Plans for a riverfront event facility in Sandy Springs at the Roswell bridge drew a stream of criticism from residents at an Aug. 29 community meeting. Traffic and a possible conversion to a restaurant were main concerns with the four-story, 30,000-square-foot facility plan at the corner of Roswell Road and Roberts Drive.
“It’s a disaster for the residents or anyone who drives an automobile on Roberts Drive,” said one man in the crowd of 45 attendees gathered at the Stars & Strikes bowling lane for an early meeting held before a plan is officially filed with the city.
Some residents also recalled a previous development controversy several years ago with property owner William Odrey II, who lives in the house currently on the site and runs the Shoot the Hooch boating company in Roswell. Odrey insisted throughout the meeting that his plan was triggered by a planned bicycle and pedestrian bridge that, he said, will ruin the residential use of his property. But afterward, he acknowledged he proposed the “same thing” years ago, though residents variously remembered it as a “school,” “handicapped” facility or “research center.”
“They’re going to take my trees down on my river,” Odrey said of the bike/pedestrian bridge plan, calling it “very upsetting.” His goal with the event facility, he told the crowd, is to “have an event facility where you can enjoy the river.”
Odrey’s plan involves replacing his own ranch house with the event facility, designed by Sandy Springs-based Restaurant Consulting Group in what he called a “Frank Lloyd Wright-ish” style with staggered stories and stone exterior. It includes a 5,000-square-foot observation deck overlooking the Chattahoochee River and a kitchen for use by caterers, but no restaurant. The facility could hold events hosting around 400 people, Odrey said.
The plan includes 40 parking spaces that Pete Hendricks, Odrey’s attorney, said would be used only for caterers and guests with disabilities. The main way guests would access the site, Hendricks and Odrey said, is via motorized trolleys picking them from their homes and businesses or possible off-site parking at nearby office parks. Odrey said he owns a trolley business called Premier Trolleys.
“Because of the trolley service, the traffic effect…will be greatly reduced and will be very, very light,” Hendricks said.
Odrey’s many business interests also includes the “Spirit of Roswell” riverboat that once ran on the river. He said that vessel is currently undergoing prolonged rehab work and could be another mode of transportation for guests. He said he has several other business activities in Florida, including in a manatee park.
Residents said area traffic is already bad and predicted that many facility guests would drive and park on nearby public streets. Some said that 40 parking spaces sounds like more than needed just for caterers and handicapped spaces, with one resident calling it a “little misrepresentation.”
“They’re going to be parking in front of my house, and what time are they going to be stumbling back to their car drunk?” one woman said of possible self-driving guests.
The plan requires rezoning from residential to commercial use, and that precedent concerned residents. Craig Gilchrist of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods questioned the viability of such a large, custom-built event facility and suggested it could end up turning into a restaurant by design or economic pressure.
“That looks, frankly, like Ray’s on the River or Canoe,” he said, referring to riverfront restaurants in Sandy Springs and Cobb County.
“Bill has no intention or desire…to run a restaurant,” Hendricks said, while Odrey said there are enough “high-end companies” in the area to make meeting-hosting a viable business.
The riverfront location drew some environmental and recreation concerns. Hendricks and Odrey said the riverfront effects are being reviewed by an Atlanta Regional Commission planner, and said that the event facility would not be tied to Odrey’s Shoot the Hooch recreational boating outfit.
The reason for and timing of the plan were other friction points. Hendricks at first said both are tied to the bike and pedestrian bridge, a joint Sandy Springs-Roswell effort that will be built parallel to the existing motor vehicle bridge. Roswell City Administrator Kay Love recently said that bridge is in the state permitting and final design phase and is about two to three years from construction.
Odrey at first said the “traffic noise” and construction to come with the new bridge inspired him to seek a commercial use. To make his point, he repeatedly asked a few attendees, including Council of Neighborhoods president Trisha Thompson, “Do you want a bridge on your property?…Yes or no?” One attendee asked in response, “Why are you so rude?”
But several residents said they had fought a previous commercial plan Odrey had for the property some years ago. After the meeting, Odrey acknowledged that earlier plan, which he said was never formally filed. “I was working with Homeland Security” on some type of project at the time, he said, describing the plan as another event facility.
“We were trying to do the same thing,” but a “smaller one,” he said, adding that “now’s the time” to revive the idea and combine it with the bridge situation.
Hendricks initially said the event facility, if approved, would only be built after the new bridge. But Odrey said, “As soon as I can get started, I’ll get started,” and Hendricks said that could be as soon as next summer.
Hendricks said the plans may be filed with the city by Sept. 6. More meetings would follow, including votes by the Sandy Springs Planning Commission and City Council.