By C. Julia Nelson

Slowly but surely the city of Sandy Springs will start seeing what many believe are long overdue infrastructure improvements.

As the city moves to initiate its first Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) project application, Sandy Springs City Council is seeking public input on a plan to improve a stretch of sidewalks north of Big Trees Natural Preserve along Roswell Road within the next year.

Issued through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), CDBG funds are designed to assist local governments with community development such as housing, jobs, social services and visual appeal to eliminate blight. The grant offers a five-year, $500,000 renewable fund.

Identified as an entitlement city, based on a minimum population of 80,000, Sandy Springs is eligible to receive CDBG funding, but must submit a five-year consolidated plan and annual one-year action plans to comply with federal regulations. The first identifies community development needs and outlines a comprehensive and coordinated strategy for addressing those needs. It will guide the use of the funds through 2013.

The proposed action plan for this coming year is to construct sidewalks along Roswell Road between Big Trees Forest Preserve and Morgan Falls Road and on Pitts Road between Roswell Road and GA-400.

Vann McNeill, deputy director of Community Development, presented the plan to council at its May 6 regular meeting. He said the project would fall within the parameters of the non-housing community development category of priority needs for the city.

“There is a tremendous amount of foot traffic at this stretch of road,” McNeill said.

Council voted unanimously to approve and publicize the draft plan.

Council Member Ashley Jenkins, Dist. 4, spoke in favor of the identified project to allow mothers with children in strollers easier access to bus stops.

“I think this is a fantastic way to use the CDBG funds,” she said.

Council Member Rusty Paul, Dist. 4, agreed. “We need to improve and enhance the pedestrian mobility of that area,” Paul said. “There are few areas to walk and cross the street safely. It is desperately needed in that area.”

As a former deputy assistant secretary of HUD for grant programming, Paul has an intimate understanding of the requirements associated with CDBG funds.

Because projects are limited to social services, housing, infrastructure improvements and jobs or business enhancements that will positively impact low income populations, Paul said it restricts how and where the city can use the money.

Paul said infrastructure enhancements are safe harbors for the city to make sure funds are properly used in its first year of the grant.

“There are certain pockets of the city where the money can be used,” he said. “We’ve got a huge backlog in infrastructure improvements. It allows us to continue to upgrade the infrastructure of the city faster.”

CDBG-eligible locations within Sandy Springs include the south side of Abernathy, between Dunwoody Place and Big Trees, and a few pockets inside I-285. He said projects focused on social services, housing or jobs would probably come into play in future years.

“The first couple of years, the city needs to learn the CDBG (requirements),” he said. “We have to think through projects if we want to avoid problems. We may be five or six years away from social services and housing.”

Public comment on the proposed use of CDBG funds is encouraged through June 10 at the council work session at city hall, located at 7840 Roswell Road. The meeting starts at 6:00 p.m.

The vote to adopt this plan will occur at council’s June 17 regular meeting. The city will submit its five-year plan, including the one-year action plan for the annual, renewable grant of $500,000 by July 1. A response from HUD pursuant is expected in October.

Construction of the sidewalks should begin in spring 2009.