Sandy Springs United Methodist Church has launched two petitions against the city’s controversial Sandy Springs Circle street redesign. And the church revealed a new reason for its opposition: the effect on a potential private redevelopment project on its property.

“Since I arrived here a year ago, the church has been approached by multiple developers with an interest in developing a portion of the SSUMC’s Activities Center property,” said Rev. Thomas Martin, the church’s senior pastor. He declined to describe the type of redevelopment under consideration beyond saying it would not change the Activities Center.

The driveway area of the Sandy Springs United Methodist Church that would be affected by the Sandy Springs Circle redesign project. (Photo John Ruch)

“At this time, we are not at liberty to share any potential development plans with you due to the fact that our congregation has not made a formal determination regarding the future use of the property,” Martin said in the email. “However, I am able to say that the City’s plans for Sandy Springs Circle will have a dramatic impact upon the church’s ability to utilize its property in the future, development or no development.”

The city’s redesign plan focuses on the section of Sandy Springs Circle between Mount Vernon Highway and Hammond Drive. On the street, the plan turns two travel lanes into on-street, parallel parking. On the curbsides, the plan adds sidewalks where there are none, as well as a multiuse path.

The plan dates back to a concept in the 2012 City Center Master Plan. But, since it was unveiled in March, the plan has drawn controversy and surprise, especially for the lanes-to-parking change and the multiuse path. The public process has been controversial as well, since it originally consisted of that single March meeting, which lacked a formal presentation and some later design details.

A large group of church members attended an Aug. 17 City Hall meeting about the plan held in response to public concerns. They voiced concerns about the multiuse path and retaining walls eating more than 40 feet into their property, and the plan relocating a church driveway to a spot they fear will cause accidents and attract cut-through traffic.

The original March meeting was held at the church, but the right-of-way details were not nailed down at the time. Martin said the church only saw those full details in May and said the city has been unwilling to change them.

At the Aug. 17 meeting, church members did not mention possible redevelopment on their property, remaining silent when Mayor Rusty Paul asked if there was such a plan.

“We thought we had plenty of time to prayerfully consider all options, until the city gave us the specific design plans for CC-10 [the city’s formal name for the Sandy Springs Circle project] in May,” Martin said.

City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the city’s discussions with the church about the street redesign were “related to re-development plans the church has for the site.” She declined to comment on the process, citing the city’s policy of maintaining the “privacy of developers” prior to official plan submissions.

Now the church is circulating two petitions—one for church members and one for the general public—opposing the Sandy Springs Circle plan. The petitions, circulating in both paper form and on the site, are addressed to the City Council. They generally ask to delay the project for further public input and design changes. Specifically, they call for eliminating the on-street parking; creating a single wide sidewalk instead of doubling it with the multiuse path; and delaying any lane changes until other nearby streets are built out.

By the afternoon of Aug. 24, the online version of the church’s in-house petition had 27 signers and the online general public petition had 58 signers.

“No one disagrees with the sidewalks,” Martin said, explaining the church only objects to essentially making double sidewalks that take a large amount of right of way. “As a concept, we’re not opposed to it. It’s just the details we’re concerned about.”

“The next step is, we’re going to try to see if can modify [the plan] one more time with the city and see if we can get to an agreeable place,” he said of the petition effort.

John Ruch

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

17 replies on “Church petitions against Sandy Springs Circle plan, reveals development idea”

  1. “At the Aug. 17 meeting, church members did not mention possible redevelopment on their property, remaining silent when Mayor Rusty Paul asked if there was such a plan.”

    Church’s refusal to honorably reply to Mayor Paul’s inquiry disqualifies it, and its petitions, from decent regard.

    Case closed?

    1. Why would it make a difference if the City were told of redevelopment plans? If land is taken by the City and the church loses any potential improvement, the ROW becomes more expensive. Loss of opportunity for the property owner for the benefit of a few. BTW when was the last time you parallel parked? It’s been at least 30 years for me!

  2. They are not disqualified from anything-such simplemindeness to voice this. They own property and are entitled to make changes subject to city approval. At same time the city has no right to make them move a driveway.

  3. The city wants to condemn the land and pay whatever price a parking lot might command instead of the future development value so that we can have parallel parking on SSpgs Circle. Can u imagine the scene during an event at Heritage Lawn?

    The church just wants to maintain their options. What is wrong with that?

    1. David,
      You are absolutely correct. The potential to develop your property to the ” highest and best use” is lost once the City goes through the eminent domain process. That is the value SS should pay. Sorry, taxpayers. You can always say “No”.
      Sue Gilchrist

  4. Sue:
    “Highest and Best Use” is defined as the use for a parcel of property that produces the highest value for that property in the marketplace.

    Because Martin played coy and coquettish when Mayor Paul asked him about this, the Sandy Springs Government has no choice but to assess its value without regard for Church’s “maintain its options” smokescreen.

    Here’s an idea!
    Know your place!

    1. Hey Derrick. This is Rev. Martin. Please call or email me if you would like to engage me personally. We talked with the mayor on August 4 and showed him potential plans and let him know we were considering all options and this was one of them. We told him that we were far and away from developing or even deciding. So for him to direct questions to our members when we shared openly everything with him and the city staff seems more suspicious to me. But please contact me if you have any questions or additional comments instead of calling me out by name in a public forum. Or 404 255 1181 extension 222

      1. “At the Aug. 17 meeting, church members did not mention possible redevelopment on their property, remaining silent when Mayor Rusty Paul asked if there was such a plan.

        My apologies, Rev.Martin.
        I should have cited “church members” rather than you, specifically, as “coy and coquettish”.

        This point aside, my point still applies.

    2. PS, Derrick: You’re welcome to join us any time on Sunday’s for worship or at 1 ok Sunday’s after church when we offer a free meal to the community or on Wednesday nights when we pack backpacks for 200 kids who are food poor in Sandy Springs elemantaty schools or this winter when we partner with family promise, an organization that works to keep families who are in housing transitions off the streets and out of shelters where kids have to sleep in large rooms with strangers.

      Or when don’t charge Leadership Sandy Springs or the community anything to host Movies by Moonlight on our campus.

    3. “Coy and Coquetish?” Not sure you’re using in the right context. Anyone who approaches a sensitive issue like this without being accusatory or abrasive should be thanked rather than condemned.

  5. I am suggesting the city is not entitled to every piece of land it would like, especially for never-ending tax payer black holes like the city hall fiasco. The city should be concentrating on quality of life issues, not becoming the largest slum lord.

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