Sandy Springs in June asked the public for input on developing its downtown master plan. The public had a chance to present their ideas for downtown redevelopment. In this photo, a resident looks at some possibilities that could be incorporated into the plan. Goody Clancy held the meetings at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.

Editor’s note: This story was published on Aug. 22 and has been updated to reflect new information. Please read the editor’s note at the end of this story for a more detailed explanation. 

Private investors are interested in being a part of Sandy Springs downtown development, the city’s consultant says.

The city of Sandy Springs recently received criteria from Boston-based consultant Goody Clancy for evaluating different master plans for the city’s downtown.

According to the information in the criteria, the desired city center area is between 25 and 40 acres and the preferable value is between $1 million an acre and $1.5 million per acre.  If the city were to purchase all of the property, the upper and lower bounds of the criteria would put the potential costs between $25 million and $60 million. The criteria says the parcels may be “city-owned” and may require “city taking”.

But Goody Clancy says its criteria include the possibility of private development and that 4 to 5 acres of property would be sufficient for city facilities. Ben Carlson, an associate with the firm, said private investors already are expressing an interest in the project.

“In other words we want to focus the city center in an area that will naturally invite private-sector investment,” Carlson said via email. “This focus area will help guide the city as it makes decisions on where to invest in supportive infrastructure like improved sidewalks, street lights, public parking, or stormwater facilities, so these can best support private investment and overall economic value.”

City Manager John McDonough presented the report at the City Council’s Aug. 21 meeting.

City officials have not said what the city is willing to spend on downtown development.

“There are too many variables to answer that question,” spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said. “Plan recommendations from Goody Clancy and involvement from the private sector are two key elements.”

If the city uses eminent domain to buy the property, those parcels will be restricted to public use for 20 years. That would rule out private investment.  The City Council would also have to vote to condemn the properties, something most council members haven’t endorsed.  The report says eminent domain could be an option provided it is “justified by additional city center economic and civic value.”

If 4 to 5 acres is sufficient for city buildings, the city already owns a parcel big enough.

The city owns 6.9 acres of land at 235 Johnson Ferry Road, the site of a former Target store. The city in 2008 paid $8 million for the property. The city also has $14 million set aside for purchasing more land around it. But some property owners are resisting the city’s attempts to buy their land and the city might face a difficult choice if it can’t persuade the owners to sell voluntarily.

City Council briefly discussed the report during its Aug. 21 meeting. The city also has a revised timeline for presentation of the final plan, McDonough said.

“The next step is the presentation of several options,” McDonough said. “The thought is you will use the criteria [in the report] to evaluate the plans.”

An earlier timetable released by the city suggested the final plan could be ready by the fall. McDonough gave the final plan more wiggle room in his remarks Aug. 21, saying the plan may be finished by the end of the year. As a caveat to that, there will be form-based zoning codes that might take longer to develop because they will be based on whatever path to downtown redevelopment the council decides to take.

Goody Clancy will also providing the city’s 10-year Livable Cities Initiative update. The LCI study helps the city obtain federal transportation money distributed by the Atlanta Regional Commission. That will be done by September in order to meet a deadline for providing the update, McDonough said.

McDonough said the city may unveil different master plan concepts to the public in mid-September.

Prior to publishing this article on Aug. 22, the Sandy Springs Reporter discussed its premise and conclusions with city officials. On Aug. 24, city Consultant Goody Clancy sent an email saying the article contained incorrect information. The email is reprinted in its entirety below. This version of the article has been updated to reflect additional information from Goody Clancy. Due to Reporter Newspapers publication cycle, the original version of this article will appear in the Aug. 24 print edition. The Sept 7 edition of the Sandy Springs Reporter will contain this additional information. 

I appreciate your coverage of Sandy Springs’ City Center master planning process, but would like to correct a couple of inaccurate statements made in your story below.

First, as I explained when you called me on Wednesday, the 25-40 acre figure represents the overall minimum area needed for a mixed-use city center, including multiple parcel ownerships, on multiple streets and blocks, hosting multiple uses. This area should not be confused with the amount of land the city might want to acquire for civic facilities (i.e. cultural facility, city offices, park space, public parking) that may be desirable complements to the city center. Such civic facilities would require substantially less area (4-5 acres could be sufficient). The 25-40 acre area would mainly be (re)developed over time by private-sector developers creating market-driven projects.

Second, the $1.5 million/acre figure you cited is not intended as a limit to what the city should pay for land in the area, if it chooses to do so. It rather represents the upper range of what we would expect private-sector developers to be able to pay for land they could feasibly redevelop with mixed uses (with housing anticipated to be the major component in the forseeable future, plus ground floor retail in selected areas, and potentially hotel and/or office space to the extent supportable by market demand). In other words we want to focus the city center in an area that will naturally invite private-sector investment. This focus area will help guide the city as it makes decisions on where to invest in supportive infrastructure like improved sidewalks, street lights, public parking, or stormwater facilities, so these can best support private investment and overall economic value.

Feel free to reply with any questions.

Benjamin M. Carlson LEED

Associate

Goody Clancy

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com