The name Nancy Leathers has been synonymous with community planning and development in Fulton County for more than 30 years. The past five years, she’s been director of Community Development for the city of Sandy Springs.
Leathers announced May 4 she will be retiring on Nov. 1. This will be her second retirement from public service, but she claims it will be her last. She wants to spend time with her son and grandson, who live in Charleston, S.C., and to travel.
Her 35-plus years career follows a path from private consultant planner to public service in Fulton County and the city of Sandy Springs and spans the country from Chicago to Los Angeles and finally Georgia. .
She came to Georgia in the 1970s when her late husband, who was teaching at UCLA, had his department discontinued. He got a job at the University of Georgia and the couple moved east.
She actually found an interest in community planning while an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, but formalized education in the area as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.
After a couple of years working in Chicago and seven years in Los Angeles, she began working in Atlanta for a consulting firm while her husband taught at UGA. They lived in Gwinnett County and commuted in opposite directions to work.
Leathers worked on a noise study for Atlanta Hartsfield Airport between 1978 and 1980. She had experience doing airport noise work in Los Angeles when she worked there.
While working on the noise study here, she met Tom Albright, who was instrumental in getting her hired at Fulton County.
When she started at Fulton County as a planner, she worked on a couple of studies for the Sandy Springs area—one in the Ridgeview area south of the hospitals and another in what is now the Perimeter Center area.
“When I came on board with Fulton County, the final acquisition was being completed for Concourse,” she explained. “One of the reasons they brought me on was because I had also done some work in that area and they really wanted me to come in and work with them on how they were going to handle the acquisition of the neighborhood, Aruba Circle.
Leathers became deputy director at Fulton County in 1985 and director in 1991. In 2000, Leathers decided to retire—for the first time.
“You come to a point when you are working in a place where you feel like you have accomplished probably as much as you are going to be able to accomplish,” she said. “I felt that I had hit that point at Fulton County. So I retired.
“Two years later, I returned to work at Sandy Springs Revitalization Inc. because they called me and it was the kind of offer I thought would be fun, where I could do something that I wanted to do,” she added.
So, from 2002 to 2005, she headed up operations for Sandy Springs Revitalization and implemented SSRI’s first major streetscape project along Roswell Road between Hammond Drive and Hilderbrand Drive.
She replaced planner/architect John Cheek, who got SSRI rolling and did the first demonstration streetscape project for the organization along Roswell Road opposite Sandy Springs Plaza shopping center.
That job became a step for Leathers between Fulton County and Sandy Springs.
Fulton County funded the study for the streetscapes along Roswell Road in about 1992 or 1993. The streetscape really came out of that study and SSRI brought her in to implement the streetscapes.
As 2005 approached, Leathers decided she really wanted to work with the new city of Sandy Springs. “I thought it was going to be a real opportunity to put together something and I felt I had a lot of background that would be helpful in carrying it forward,” she said.
She was part of the group that presented CH2M HILL’s proposal to the city to manage and run its departments.
She said she is very pleased with what has been accomplished during her years as director of the city’s Community Development Department.
“It has been probably better than I had expected. You really don’t know when you are starting something from scratch exactly how much you are going to be able to achieve. I think we really have been able to do a great deal,” she stated.
“There has been a lot of cohesiveness here. People do pull together on things and it makes a huge difference. It has been a real pleasure to be involved with it.”
Fulton County was actually preparing a comprehensive plan in 2004 and 2005. “While I was at SSRI, we pulled together a group of people to work with them to develop the policies for Sandy Springs,” she explained. “Our goal was to sort out as many of the issues—particularly related to Roswell Road development—as we could to begin to set those policies.
“Having done that and having Fulton County adopt that plan just before the city came into being was very helpful, because it started the conversation which finally got this plan adopted,” said Leathers.
“I think it is really quite a good plan because it really reflects a compromise of the views of the city of Sandy Springs. No plan is ever perfect. But it is good that we got a significant amount of buy-in.
“I like to think that my greatest skill is in being able to pull together some level of agreement on what it is we really do want to achieve—whether at Fulton County or at Sandy Springs.
“I think the second thing I brought to the job is that I think I have a view of process that relates to development that probably allows us to move through the development quicker and hopefully easier.
“The last thing I think I probably would like to emphasize is that I think I am pretty good at choosing really good staff people. I think I have an absolutely amazing staff here” and there has been very little turnover.
She said she does not know if her successor will come from within the department. “One of the reasons I wanted to let them know early is because with the budget coming up and the RFP [request for a new CH2M HILL contract] coming out …” she said, “they would be able to deal with those issues.
“This is really the culmination of my career,” Leather said, “and I am feeling very pleased about it.”
Nancy Leathers has been a respected institution around these parts for decades and will be missed. But her legacy in planning will remain.