During its regular meeting on Dec. 18, the Sandy Springs City Council adopted a plan that could shape the look of its downtown for decades to come.
The plan, if followed, will move the center of city life to what has traditionally been considered the heart of the community along Roswell Road between Hammond Drive and Sandy Springs Circle. The city council approved it unanimously.
“This is an exciting time for us,” Councilwoman Dianne Fries said. “It really is, to see our little city go.”
The master plan, developed by Boston-based consultant Goody Clancy, incorporates property the city already owns – the former Target Property at 235 Johnson Ferry Road. The city paid $8 million for the property in 2008 and under the plan being considered it would become a mix of residential, retail and civic space as well as a parking area.
Goody Clancy associate Ben Carlson said the firm recommends the city issue requests for proposals to find developers interested in partnering them to develop the blocks around the Target site. The plan seeks to make the city more walkable and provides for a mix of uses, expands green space and seeks revisions to the city’s zoning code to achieve the desired downtown aesthetic.
The main civic space for the city would lie between Johnson Ferry Road and Mt. Vernon Highway, facing Roswell Road. The plan does not state what the cost would be to implement it, but the city has been setting aside money to buy property and develop the infrastructure. The city previously designated $9 million in a “city hall fund” and in its Fiscal 2013 budget designated $5 million for city hall and $4 million for downtown infrastructure.
Downtown development planning drew hundreds of residents to various meetings arranged by Goody Clancy. While there has been widespread interest, disagreements arose over whether the plans had enough green space and the possibility of the city using eminent domain to acquire property around the Target site.
The plan does not address eminent domain and the City Council hasn’t been supportive of using eminent domain to acquire property for downtown. Under Georgia law, any property acquired this way could only be used as a public space for 20 years.
Prior to the approval of the plan, a dozen people – including several from the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee – spoke in favor of it.
Branch Properties President Nicholas Telesca spoke favorably of the plan. His company recently purchased the struggling City Walk property and wants it to be an integral piece of the city’s downtown.
“We’re in favor of it,” Telesca said. “We support it and we support it for one primary reason: we believe it’s achievable.”
Steve Levetan, board chairman for the Sandy Springs Conservancy, said not everyone agrees with everything about the plan – some in the community wanted more green space – but he said the conservancy supports it.
“The Conservancy has advocated from the beginning for green space as part of this process, and while it could be argued that there could be or should be more green space, the plan should be balanced and we believe this is a balanced plan,” Levetan said.