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.
“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 Change.org 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.