By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

Sandy Springs native Joel Griffin recently announced his company will create a mixed-use development spanning 5.24-acres in the 6000 block of Roswell Road, which he feels could be an ideal place for the relocation of city hall in the future. But what do officials think?

City council members were reluctant during the first week of June to voice definite opinions about the possibility of putting city hall in Griffin’s MainStreet Sandy Springs development. They said they need to review responses from various developers to a request for information about future city hall sites, which was due on June 6.

Those responses include information on costs – a deciding factor in a time when the city has to contend with repairing dilapidated infrastructure left by Fulton County and will likely budget to spend 63 percent of its capital fund on transportation projects alone in fiscal 2009.

Council members recently ranked moving city hall fourth out of six possibilities in a budget prioritization worksheet given to them and consolidated by city staff; purchasing land to build a freestanding city hall was ranked sixth and last.

Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio said finding a new location for the police department is more important than moving city hall. The lease for the department’s current location on Barfield Road expires in 2011 and the building is not earthquake resistant as it should be under federal code, he added.

“That has to be replaced. That’s a much higher priority than replacing City Hall,” he said. “There is a lot of infrastructure in Sandy Springs that needs to be redone, and some of that is also ahead of city hall. Hopefully some of these problems can be worked out simultaneously.”

Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said she wanted to see what alternatives present themselves and hear from citizens if they want “a campus-style building” instead of a city hall in an existing office building.

“I think [MainStreet Sandy Springs] is a great use of the property. I’m very impressed with what Griffin is doing. I think it’s a wonderful layout and a wonderful addition to our community. Whether or not it’s a good city hall site, I’ll wait until we here from the public on that,” she said.

Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul said he would want to make sure the proposal includes enough space to meet the needs of city hall but added, “I’m not prejudging it. I just want to wait until we get all the proposals in to see where we are.”

He also said he would support moving city hall in such a way as to where it has a “pump primer” effect on development on Roswell Road.

“I think that whatever we do with city hall ought to be – in my personal opinion – part of a larger redevelopment area,” he said. “It’s kind of in the area that we would like to see the city hall, so there’s nothing wrong in my opinion with the location.”

Other council members voiced their support for finding a new location for the police station and for the police department in general, which has been combating a swell in crime linked to economic strife. The department will likely receive $1,577,543 in fiscal 2009 to hire 15 sworn officers and a records clerk.

“I don’t think there’s a big fire under me to move [city hall], like we have with the police department. We’re going to have to do something about that,” said Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries.

“We’ve got to move the police. I mean, that’s the first thing we’ve got to do; we’ve got to move the police out of their current location,” said Dist. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins.

Dist. 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie – an advocate of financially minimalistic government – called city hall’s current location at Morgan Falls Office Park “acceptable for now.”

“What we do, both the council and the staff, can be done in any office building,” he said. “You just need offices and meeting rooms and that stuff. I’m not in any hurry to create a city hall unless it makes financial sense. From my perspective, we could operate out of Morgan Falls indefinitely until we find the right circumstance.”