on these sites? Due to COVID and online shopping, retail and the work environments have changed. Are these plans incentivizing developers with yesterday’s concepts of retail that could lead to vacant properties in our new developments? Do we need innovative approaches for these sites and the North End to become vibrant? Should we take our time and rethink this approach to make sure that we are building for the future?
This decision is too important for our city to make quickly. Do we need more time to understand and discuss the issues? Do we need an impact study? We spent four years developing the “Next Ten” with countless hours of community input. We will need to be involved and voice our ideas as this process moves forward. What are the unintended consequences, and how can we be prepared?
Now is the time to get involved and learn more about where our city’s vision is for the future.