By John Schaffner
Doug MacGinnitie was sworn in as District 1 Sandy Springs city councilman Nov. 13 after defeating the three other contenders for the seat without a runoff, much to his surprise.
“I don’t know anyone who was expecting it to be over after the first round,” the new city council member said in an interview with the Sandy Springs Reporter. “I was hopeful that if there was a runoff that I would be in it. I was pleasantly surprised there wasn’t a runoff.”
If there had been a runoff, District 1 likely would not have had representation when the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan was voted on. “And there were a couple of other important items on the agenda that would have come up before the runoff,” he added. “So it is good for our district.”
Asked what made him decide he wanted to seek this office, MacGinnitie said, “I grew up in Dunwoody and there are some parts of my childhood that I really like and cherish. Those parts don’t exist in the part of Dunwoody/Sandy Springs we live in. You cannot walk anywhere,” he explained. “You have to get in a car and drive. I would like to help change the city so that is no longer the case.
“I also think it is important that a city have an excellent handle on what it costs to run the city and there is a big potential cost to projects coming down the pike,” he continued. “I would like to help make sure that we do it in such a way to keep our tax burden as low as possible.”
He predicted Fulton County will continue to try and shed services that it currently provides to the city. “We will have to pick up those. And, there also are some big capital projects—city hall, police station, fire station and courthouse—that have all been discussed. Whether and where they should be built are important issues,” added the new city council member.
“I know there are pressures to come up with a solution, and that solution will cost money, significant money,” he stated.
MacGinnitie also said, as he had during the candidate forum, that the contract with CH2M-Hill “needs to be reviewed on a regular basis: That is not intended to cast anybody in a bad light. It is just good business practice anytime you have a significant contract that somebody needs to be keeping a close eye on it,” he added. “We are spending a third of our revenue with CH2MHill.”
Sidewalks are a very big issue with MacGinnitie. “Yes. I would say they are a big issue with most people in my district.”
During the campaign, he suggested his district is not getting its fair share of city expenditures on projects. In the post-election interview, he said, “I do think that, over time, it will be important that all the people in the city—whether it be my district or other districts—feel that they are getting benefit back from their tax dollars. And, if all the money is being spent in one place, over time that will cause problems, just like it caused problems when Sandy Springs was sending all its money to Fulton County and not getting back any of the benefits,” he explained.
“On the flip side, I think the city has done a good job of trying to come up with objective criteria for how money will be spent so that it isn’t this massively political process,” he added.
Speaking to the issues in his rather diverse district—with single-family homes on large lots east of Georgia 400 and more apartments, townhomes and commercial strip centers and office complexes west of Georgia 400, MacGinnitie said, “I think you would be very hard pressed to find anyone who lives on the east side of Georgia 400 in my district that would want to four-lane any of the roads there.”
He said he thinks there is going to be a significant amount of commercial growth that will take place west of Georgia 400 in his district. “There are parts that are certainly less desirable and less valuable.” What does MacGinnitie hope to see in terms of commercial development on the west side of his district? “Nicer, higher-end, live/work/play commercial establishments that people actually want to go to,” he said. “What that looks like?” he asked rhetorically. “I am not a developer.
“Given the neighborhoods around it, hopefully the area along Roswell Road between the river and North Ridge could support some nicer commercial areas,” he explained. “I think that would be a great outcome for everybody. How long it will take and when it will happen, I don’t know.”
He said he thinks there is a limit as to what any governmental entity can do to create redevelopment. “Somebody has to be convinced they can make money doing it. If they can make money doing it, there will be a lot of demand to do it,” he stated.
“Unless we want to get in the business of providing lots of incentives, which opens up another discussion, there is some limit to what can be done other than just encouraging it generally,” he added.
Discussing the agenda items he feels it is most important to tackle for the benefit of city residents, MacGinnitie said, “Sidewalks is a huge one and I will be personally disappointed if I can’t in two years figure out how to get some money to fund sidewalks not only in my district but in some of the other districts. I think that would massively improve the quality of life at least in my district.”
He said green space is another major item. “I am absolutely for it. The rub is that we have a finite number of dollars and that (green space) is not usually cheap. He said there may have to be tradeoffs.