By Amy Wenk
Some residents are uneasy about a redevelopment plan the city of Sandy Springs is proposing.
At a public hearing April 6, six homeowners spoke against the plan that might bring tax credits to developers who revamp distressed areas of the city.
The Sandy Springs City Council, by a vote of 4 to 1, postponed a decision on the redevelopment plan until April 20 due to the response from residents.
“It is being rushed,” resident Robin Beechey said. “I don’t think enough people know about what it’s all about.”
Beechey said in an April 7 email that the city will hold an informational meeting on the plan April 12 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Vann McNeill, the city’s Community Development Block Grant manager, asked council to approve the plan so staff can apply to the Opportunity Zone Job Tax Credit program from the state Department of Community Affairs.
The program offers new and existing businesses that create at least two new jobs a tax credit of up to $3,500 per job. The program seeks to improve areas that display “pervasive poverty, underdevelopment, general distress and blight” and is offered to areas with a poverty rate of 15 percent or more, McNeill said.
The city’s staff mapped out areas of Sandy Springs that would qualify to be labeled an Opportunity Zone. Eligible spots are located along Roswell Road, as far north as Mount Vernon Highway and as far south as Belle Isle Road. Significant portions include land just south of I-285 on both sides of Roswell Road, like along Northwood and Lake Placid drives. Another area is in the city center on Sandy Springs Place and Sandy Springs Circle.
Mayor Eva Galambos said the program would not impact the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which guides future development in the city.
But residents took offense to the labels staff was offering.
“I believe I live in Mr. McNeill’s slum,” said resident Elizabeth Jayes who lives off Osner Drive, which backs up to property that would qualify as an Opportunity Zone. “I live in a 1954 brick ranch which I don’t believe is obsolete or a slum. We have a beautiful little street.”
Mark Sampl with the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods said he was shocked at how the city described Sandy Springs.
“We don’t feel that we fit the adjectives of pervasive poverty, blight, distress or dilapidation,” Sampl said.
Residents asked that council defer a decision.
“We want time to investigate and understand what is going on,” said resident Janet Wells, who represents a group called Homeowners Adjacent to the Roswell Road Corridor (HARC).
The city is in a rush to approve the redevelopment plan because the state will modify the rules and regulations of the Opportunity Zone program May 5.
“That’s one reason that I was hoping that we could move quickly on this,” Galambos said. “I think that [state] will be reducing the scope of this program, and I want to get in before it’s reduced.”
Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries cast the dissenting vote to defer approval of the redevelopment plan. Dist. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins was absent.
“I think this is a wonderful thing for the city,” Fries said. “I understand you not feeling like you are getting enough information, but there has got to be some trust here that we are doing the right thing to better some of these empty areas that really are blighted. There are some.”
More information on the Opportunity Zone program is at www.dca.state.ga.us.