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Sandy Springs takes steps to redevelop four lame shopping centers, add density

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Atlanta architects TSW selected to envision dated strip malls along Roswell Road as housing hubs

A strip mall made of brick with acres of surface parking lots at left.
The Roswell Road strip formerly known as Loehmann’s Plaza, as seen last October.
Google Maps

Staunch urbanists might want to avert their eyes for a moment. Or maybe applaud.

Now boasting a walkable town center, Sandy Springs has gained a reputation in recent years as being open to large-scale housing development near transit and other urban-style amenities such as expansive bike paths. The growing, relatively affluent city—the second largest in metro Atlanta, in fact—has been ranked by the likes of Forbes and CNNMoney among America’s best places to live.

That’s not to say there aren’t blemishes. Dead spots in the city fabric.

On the city’s north end, between Interstate 285 and the Chattahoochee River, four dated strip malls along Roswell Road have been pinpointed as places where Sandy Springs can do better, especially when it comes to attainable housing. Re-envisioning shopping center parking lots as active hubs isn’t new—just ask Roswell—but doing so en masse might be.

City officials announced today they’ve selected Atlanta-based architecture firm TSW to develop concepts for revitalizing four Roswell Road shopping centers in close proximity to one another. Each property includes large expanses of surface parking—and no shortage of available storefronts.

TSW landed a $307,260 contract for what’s called North End Design Services, beating a dozen other firms that had applied for the job.

Now, the company is tasked with drafting 12 plans, three concepts for each shopping center.

“In each set, one of those plans must follow existing building code and zoning policies,” Sandy Springs officials outlined in an announcement. “The second plan can test the code requirements and potentially require minor adjustments to the code, and the third plan can explore all options for redevelopment.”

One point of emphasis will be adding more households for a variety of incomes in the district. A series of public meetings is also required before any plan could move forward, per city officials.

Earlier this year, a team called the North End Revitalization Task Force submitted a report that suggested beginning with “a catalyst project that would be of a sufficient scale to show how mixed-income developments with a mix of uses can work,” in an effort to drum up excitement in the area.

An evaluation team that picked TSW cited the firm’s track record with similar projects and strong community engagement practices.

TSW projects span from Duluth’s reinvigorated Main Street and Cumming’s Vickery to new Studioplex retail along the Beltline’s Eastside Trail, among others. As part of pro bono events called “Open Studio,” the firm has been helping the cities of Brookhaven and Clarkston, along with West End in Atlanta, envision new downtown hubs.

In terms of scale, designers could have their work cut out for them in the northern reaches of Sandy Springs, as images of the four properties in question illustrate below.

First, here’s another recent view of 8610 Roswell Road (formerly Loehmann’s Plaza):

Park lots with few cars scattered about. Google Maps

The buildings between 8331 and 8371 Roswell Road (Northridge Shopping Center), where an anchor Kroger departed:

A big wide parking lot that looks fairly sad.
As seen in December 2018.
Google Maps

The North River Shopping Center in the 8700 and 8800 blocks of Roswell Road, just south of the Chattahoochee River, where cosmetic changes have been made in recent years:

A huge shopping center with a sign of tenants at right.
The updated strip in October 2018.
Google Maps

Last and probably least is the moribund strip at 7300 Roswell Road—formerly known as the Big Lots Center—which has been all but a shell the past couple of years:

A huge empty shopping center with a big parking lot in front.
Tumbleweeds, as seen a year ago.
Google Maps

Any big ideas?