Left to right, Andrea Settles, Howard Austin, Nancy Schisler and Kathy Wright look over photos illustrating development styles during a public meeting on Sandy Springs downtown development held Oct. 4 at the Hitson Center.

Three dozen photographs of various buildings had been printed onto a poster board-sized sheet of paper that now lay across a table in the gym at the Hitson Center. A half-dozen people stood around the table and examined the photos. The people pulled few punches, giving their opinions on whether buildings like the ones in the photos should be encouraged or forbidden in downtown Sandy Springs.

“This reminds me of what I used to see in East Berlin,” Howard Austin said, pointing to one blocky apartment building.

A moment later, he pointed to a second blocky building. “Another apartment from Prague,” he said. “It’s too stark. It’s too ‘inner city.’ It’s not the ‘burbs. We need something that’s going to blend, that’s going to blend in with the suburban houses around it.”

Similar conversations took place over other printouts of building photos spread across other tables in the gym on Mount Vernon Highway at the Hitson Center in Sandy Springs on Oct. 4. More than 60 Sandy Springs residents took the opportunity to imagine a new center for their city and to play architecture critic for an evening.

Sandy Springs city officials are trying to develop a plan for long-term development in a study area they’ve designated the “city center.” The area is bounded roughly by Cromwell Road, Cliftwood Drive, Boylston Drive and Sandy Springs Circle. The city’s consultants for the project invited residents to gather to record their thoughts on what buildings in the area should look like.

Bob Peoples discusses downtown redevelopment ideas with Sandy Springs spokeswoman Sharon Kraun.

The next public meeting to discuss city center plans will deal with transportation, the city said. The meeting is set for Oct. 30 at the Sandy Springs City Council Chambers, 7840 Roswell Road. It is to begin at 6 p.m.

Representatives of Goody Clancy, the city’s consultants, said they intend to present a proposed overall plan for the area to city officials in November. The Sandy Springs City Council should be able to vote in December on whether to officially adopt the plan, they said.

Early versions of Goody Clancy’s plans offer various locations within the area for a new City Hall or a similar civic building, create a new “walkable shopping district” along Bluestone Road, and provide for new residential developments in transitional areas connecting to surrounding neighborhoods. But the consultants said much remained to be determined.

“We still have details to work out,” Goody Clancy associate Ben M. Calrson told the group at the Hitson Center.

Residents attending the community meeting offered a number of ideas as to what they wanted or didn’t want in the area. Austin, who said he lives in the area, pointed to an expansive parking lot in front of a grocery. “This is what we have and I think this is what we want to get away from,” he said.

Others at the table quickly agreed. Several said they liked tree-lined streets with sidewalks. But they said different streets had different uses and would require differing “looks.”

“Roswell Road is a pretty busy road and I don’t see how there’s anything we can do about that,” Audra Settles said. But, she added later, “I do like to be able to sit on Roswell Road. I don’t mind sitting on Roswell Road and having a cup of coffee.”

“I’ve always thought Roswell Road should be the focal point of Sandy Springs,” Kathy Wright said.

Proposed housing styles drew some of the sharpest criticisms. In one group, several apartment buildings were dismissed as “too avant-garde,” “too sterile,” “too contemporary” or “just not for Sandy Springs.”

Wright simply couldn’t stand one apartment complex. “I hate it,” she said. “It’s ugly.”

“We’ve got to find some style that’ll have some lasting power or we’ll be knocking it down in 10 years,” Austin said.

“It’s got to work with what we have today,” Settles said. “It’s got to blend.”

By the end of the evening, Goody Clancy representatives had collected stacks of Post-it Notes bearing comments from the residents to be used in the consultant’s report.

“I think this was a fascinating opportunity to try to personalize this for Sandy Springs,” Austin said. “It really sounds like they’re listening to us.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.