As the Great Recession ends, growth is “coming at us fast and furious,” Sandy Springs’ community development director says.
“We’re seeing lots of growth, and, really, what’s key is, how do we meet this in a way that’s consistent with what the council wants to see?” Community Development Director Angela Parker told members of Sandy Springs City Council during the group’s recent annual retreat.
“The bricks and mortar follow the dollars, and that’s not the way to grow a community.”
Parker and City Manager John McDonough told the council that staff was looking to make changes to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2007, to deal with a “post-recession inundation of growth.” The plan is required to be updated in 2017.
McDonough said more than 1,600 building permits were issued in 2014, with 1,600 multifamily units under construction or recently completed. The city heard 30 rezoning cases in 2014, compared to 19 in 2013.
He said that constantly handling rezoning requests on a case-by-case basis is not a good way to develop a city, nor are the moratoriums the city put in place in 2014, including stops on apartment and convenience store permits. “We’ve been in a reactive mode for a little while,” McDonough said.
“If we’ve got the right comprehensive plan and the right instruments to support that, we should not have to put in place a moratorium, so that’s our goal going forward,” McDonough said, adding that the Perimeter Community Improvement District has very few undeveloped parcels, and that the right plan should ensure good growth and development in that area.
Parker said the city’s current comprehensive plan was developed when the economy was vastly different than today, and lacks sufficient detail regarding density and the Roswell Road and PCID areas.
She recommended using consultants and a market analysis to update the plan, and including plans for smaller areas in an effort to build communities.
She said the city’s efforts to develop a new “downtown” around its planned City Hall and Performing Arts Center could transform the area around it. “The City Center offers lots of opportunities for place-making,” Parker said.
The community building there could serve as an anchor while also being replicated in other areas, creating smaller villages and activity nodes. She used the JLB Gateway project on Roswell Road south of I-285 as an example.
Council members also talked about development along Roswell Road.
While it’s Sandy Springs’ main street and community hub, it’s also a major north/south commuter route, with more than 30,000 vehicles on it per day.
Parker said that the number of commercial strips along the road needs to be reduced, and that Roswell Road should have more of a parkway feel, much like it does north of Abernathy.
Mayor Rusty Paul agreed the city’s development plan should be amended, and said he hopes to include the public in the process.
“In some degree we’re putting the car together as were driving down the road,” he said. “We’ve all experienced frustration with being in a reactive mode. They bring us a project, we say ‘yes,’ we say ‘no,’ we say ‘maybe.’ That’s not the way to run a city.”
Paul said changing the plan would require some patience.
“We’re under a tremendous amount of pressure to get this done quickly, but at the same time we need to make sure we make the right decision,” he said. “We get one chance to do this right and we can’t mess this up.”