By Gerhard Schneibel
Building pedestrian-friendly mixed-use developments and connecting them with an efficient public transit network could alleviate traffic and environmental concerns and the improve quality of life in Sandy Springs.
But City Council members said some of the improvements suggested at the Sandy Springs Civic Roundtable meeting Oct. 20 are unlikely to occur.
Keynote speaker Jim Durrett, the executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition, talked about “new urbanism” and what it could mean for Sandy Springs as the city grows.
When municipalities try to “satisfy this insatiable desire for suburban development, we discover that more is less,” he said.
“The more you build in the right way — walkable urbanism — the more people will be on the streets — patrons for you businesses,” he said. “In suburban development you run the risk of creating depreciating assets.”
He urged city planners to consistently follow the comprehensive plan, which the City Council adopted last November but has overruled multiple times since then. Those occasions include the council’s Aug. 19 vote to allow Holy Spirit Preparatory School to build a sports complex and its Oct. 21 vote — the night after Durrett’s speech — to let American Media Services build four 303-foot radio towers at the Blue Heron Golf Club.
“You spent time and energy creating” the plan, Durrett said. “Encourage your officials to be consistent and reward them when they are.”
He added: “It’s really important to figure out how and where to build denser, walkable communities. We’ve got to be smart about the types of transportation we invest in. … It’s especially important that we start to build housing where employment centers are because that mismatch is a big part of the traffic.”
Creating a grid system by connecting arterial streets would improve the traffic on Roswell Road and other main roads, Durrett said. “The quantity and quality of connectivity in the street network determines the number of opportunities you have to get from one place to another,” he said. “Make the roads that are there to serve automobiles into streets that are there to serve people.”
Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said the city can’t widen Roswell Road. “Therefore, how can we support the density which new urbanism, which I support, requires?”
“Interparcel access is the way to go,” Durrett said. With a grid, traffic will be dispersed throughout the city, and “we try to piece things together over time.”
Dist. 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie said city residents probably wouldn’t like implementing the speaker’s ideas. “There are certainly challenges in Sandy Springs for massive increases in density,” he said. “I always think you’ve got to balance density with what the people want.”
Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries said she sees “conflicts with (Durrett’s ideas) and what a lot of our citizens think smart growth is.”
Durrett also said it’s important for the entire Atlanta metro area to “start making transportation fit development and vice versa.”
“We can build more development around MARTA stations, and we should. That’s the lowest-hanging fruit,” he said.