By Maggie Lee
Sandy Springs property owners get two more weeks to review a new ordinance that might make them fix choked drainage ditches, detention ponds and pipes on their land. According to the mayor, some property owners will get their first code inspections in years.
“We lived through decades of Fulton County not having any code enforcement. Those days are over. This protects us all,” declared Mayor Eva Galambos as Sandy Springs City Council debated a new set of city ordinances written to safeguard the city from floods.
Property owners would become the default owners of any storm water management improvement on their land under the proposed code. That also means the property owner would suddenly be in charge of keeping those places free of obstruction, silt or debris.
“This is the policy we already have in place. This’ll make it enforceable,” Public Works Director Tom Black said. “The prime emphasis is maintenance of detention ponds.”
Detention ponds fill with storm water during gully-washer rains, then let it out slowly when streams are better able to cope. Some are dry and some contain water all the time. Many also hold some of the garbage that washes in from streets and parking lots.
And plenty of them are hindered by years of sediment and weeds. So under the new rules, the city would look through years of deeds and titles to figure out who’s in charge. It might be the property owner, the state, Fulton County or Sandy Springs.
And people are known to purposely abuse their ponds, according to Black. He’s seen homeowners expand their yards by digging holes in the ponds to keep the water from standing. Or even bash up the weir – the structure that drains the water – with a sledgehammer.
He admits the property owners might not be happy to find themselves in charge of a pond. And “if somebody’s bought a house and is not aware of this and did not research it, they’ll be surprised.”
“We’ll be flexible,” Black promised. But he said he must enforce the code.
Council members Karen Meinzen McEnerny and Tibby DeJulio argued the proposal hasn’t been public long enough.
“To be honest with you, I haven’t had a chance to study it,” said DeJulio, noting he’s been on vacation. “There were a number of e-mails about this and I think it’s something I need to know more about.”
Meinzen McEnerny also said she’d like more time to figure out what it means for the part of town she represents which was first developed in the 1950s and 1960s and might have out-of-date systems.
The storm water ordinances were tabled for two weeks, by unanimous council vote.
A leader of the Watershed Alliance of Sandy Springs insisted the city needs to act soon for better, cleaner drainage, but supported a pause because it’s not clear if this is the best choice for some city residents.
Homeowners haven’t had enough time to review an ordinance that might suddenly make them responsible for pipes, ponds and ditches, said the Watershed Alliance.
All of the rules heard by the council are an update of the International Property Maintenance Code, which Sandy Springs first adopted in 2005. The code, developed by an industry organization, is a standard used by cities in all 50 states as a template for their municipal ordinances.