Sandy Springs turned 10 this year. City officials threw a birthday party and started work on a big, new present to be delivered in 2017 – a City Hall and town center that they decided to call “City Springs.” But as the new came in, some of the old had to give way to make room – venerable Glenridge Hall, for instance, was razed. And that was just part of what went down in 2015. Here are some of the major events of the year in Sandy Springs.

City Springs rises

An illustration of the fountains and public space outside the performing arts center in the future City Springs redevelopment.

The city’s long-planned downtown development went from dream to reality—and along the way was renamed from “City Center” to “City Springs.”
City Springs, slated to open in 2017, is a public-private partnership redevelopment of a 15-acre site bounded by Mount Vernon Highway, Sandy Springs Circle, and Roswell and Johnson Ferry roads. It will include a new City Hall, a performing arts center, various parks, housing and commercial space.

Preliminary designs showing fountains and glass-walled buildings were unveiled to community applause in June. At a September ground-breaking ceremony, two dozen residents followed Mayor Rusty Paul’s call to mingle soil from their communities on the site to symbolize it would be “everyone’s neighborhood.” And the city successfully issued $220 million in bonds to fund the project.

City Springs also was intended to spur similar mixed-use redevelopments along Roswell Road, and several were approved or got underway, including at Hilderbrand Court and the Gateway project on the Buckhead border. Some of that redevelopment displaced such landmark local businesses as the Punchline comedy club, which moved to Buckhead, and the Brickery restaurant, which closed.

City celebrates end of its first decade, starts planning for the next 10 years

Sandy Springs marked its 10th birthday the first week of December with a dinner party and an open house at City Hall, where residents were especially intrigued by the traffic management center and its wall of live video feeds. Meanwhile, it is already planning ahead for its next decade and beyond. In the summer, the city launched a “Next Ten” planning process to update the land-use plan, create a Unified Development Ordinance and draw up blueprints for various redevelopment hot spots around the city.

City’s advocate and founding mayor dies

Eva Galambos, who was known as the “mother” of the city of Sandy Springs, died April 19 at age 87. Galambos’ family fled Europe to escape Fascist persecution prior to World War II and settled in Georgia. An economist, Galambos received her Ph.D. in 1969.

In the 1970s, she started leading efforts to convince state lawmakers to allow creation of a city of Sandy Springs. After decades of work by Galambos and other supporters, the city finally won approval in 2005. Galambos was elected the new city’s first mayor. She served two terms and put her stamp on the new city government.

“Eva was truly our city mother,” said her successor, current Mayor Rusty Paul. “Her efforts led to the city’s creation. She cared and nurtured the city, and the strength of our community is due greatly to her unwavering love and devotion to creating something better for us all.”

Glenridge Hall razed, to be replaced by housing and park

Glenridge Hall

The demolition of Glenridge Hall, a beloved 1929 mansion in a 75-acre estate off Abernathy Road, and its upcoming replacement with housing, sparked one of the city’s biggest controversies.

Owner Caroline Glenn Mayson began selling off the estate in February, when it was announced that a southern section would become home to Mercedes-Benz USA’s new headquarters. But the community was caught off-guard by the March filing of a demolition permit for the historic Tudor Revival mansion, which appeared in movies and TV shows, and was used for local functions. Preservationists staged protests, but Mayson said maintaining the sprawling home wasn’t feasible, and it came down in April.

Controversy only got hotter when Mayson selected Ashton Woods to build hundreds of housing units on the property. Residents packed community meetings and threatened to sue, but the city approved the project with various mitigations. The Sandy Springs Conservancy convinced Ashton Woods to preserve 14 acres of the property as a future public park. Meanwhile, Mayson plans to use some of the sale proceeds to establish a foundation that will issue local grants starting in 2016.

Mount Vernon Towers residents fight plan for roundabout that takes their front yard

The city unveiled plans in the spring to replace the X-shaped intersection of Mount Vernon Highway and Johnson Ferry Road with dual roundabouts. But the plan ran into opposition from the Mount Vernon Towers home for seniors and people with disabilities as design changes appear to show the new roadway eating up most of its front yard. The exact legal and planning reasoning remains unclear, while Chris Peterson, the Towers’ executive director, fears the roundabouts will be a “geriatric demolition derby.”

Brookhaven vs. Sandy Springs on Pill Hill

An illustration of the apartments planned at Johnson Ferry Road and Old Johnson Ferry Road on Pill Hill, on the Brookhaven-Sandy Springs border.

Plans for a mixed-use project with 305 apartments on Johnson Ferry Road in Pill Hill sparked some friction between Brookhaven and Sandy Springs leaders and got some momentum going for better planning in the traffic-snarled medical center area.

The project’s site is on Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital land in Sandy Springs, but close to the Brookhaven border. Brookhaven Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams protested developer North American Properties’ plan at Sandy Springs meetings this summer, complaining of lack of cross-border notice.

Meanwhile, many residents in both cities criticized the project as increasing traffic, though North American Properties says it will be walkable and transit-oriented. The brouhaha led Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul to convene an unusual private meeting with Pill Hill hospital leaders, who committed to more coordinated traffic planning, though the details remain unclear.

Work begins to fix Lake Forrest dam

After years of prodding from the state’s Safe Dams Programs, the cities of Atlanta and Sandy Springs agreed to split the costs of repairing the “high-hazard” dam running beneath Lake Forrest Drive on the cities’ border. Sandy Springs took the lead on long-overdue maintenance of the dam and partly drained the lake—including capturing and relocating its fish—to begin a close review of the dam’s condition. The review will wrap up in 2016. The state rates the dam as “high hazard,” meaning that if it fails, the flood likely would kill people. It’s one of 11 high-hazard dams in Reporter Newspapers communities.

John Ruch

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