By Katie Fallon
Following a Dec. 5 ruling by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners to place 23 billboards within the city limits of Sandy Springs, the city has now filed a lawsuit to stop the sky-high advertisements from invading the community.
At the board meeting, Fulton commissioners voted 4 to 3 to a number of billboards in the newly created cities of North Fulton. Of the 23 billboards approved for Sandy Springs, 22 would be placed along the roughly nine miles of Roswell Road that travels down the center of the city. The vote also calls for 15 billboards in Milton and 31 in Johns Creek.
City Attorney Wendell Willard said the county’s decision came with the reasoning that the approved billboards, which total 69 for the newly incorporated north Fulton cities, are being approved based on applications filed prior to the incorporation of the City of Sandy Springs.
“What the theory behind it anyway is they’re backdating the permits to the time when the ‘applications’ were filed by these billboard companies,” Willard said. “They’re saying they’ll grant them the permit at the time of application and therefore, they’d be grandfathered. By reason of these cities coming into existence, their permit existed prior to the creation of the city.”
However, Willard said the city has still not been able to pinpoint when the various billboard applications were actually filed.
“We don’t know if there has been anything done as far as verification,” Willard said. “They have what they call the prerequisites of a lease of that location and other things that go along with the approval of a sign location.”
Since the decision by the Board of Commissioners, Willard said the city has filed a motion to intervene in order to be included in similar litigation already proceeding in Fulton County Superior Court and beyond.
“There are five pending lawsuits in the Superior Court of Fulton County and two in the federal courts that address billboard locations in the city of Sandy Springs,” Willard said. “We’ve already filed this motion to become a part of the ongoing litigation in the Superior Court and will be filing very shortly in the federal courts. The purpose of that is to say to the court we want to address the issue of what they’re trying to do. We find it is illegal.”
Following the billboards’ approval by the county, Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos immediately took the Board of Commissioners to task for opposing the wishes of the residents of Sandy Springs as well as not inviting city officials to weigh in on the issue.
“The City of Sandy Springs is adamantly opposed to 23 new billboards in our city,” Galambos said in a letter drafted the day of the decision. “The elected officials of Sandy Springs were not invited and did not have input in this decision. Citizens of Sandy Springs fought billboards when in Fulton County and do not sanction billboards now.”
Furthermore, Galambos said she was disappointed in the actions of District 4 Commissioner Tom Lowe, who represents Sandy Springs on the board, in giving the billboard action the final go-ahead.
”I find it unconscionable and egregious that the Commissioner representing Sandy Springs would vote in opposition to his constituents’ views,” Galambos said. “Mr. Lowe cast the fourth vote that gave this decision a majority vote. I can only hope that he will reconsider this vote and amend it so as to represent the people who elected him. We will use every legal means available to fight this action.”
Willard said Lowe did not offer the city any indication of the way his vote would be leaning. Similarly, he said he only got a cursory ‘heads up’ from the county attorney in Fulton.
“We had a little bit of a heads up because the [Fulton] county attorney Gerry Clark informed me prior to the meeting that this was something coming up and something to be considered in their executive session,” Willard said. “That much we knew about. There was not any prior offer to come sit down with them and talk about it. That’s one of the things that concerned us…why didn’t they at least sit down with us and talk.”