With more than 5,000 companies employing some 123,000 workers operating in the Perimeter area, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul says it’s time for a plan.
“The Perimeter Center is the economic engine for Sandy Springs and the entire metro Atlanta area,” Paul said. “It is one of the largest, if not the largest, office market within the Southeast.
“With an unprecedented surge in development interest, we want to make sure we have a unified, concise policy that allows for long-term economic viability of this market, as well as ensures a high quality of life for existing and future residents and visitors.”
To that end, the Sandy Springs city officials met Oct. 27 to lay the framework for putting rules in place on how to foster urban development in the city’s portion of the Perimeter area, which also takes in portions of Dunwoody and Brookhaven.
Sandy Springs officials said the city will not work alone, and will coordinate future efforts with their neighbors. Officials from Dunwoody and Brookhaven, along with the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, were invited to the meeting, with representatives from Dunwoody and the PCIDs attending.
“To solve these problems we need to look regionally,” said Dunwoody’s Assistant to the City Manager Kimberly Greer. “We need to work together.”
Sandy Springs could follow Dunwoody’s lead. That city is looking to develop separate zoning regulations for the portion of the city around Perimeter Mall and the Dunwoody MARTA station. With high rise offices and residences, shopping centers, restaurants and hotels, the Perimeter area was intentionally left off Dunwoody’s recent rewrite of its zoning code since it’s so different from other parts of the community.
Angela Parker, community development director for Sandy Springs, says Sandy Springs’ Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Development Plan do not provide the guidance needed to provide for adequate infrastructure for development in the Perimeter area.
At the meeting, Parker presented challenges and potential solutions for the area. She said that most of the Perimeter area is outside a ¼ mile radius of MARTA stations, with very few multi-family housing units within that radius, which means density should be increased around the stations.
She said other ideas include decreasing free parking spaces to encourage transit use, encouraging housing near MARTA stations, and requiring workforce housing and public greenspace.
Yvonne Williams, president of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, said employers should also be included in the process if the area is going to be considered “urban” rather than “suburban.”
“They’re the ones that fund the PCIDs with their tax [dollars],” Williams said, adding that businesses should be asked “What are some of the visions you have as you plan out your map towards long-term economic sustainability, and how can we help you with short-term strategies?”
She said that policymakers will also need to communicate with citizens so they will understand neighborhoods are not being taken away and that “this is an urban center with many dynamics that deal with a scale different than what we did in the 1990s.”
Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough proposed that city staff members should meet with staffers from neighboring cities, the PCIDs, MARTA and others to go through a similar presentation, and then come back to the Sandy Springs City Council in about six to eight weeks with recommendations on how to proceed. He said one option would be for the council to look at applying for a grant to do a zoning study in the PCID area.
“To me this is one of the most important questions that we as a community are going to have to deal with,” Paul said. “There is going to be development. Zoning and land use plans are only tools, and they can’t stop development.”