A Google Maps view of the Pill Hill area.
A Google Maps view of the Pill Hill area.

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 extend the “flyover bridge,” Councilman Tibby DeJulio said. That bridge takes Perimeter Center Parkway across I-285 to Lake Hearn Drive.

“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 redevelopment on part of the possible site.

PCIDs President and CEO Yvonne Williams said in an interview that engineers are doing a 60-day “feasibility study” of the roadway extension. “We’re in an information-gathering mode,” she said.

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 traffic tangles in the medical area at Johnson Ferry and Peachtree-Dunwoody Road nicknamed Pill Hill. Mayor Rusty Paul revealed that on Oct. 19, he had his long-planned traffic-planning meeting with administrators of the three hospitals in the area, Emory St. Joseph’s, Northside and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“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.

The hospitals’ meeting also included traffic consultants from the firm Nelson/Nygaard, according to Emory Saint Joseph’s spokeswoman Mary Beth Spence.

“At this initial meeting, all three hospitals committed to working with the mayor and the consultants, and the consultants also shared that they will provide information about best practices from other cities,” Spence said in an email, adding that those meetings will continue.

Dane Peterson, the president of Emory Healthcare Hospital Group, attended the meeting. In a written statement, he said, “We are eager to enter this collaboration with our neighboring hospitals to make improvements for our patients, families, employees and the community we serve.”

Emory Saint Joseph’s CEO Heather Dexter voiced traffic concerns at the City Council meeting. Commute times for doctors and staff are issues, she said. The hospital sold the land for housing, restaurants and parks because it needs “apartments that employees can afford,” she said. Richard Munger of North American Properties, the developer, claims his project’s “walkability” to hospitals and MARTA meshes with a recent U.S. surgeon general’s report.

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 opposition to the project that 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’ study 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.

It also remains to be seen how residents react to extending the roadway from the flyover bridge, which many jokingly call the “bridge to nowhere.” Brookhaven Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams said in an interview that she has “mixed feelings” about the idea and noted that local opposition to the Glenridge Connector prevented its extension beyond Peachtree-Dunwoody Road.

“Use of the flyover bridge is expanding” with new development, said the PCIDs’ Yvonne Williams. But extending its roadway has “not been on our priority list” and could be complicated by impact on wetlands, neighborhood reaction and other issues, she said. The recent traffic concerns triggered PCIDs’ renewed look at whether it is a “project that makes sense,” she said.

Paul doesn’t get a vote on the project unless there’s a tie, but he indicated some Brookhaven residents’ comments aren’t helping their cause. “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 returned the project to the city Planning Commission and will rehear it Dec. 15.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.