By Maggie Lee

By a unanimous vote, Sandy Springs City Council adopted an ordinance that pins the maintenance of some stormwater ditches and ponds on property owners.

According to an area homeowner, that’s simply not fair.

Joe Garrison told the council Nov. 2 that a 30-inch pipe directs water runoff from the public road under his property into a stream near his yard. But the pipe is not effective during all storms. In fact, he said, the erosion is so bad that runoff has washed away 8 feet of his property over the years.

“I haven’t seen anyone come out and reduce the taxes on my property,” Garrison concluded.

The way he sees it, the city is going to use what’s his without paying.

At issue is a code addition that reads in part: “Where no maintenance covenant or agreement has been recorded to define maintenance responsibility, it shall be the responsibility of the property owner to maintain the operational characteristics of any stormwater management facility (including ditches, pipes, or detention basins)”.

That means unless there’s a clear record – like a subdivision map – that shows who owns a stormwater system, the property owner will have the responsibility of taking care of stormwater issues. The code stops short of defining Garrison as the owner of the thirty-inch pipe, but he might be responsible for it.

City resident John Mast believes it would be reasonable for him to weed and remove the debris from around the detention pond on his place. And that’s just how the ordinance defines maintenance.

But he’s also concerned that the language could be seen as ambiguous about bigger fixes, such as cracks natural occurrences, such as flooding, that happen on potentially pricey pipes and cement structures like the ones around his pond.

For now, he’s hired an attorney to help him with any demands from the city.

Public Works Director Tom Black said of the code, “all we’re trying to do is get clear language to accomplish the goals council has set for us.”

Mayor Eva Galambos added that the language only codifies what neighboring cities already do.

“It’s just an amplification of what was there all along,” she said, explaining that this has been informal city practice for years.

Councilman Tibby DeJulio was absent from the meeting and he vote ended in a 6-0 approval of the ordinance.

But not without some concessions from members of the council.

It could be high time for a review of stormwater policy, opined Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny.

The city council should at least codify the appeal process, and define an appeals process for property owners to follow when the city says it can’t name an owner of a pipe or pond.

Especially in the south part of the city – where developments are older – and records about pipes and ponds may simply have disappeared. In some cases, builders might have simply laid down unpermitted pipes – a common practice, said Black.

He admitted that though his department exhaustively digs through Fulton records – which aren’t always in the best order – they have missed things. Several times, he said, property owners have dug up evidence of someone’s ownership of a stormwater structure and told the city’s public works personnel.

But that’s done on a case-by-case, and the process didn’t seem to satisfy the angry homeowners at city hall.