Traffic, environmental preservation, affordable housing—and did we mention traffic?

Those are among the challenges Sandy Springs must tackle in its upcoming Comprehensive Plan update, according to more than a dozen local nonprofit and civic association leaders at a meeting June 23 at Heritage Sandy Springs.

“The opportunities are enormous. Resources are not bad,” Mayor Rusty Paul told the attendees.

But the process will have to winnow out priorities, he said.

The meeting, attended by roughly 60 residents, was an unofficial kick-off for revising the Comprehensive Plan, a guiding vision document. The current plan was finalized in 2007 and now must be updated by 2017. It addresses land use, transportation and general development policies.

The $950,000 planning process, led by the firm Rhodeside & Harwell, won’t formally begin until a series of meetings in the fall. But the city decided to hold some earlier meetings on its own to attract attention and get the public thinking.

Paul said that included a private meeting with 120 homeowners association heads, where he got “a little bit of fire, a little bit of heat…We want to tap into that passion and channel it.”

The June 23 meeting featured a wide range of organizations, from the Chamber of Commerce and Perimeter CIDs to the Sandy Springs Society and the local Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.

Despite their different missions, the organization leaders generally agreed on the need for better transportation solutions, greenspace protections and affordable housing. They also agreed that the city has the wealth and determination to find good solutions.

Linda Bain, executive director of the Sandy Springs Conservancy, called for proactive—but also ambitious—parks planning.

“Think big,” she urged. “I’m talking: Bring in the BeltLine, bring the PATH [multi-use trail network]

Irene Schweiger of the Sandy Springs Education Force, center, addresses the community forum. The others, left to right, are Linda Bain, Sandy Springs Conservancy; Trisha Thompson Fox, Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods; Sherry Epstein, Watershed Alliance of Sandy Springs; and Cheri Morris, Art Sandy Springs.

into Sandy Springs.”

Trisha Thompson Fox of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods said she will push for a truly localized plan.

“I’m going to urge those teams—don’t send in boilerplate stuff they’ve cookie-cuttered out,” she said. “We’re a specific community with specific needs.”

Affordability and opportunity are growing issues as well, said Tamara Carrera of the Community Assistance Center and Irene Schweiger of the Sandy Springs Education Force. They said the local poverty rate is 15 percent, and local public schools now have a majority of lower-income children.

Paul said that the final plan may propose some multi-pronged solutions, such as more rental housing in traffic-reducing live-work centers.

–John Ruch

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