While plans for the future City Center dominated much of the news coming out of Sandy Springs this year, the city also welcomed a new fire chief and helped break ground for a new school building.
The city launched a new park designed to be especially kid-friendly and fielded complaints from residents who wanted a student dorm shut down. Residents also rallied to tell MARTA officials what they thought about the location of a proposed northern expansion of the transit agency’s rail line.
Here’s a look at some of Sandy Springs’ top stories this year.
Students leave troubled ‘Hub’
The Art Institute of Atlanta decided to move its students from “The Hub,” an extended-stay facility on Barfield Road. The move followed months of complaining from nearby residents who said the hotel illegally served as dormitory housing, and that the students were a constant source of noise and trouble.
The facility had received notices of zoning violations due to the fact that it was housing students longer than the zoning code allowed. Since that time, representatives for the facility have also been fined for violating fire and safety code violations. During the summer an Art Institute student was slain. Another student has been charged with his murder.
‘Go west, MARTA,’ say citizens
Facing a possible 12-mile expansion of MARTA service north along the Ga. 400 corridor from the North Springs station, some Sandy Springs and Dunwoody residents are pushing for the extension to run up the west side of the highway.
It will be a while before that decision is made. “We haven’t decided which side of Ga. 400 we want to be on,” said Mark Eatman, project manager at MARTA, at an Aug. 19 presentation at Sandy Springs City Hall.
Eatman said a preliminary engineering and environmental study would be conducted before the agency can determine where the expansion might be located. That study would examine the impact on the rail extending on the west or east side, or even up the center of the highway.
Residents on the east side said that an expansion on that side would cut through schools and neighborhoods, and that a west side expansion would be more logical since more businesses and apartment complexes are located there.
Abernathy Greenway opens
Sandy Springs children took a front seat to hear Mayor Rusty Paul speak to them and a large crowd of residents and officials when the Abernathy Greenway and Playable Art Park opened on July 17.
“This is an amazing jewel for our community, for these neighborhoods, for these younger constituents down here,” said the mayor, pointing to the children.
The project was a long time in the making, with its opening delayed several times over the years by construction, weather and attempts to appease neighbors. The 6.6-acre portion that opened was along the north side of Abernathy Road from Wright Road to Brandon Mill Road.
The portion of the park on the south side of Abernathy is likely to be more low key as it won’t include the playable art stations. Construction is set to begin on that portion in the summer.
Performing Arts Center plans take shape, grow
As the city hired master developers Carter & Selig for the City Center, plans for a performing arts center as the anchor of the City Center complex began to take shape. One of the most central questions – just how big should it be – was addressed when the council in September gave the OK to proceed with plans for a facility with up to 1,000 seats. During a discussion in October, following feedback from community groups that pledged to use the center as well as meeting space it would include, the council agreed that the seat limit should be upped to 1,350 seats. Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul has also said he hopes the private sector will contribute money to help build the performing arts center.
City Center growing pains
The future City Center could be a game changer for Sandy Springs with a performing arts center, government building, retail and apartments planned for the heart of the city in an effort to achieve true “walkability.” But progress on the development didn’t happen without frustrating some business owners who continued to see their properties taken by the city.
On Jan. 30, photographer Eric Bern signed a deal that had the city agreeing to pay $1 million for his Mount Vernon Highway studio, a location he had operated from for 23 years. “I have mixed feelings about having to relocate” from a location he “treasured,” Bern said. In August, Master Kleen owner Will Smith lamented during the Roswell Road business’ last week that his long-time employees would lose their jobs. The city had voted in March to take that property through eminent domain. On June 3 the city council voted to approve the use of eminent domain to take more than half of Steven Johnston’s land at 80 Johnson Ferry Road. That land contains a tributary flowing from Marsh Creek. City plans call for the land to become home to a dam and detention pond that will keep City Center developers from having to build their own detention areas.
Then, on Dec. 2, the city took a step toward acquiring the final pieces of property they are trying to assemble, voting to authorize condemnation, if necessary, of properties at 237 Johnson Ferry Road and 6201, 6215, 6219 Roswell Road, and 260 Mount Vernon Highway. That included a unanimous vote to authorize condemnation of the Johnson Ferry Road property, which now houses a Goodwill Industries of North Georgia store. The city has offered $3.9 million for the property, but the owner has declined.
Heards Ferry Elementary groundbreaking
School and city officials broke ground in November on the future site of a new Heards Ferry Elementary School building, which relocates the school from Heards Ferry Road to a 14-acre site on Powers Ferry Road. When the school opens in August, it is intended to serve as a prototype that addresses limited availability of large parcels of land by building multiple stories rather than spreading one story out. The Heards Ferry school move will also allow for nearby Riverwood High School to make needed expansions. The school is being constructed through a one-penny education sales tax approved by voters in 2011.
“I know that the spring is going to be a bittersweet time because hundreds of thousands of students have gone through the halls at the Heards Ferry Elementary that stands today,” Principal Lisa Nash said at the ceremony. “But it will be an even more exciting time when we open the news doors of our new facility in the fall.”
Goodbye Chief McElfish, hello Chief Sanders
The city said goodbye to Fire Chief Jack McElfish, who created Sandy Springs’ fire department in 2006. McElfish decided to retire after a 51-year career in fire and rescue service, with 35 of those years serving as fire chief. For his replacement, the city looked to another fire veteran with Chief Keith Sanders, formerly of the Alpharetta Fire Department. Sanders is also a sworn police officer.
Proposed Riverside roundabout alarms neighbors
Nearby residents expressed dismay when the Georgia Department of Transportation held a workshop on plans for a traffic roundabout at Riverside Drive and I-285, saying the project would only add to congestion in the area, and would cause confusion among drivers.
But the agency informed the city that if it obstructed plans for a roundabout, Sandy Springs would be on the hook for $1.5 million.
Once the roundabout is constructed, the project will be funded with federal help at no cost to the city, except for landscaping and decorative street lights, state officials say. But if it wasn’t built, the city would have to pay to construct turning lanes on the ramps at a cost of $1.5 million.
“It’s a commitment that you guys already made when you requested the signal [in 2011],” said Scott Zehngraff, with GDOT. “So, when we approved the traffic signal, it was contingent upon the turning lanes being added.”
The GDOT has said it hopes to start construction on the roundabout in 2015.