By John Schaffner
The Central Perimeter market of metro Atlanta has 27 million square feet of office space and 65 percent of that is located in Sandy Springs Pat Chesser, vice president of development for Ackerman & Co., told the crowd at the March 1 luncheon meeting of Commercial Real Estate Women of Atlanta (CREW).
Participating in a panel discussion entitled “Sandy Springs Forward: A Developing Process,” Chesser emphasized the importance of those numbers by explaining that Tampa, Florida has only 28 million square feet of office space and Jacksonville has 27 million square feet. The 18.9 million square feet in Sandy Springs, he said, is more office inventory than in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Chesser said all the properties Ackerman & Co. are developing are on the Sandy Springs side of the Perimeter, citing as reasons the fact the of the four MARTA rail stations at the Perimeter, three are in Sandy Springs, he loves the GA 400 corridor and the certainty of zoning decisions dealing with the city of Sandy Springs.
Chesser was the only developer and only non-Sandy Springs official who participated on the panel, which was moderated by Sandy Springs Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny. The other two panel members were Nancy Leathers, director of the Sandy Springs Department of Community Development, and the city’s Assistant Director of Planning and Zoning Michael Zehner.
McEnerny pointed out to the 200-plus members and guests of CREW attending the luncheon at the Westin hotel in Sandy Springs that much of the 30-year struggle to get the city of Sandy Springs revolved around issues such as zoning and improving city services and keeping the $73 million generated in Sandy Springs at home in Sandy Springs.
“Planning for future growth, as we all know, is not optional,” McEnerny stated. “In fact, it is time to rethink planning for our growing population and the fact that the largest segment of our population is 55 years of age and older.”
Leathers, who came to Sandy Springs after retiring from a similar position with Fulton County in 2000, addressed two areas with the audience: The issues that have been raised and the experiences in dealing with the start up of a new city. She said she wanted to address the issues from the standpoint of those important to real estate people—what are the standards and guidelines, what are the policies of the city council.
“We are a city with no new land,” Leathers pointed out. “So, most of what we are doing is redevelopment of Sandy Springs and the issues that relate to that are ones we have had to deal with since day one.” She said it has been the goal of the city to set those redevelopment policies in place before it happens.
She spoke of the focus of redevelopment on Roswell Road, from the Atlanta city line all the way to the Chattahoochee River, much of which involves the oldest commercial development in the new city.
Leathers spoke of the city’s commitment to protecting the single family neighborhoods and protecting the city’s trees. She discussed the city’s comprehensive plan, which is now being developed, must be completed by the end of the year and it will set the policies for development of Sandy Springs.
The next issue from the development side, Leathers told the group, “Is putting together a set of regulations and procedures which are clear and straight forward. We have worked very hard in the first year to do that,” she added.
“Most cities have 50 to 100 years of background. They have things in place and all they have to do is modify them,” she explained. “All of that we had to do from day one.” She said the second thing was the city had to overcome “benign neglect under Fulton County” on the enforcement of regulations.
She said the city started by making the fewest possible changes and carried over procedures and zoning maps from Fulton County in order to make the transition as easy as possible.
Leathers said the other component was to begin an effective communications process and she pointed to the city’s web site as “working very, very well.”
McEnerny pointed to the contract with CH2M Hill as being a vehicle that allowed the city to hire outside contract experts to help the city get through that transition process and erase the backlog that had existed in zoning cases and permitting.
Zehner then addressed the specifics of land use planning, the processes for rezoning and the areas of Sandy Springs that offer future redevelopment opportunities.
He said most of the properties have been zoned with conditions on usage and as parcels are rezoned the city now also usually adds conditions to the rezoning or makes corrections to conditions that have technical errors associated with them.
Zehner pointed out that an additional procedure that Sandy Springs has is the Design Review Board. The entire length of Roswell Road from the river to the Atlanta city limits is in an overlay district. The Main Street overlay district from I-285 to about Vernon Woods “requires certain architectural standards,” which he said the department will be looking at very soon to possibly develop some more “user-friendly” policies.
Speaking to opportunities for development, Zehner pointed to the Roswell Road corridor, where he said there are “significant opportunities all along the corridor, especially in the area from Glenridge north to Abernathy Road.” He pointed to opportunities for apartment conversions and redevelopment and said a lot of the city’s regulations “benefit those people who are assembling properties and large tracts.”