By Ann Marie Quill

Eric Bern at his studio at 161 Mount Vernon Highway

Eric Bern Studio should be in a new location by January of next year.

Sandy Springs City Council voted on Feb. 18 to purchase the photographer’s property at 161 Mount Vernon Highway so that it can extend Blue Stone Road as part of the city’s downtown redevelopment plan. The road will connect the planned civic center to Heritage Sandy Springs.

The city will pay $1 million for the property, as well as an additional $137,000 for moving and relocation expenses. Bern will be able to stay in the property rent-free until Jan. 10, 2015, while he secures a new location.

“I’ve been fortunate to have operated my business for over 23 years from a location that I have treasured,” Bern said Feb. 19. “Of course, I have mixed feelings about having to relocate. I intend to remain in Sandy Springs and continue to serve the community.”

In November, Bern wrote an editorial in the Sandy Springs Reporter expressing dismay when the council voted to demolish his 23-year-old property. He said the city’s offer at the time did not cover the cost of moving his business and purchasing a comparable property.

Now “the contract has been approved by both sides” after “extensive negotiations,” said City Attorney Wendell Willard.

Bern signed the agreement on Jan. 30.

“We are pleased we could work out an agreement with Mr. Bern,” said Sharon Kraun, Sandy Springs communications director. “At the end of the day, we never want to use eminent domain unless absolutely necessary.”

She added that so far the city has been “very fortunate” in not having had to use its power to condemn property for the project.

But on Feb. 18, the council voted to authorize the use of eminent domain, if needed, to purchase 6087 Roswell Road and 6094 Boylston Road. Those properties are needed to construct a connector between the two roads, city officials say.

Griffin 6075 Roswell Road Partners owns the 5.34-acre parcel at that location, and negotiations to purchase the property are ongoing. City officials say they are hopeful a deal can be reached so that they will not have to exercise eminent domain.

The city adopted the civic center master plan in December 2012, approving a first phase of implementation in January 2013.

The plan was adopted following a year of public input meetings. City center plans extend from north of Johnson Ferry to south of Hammond Drive, with a goal of creating a “walkable” city where pedestrians can reach retail, recreational, cultural amenities and neighborhoods. Plans also include a civic center that will house city offices and a performing arts venue.

“There’s a consensus in the city that it needs the city center. We want to see it prosper and develop,” Kraun said. “It’s just been a matter of sitting down and talking with different property owners.”

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