Sandy Springs has adopted a resolution supporting a tentative City Center site plan that includes one building for government offices and a performing arts center, as well as green space and a mixed-use development.

Reconsider city center plans

To the editor:

I have been a Sandy Springs resident for 41 years and I am active within the community. In my personal opinion, Sandy Springs can benefit from the construction of a place where local government offices are headquartered and where people are provided a place to connect, recreate and celebrate Sandy Springs. However, when planning such a project, we must carefully balance community needs with the negative impacts unbridled development has on the community.

Above all, city leaders must exercise extreme financial responsibility when planning such a project, especially during uncertain economic times. We should not consider a plan we cannot afford. Period.

Many Sandy Springs citizens are confused over plans for the future city center, especially when significant project details are changed without public input or notification. In my opinion, city leaders should be clear, honest and open about city center’s plans. When significant changes to the plan are necessary, the public should at least be notified, if not asked for approval.

A precarious situation of the city playing roles of property owner, developer, plan approver, code enforcer and landlord is made more questionable when details are changed behind closed doors.

I support the planning and construction of a smaller city center that accommodates the needs of the city government, some local county government offices, and a limited amount of space for public meetings, presentations, storage and perhaps library space. Perhaps the inclusion of a limited amount of supportive retail or living space is possible, but not without consideration of traffic and infrastructure impacts. If such a facility’s success leads to the need for future expansion, that is possible, assuming it is approved by the public and it is financially affordable.

I do not support the planning of an over-sized, unnecessary, outrageously expensive city center project spanning from Johnson Ferry Road to the Perimeter. In my opinion, we do not need, nor do we want, a huge city center that includes a 1,000-plus seat performance auditorium, four or five five-story apartment buildings and a plethora of retail and business establishments within a relatively small footprint area.

Please do not over build a project that results in more than the city needs, wants or can effectively afford, especially during a shaky economy.

I encourage you to act responsibly and refrain from spending the city’s financial reserves on this project — or worse, go into debt over it. There are many worthwhile projects in need of funding, not just the city center. And much of the area’s retail, living and business space is currently vacant, so why do we need such a large-scale project?

A “build it and they will come” mentality is dangerous in today’s economic environment. Furthermore, current traffic congestion, infrastructure, quality of life and storm water issues place pressure on surrounding neighborhoods. Adding significant construction issues and thousands of cars and people to this high-density area is irresponsible. Neighboring property values will certainly be impacted by such a large scale project, as will quality of life.

I challenge each city leader to thoroughly research and re-evaluate the Sandy Springs city center plans. Please consider scaling down the project to one that better fits the neighborhood atmosphere that is so attractive to the residents of this area.

Most residents are open to the idea of building a city center — within reason. However, in doing so, we must preserve the local neighborhood integrity while responsibly protecting our finances, infrastructure, watersheds, natural environment and way of life.

The Abernathy Greenway & CityWalk are two examples of developments supported by Sandy Springs leaders that were oversold and under-delivered to our neighborhoods. Each took significantly longer and cost significantly more than was planned, and both projects negatively impacted our neighborhoods.

Let’s work together to prevent future negative impacts by incorporating the community voice into a development plan that is environmentally, socially and economically feasible.

Cindy S. Mayer

Who’s behind the arts center project?

To the editor:

It appears to me that there are a lot more citizens concerned about the cost, the need, and the traffic ramifications of a large performing arts center. Who is behind this project, and why?

The governing body of Sandy Springs needs to start listening to its citizens and addressing their concerns rather than create their own agenda!! Stop spending money for the sake of spending it!

Leah Barr

See also: Sandy Springs oks City Center plan with performing arts center

2 replies on “Letters to the Editor: Reconsider city center plans”

  1. Cindy,

    I agree with your comments. Sandy Springs is in a unique position to mold the future of its physical community, but we must do so with a careful blend of pragmatism, creativity and fiscal responsibility.
    From an outsider’s perspective, the city planning process seems relatively simple: create a walkable non-branded retail center with attractive open green space. Include a city hall and small office spaces as needed. Encourage restaurants with large open patios, art stores with window displays, support independent coffee shops, and plant tall trees that create a shaded canopy for pedestrians. Offer a night on the town where I can take a leisurely stroll after an outdoor movie, dine on the patio of a French bistro, then finish the evening with a glass of wine and slice of cake while enjoying live music. In short, the goal is to rebuild a downtown Roswell or a Decatur square, but clearly this takes years of building character and history. It cannot, and will not, simply happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. After all, Sandy Springs has worked years for the opportunity to recreate our shared space.
    You mention Citywalk, which is an important piece of the current debate. The project has failed for a number of reasons, and the Great Recession was not one of them – it was simply a convenient scapegoat for an otherwise doomed project. Sandy Springs should be careful to avoid repeating the same mistakes, which in my opinion are the following:
    1) The development attempted to combine a pedestrian retail center with a sprawling parking lot and gas station. The two do not blend.
    2) Second floor retail does not appeal to shoppers and it never will.
    3) Color is crucial. Dark brick and black metal does not create an inviting atmosphere.
    4) Topography matters. Rolling hills are preferred to towering retaining walls.
    5) The project contains zero green-space. We can all agree that landscaping is a key component to any public space.
    6) While in Citywalk, I feel as if I am living in a board-room real estate model as a miniature faceless pedestrian surrounded by color coded building.
    Sandy Springs should look to downtown Greenville, SC as a model for redevelopment. There are a plethora of examples of redeveloped cities that planners can cite throughout the country, but Greenville stands out for very specific reasons, and the city has somehow successfully created character in a short period of time. Here is what Greenville has done right:
    1) Scale – Greenville recognized that the purpose of a redevelopment was to serve the existing residents, not drive demand for new ones. The city chose a small section of “downtown” to patiently develop, and they poured resources into every detail to ensure that the first phase of the project was successful.
    2) Separation – Rather than create one large mixed-use development (cringe), Greenville chose a linear path for pedestrian retail (think our Sandy Springs Circle), and they allowed the office, government and residential development to scatter on the periphery as needed. Visitors would rather see one interrupted strip of inviting retail and restaurants than blocks of disjointed uses (Atlantic Station).
    3) Residential – Let it happen, do not force it. Grenville did not force a series of newly developed condos and apartments along the main corridor of redevelopment. Rather, the residential buildings sprung up around the property based on demand and likely a number of tax incentives.
    4) Alcohol Establishments – There’s no need to fear bars and wine shops if introduced tastefully. If done right, these establishments can create a vibrant base for night life.
    5) Room for expansion – The base of the hill in Greenville allows for a logical path of growth once the city matured.
    6) Park – Once again, the park is separated at the base of the hill with an attractive river and bridge. Rather than weaving the park into the development, there is a designated area for recreation.
    7) Free angled parking – This is by far the most effective method of creating a manageable pedestrian community with vehicular access.
    8) Trees – The trees in Greenville likely existed for several decades, but the canopy enhances the esthetics and provides necessary shade.
    9) Performing Arts Center –Greenville successfully incorporated a theater into its downtown development.
    10) Historic Hotel – Sandy Springs would have to build a hotel, but a small boutique inn would certainly add to the character of a downtown center.
    11) Traffic – Greenville recognized that the retail/restaurant corridor is for pedestrians and strolling vehicles, not a thoroughfare. Sandy springs should filter traffic to Roswell (yes, increase Roswell traffic) and expand infrastructure to alleviate traffic on Sandy Springs Circle, Mt. Vernon, and Johnson Ferry. Recognize that Roswell will never be a pedestrian friendly street, and do not diver resources to change this.
    12) Façades – Each façade is designed by the in-place tenant. Build the shell and let the tenant create the entry.

    Sandy Springs should also focus more on the existing retail centers that surround the future development (Brooklyn Café center on Sandy Springs Circle and Brewster’s center on Johnson Ferry). The owners of these centers are undoubtedly interested in the future of the city center, and they would likely be willing to work with city hall to craft a joint development plan for a cohesive community. To-date I have not read a single article that addresses how these shopping centers will be incorporated into the plan, yet they are currently the focal point of the area.

    Sandy Springs has the luxury of avoiding recent mistakes and should take the time to analyze and mirror inviting elements of other suburban redevelopments. If done right, downtown Sandy Springs could offer existing residents a unique small-town enclave in an otherwise sprawling character-less city. Sadly I fear that we will wind up with a well-manicured park surrounded by chain restaurants, dilapidated shopping centers, and a city hall filled with representatives starting out the window at a lost opportunity.

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