As the Nov. 5 elections approach, the Sandy Springs City Council races have developed into a referendum on how well the city has balanced business and neighborhoods interests.
At an Oct. 8 forum organized by the League of Women Voters, incumbent city council members shared the auditorium at North Springs High School with their opponents. A slate of candidates affiliated with the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods – Barbara Malone in District 3, Tochie Blad in District 4, and Patty Berkovitz in District 6 – say the council isn’t working hard enough to protect neighborhoods.
City Council members say they’ve had to make some tough choices over the last four years, like approving rezoning to settle lawsuits, and that the criticism from the Council of Neighborhoods is unfair.
The slate of candidates in Sandy Springs isn’t the only one in the area. In Dunwoody, there’s a “clean sweep” slate seeking to unseat incumbents, albeit for somewhat different reasons.
There are no incumbents in Sandy Springs Districts 3 and 6, meaning that the neighborhood slate of candidates are going to be competitive this year. In District 3, Malone is running against Graham McDonald. Outgoing District 3 Councilman Chip Collins endorsed McDonald.
Collins also endorsed Andy Bauman in the District 6 race. There are five people in that race, Bauman, Berkovitz, Jennifer Steele, John Stoj and Sonja Tonpea, meaning it’s almost certain there will be a runoff. Outgoing City Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny hasn’t made any endorsements in that race.
Former city councilman Rusty Paul, endorsed by outgoing Mayor Eva Galambos, is running against local businessman Bob Brown.
Every candidate spoke to the issue of neighborhoods throughout the evening, answering questions submitted by the audience. The city has been in the midst of a downtown redevelopment effort, one that would see an area just north of I-285 and Roswell Road turned into a mixed-use development and city center.
“We have a comprehensive plan that’s been in place for quite some time and I do believe the essence of that plan is for protection of the core of our residential neighborhoods,” Bauman said. “I do believe in protecting neighborhoods and I believe the comprehensive plan establishes that.”
“The neighborhoods are the backbone of sandy springs,” McDonald said. “I am intimately aware with the issues that neighborhoods face. Traffic is a major risk and issue for our neighborhoods.”
“Every neighborhood in Sandy Springs should be protected,” Malone said. “We live there. This is our city. These are our neighborhoods. Encroachment is something that should be looked at very, very carefully.”
“I do have a senior citizens home,” Tonpea said. “We want to make sure our neighborhoods remain safe.”
“I don’t think anybody sitting up here doesn’t want our neighborhoods to remain protected,” Stoj said.
“I think we can come to an agreement on how we deal with redevelopment and neighborhood protection,” Steele said.
“Our neighborhoods are also the cash cow of the city,” Berkovitz said. “When we did the comprehensive plan, we had some things in there that got removed.”
Candidates in District 2, incumbent City Councilwoman Dianne Fries and her opponent Ken Dishman; District 4 City Councilman Gabriel Sterling and his opponent Tochie Blad; and City Councilman Tibby DeJulio and his opponent Clayton Cole, talked neighborhoods when asked about widening Hammond Drive.
“It’s a fine line out there,” Fries said. “How far do we go in bringing the Perimeter to our downtown area? It needs to be done but it needs to be done carefully. We have some neighborhoods on Hammond that deserve to have a quality of life.”
“I think it’s important that when we look at the traffic, we consider the neighborhoods,” Blad said.
Other candidates mentioned neighborhoods in their opening remarks.
“We’ve seen a lot of neighborhoods left out in the decision making process. It never addresses the effect on the neighborhoods,” Cole said.
“We have to make sure we have smart development,” DeJulio said. “We need to make sure we keep our neighborhoods involved.”
Sterling said “commercial intrusion and traffic” are some of his top concerns in District 4.
The mayoral candidates made sure to make the neighborhoods a part of their remarks, too.
“We need to focus on our community, our neighborhood improvements, green space street repairs,” Paul said.
Brown said creating Sandy Springs was an attempt to provide better services to neighborhoods who felt underserved by Fulton County.
“The whole idea was to protect our neighborhoods,” Brown said.