A controversial Pill Hill apartment plan was deferred again by Sandy Springs City Council Oct. 20 pending renewed talk of a new roadway through the area.
The Perimeter Center Improvement Districts are moving ahead on an old plan to extended the “flyover bridge,” said Councilman Tibby DeJulio. That bridge takes Perimeter Center Parkway across I-285 to Lake Hearn Drive. PCIDs may have blueprints for an extension down to Johnson Ferry Road ready by next month, DeJulio said.
“I think we really need to see what [PCIDs] have in mind,” DeJulio said, and not “eliminate the possibility of doing this [connection] in the future” by approving a redevelopment on part of the possible site.
Both the road and the apartment project—planned on Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital land at Johnson Ferry and Old Johnson Ferry—are pitched as partial solutions to the Pill Hill medical area’s traffic tangles. Mayor Rusty Paul revealed that on Oct. 19, he had his long-planned traffic-planning meeting with administrators of Pill Hill’s three hospitals—also including Northside and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta—though he did not give details.
“What keeps me awake at night is [the idea of] an incident like a tornado or something where we can’t get people in for treatment,” Paul said of Pill Hill traffic.
Heather Dexter, CEO at Emory Saint Joseph’s, voiced similar concerns. Commute times for doctors and staff is another concern, she said. The hospital sold the land for the housing use—which also mixes some office, restaurant and park space—because it needs “apartments that employees can afford,” she said.
Richard Munger of North American Properties, the developer, took his emphasis of the project’s “walkability” to hospitals and MARTA further than ever, claiming it meshes with a recent US surgeon general’s report. He said North American created a similar project near Vanderbilt University’s medical center in Nashville, where they waive fees for doctor-tenants.
But the project continued to receive criticism from some Sandy Springs and Brookhaven residents as potentially worsening the traffic issues, among other concerns. Dozens of residents showed up at the council meeting, many clearly there to restate the opposition that has flamed since the project was proposed in August. They said North American had agreed to reduce the apartment count from 305 to 270, but that didn’t appear to satisfy anyone.
While the council chose to defer a decision with the PCIDs plan in mind, some councilmen leaned toward approval. “Until we locate housing where people work or…near mass transit, we’re not going to impact traffic,” said Councilman Ken Dishman.
As mayor, Paul doesn’t get a vote on the project unless there’s a tie, but he indicated some Brookhaven residents aren’t helping their cause in private communications with him.
“I’ve been a little bit testy about this,” Paul said. “I’ve never been accused of criminality before, and corruption and being in the pocket of developers…Our own folks haven’t talked to us the way people in Brookhaven have talked to us.”
The council tossed the project back to the city Planning Commission for another review and will rehear it on Dec. 15.
In other business, the council approved final details of the massive bond issuance for constructing the City Springs redevelopment. A total of $159,475,000 in bonds will be issued and will produce about $179 million in funds because of some “premium” sales at higher-than-face values. The council previously authorized issuing up to $222 million in bonds, and can still do so, but only with a separate action.
The interest rates are complex, but have a total “weighted average” of 3.659 percent, according to advisers with the financial firm Raymond James.
The bonds, sold in denominations of $5,000, were put on the market earlier that day for orders in advance of the actual issuance later this month or in early November. That helped determine the rates approved by the council, said city attorney Wendell Willard.
“I bought a couple [of the bonds],” Mayor Paul said.