After celebrating its 10th birthday in 2015, Sandy Springs spent 2016 planning for the next decade and its evolution into a more urban area. A new land-use plan to shape development and new tactics for reining in traffic were among the year’s top stories.
Tackling traffic ‘nightmares’
Ever-worsening traffic remained a top challenge, with the city trying several tactics to rein it in.
When Cobb County announced that its traffic plan for the new Braves stadium, opening next spring, consisted of routing cars off I-285 onto local streets, Mayor Rusty Paul blasted it as “our nightmare” in a fiery City Council meeting. That led to better city-county planning, but enough questions remained for 250 residents to attend a September traffic forum.
The city also got Pill Hill’s hospitals to coordinate traffic and parking planning in a model for other employers. And voters approved a TSPLOST to fund not only road projects, but also multi-use paths and possible Perimeter Center alternative transit.
Officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction. Starting next year and opening in 2020, the project is intended to make the highways safer and more efficient, but will produce short-term traffic headaches.
A land-use plan for the next decade is approved
The city’s vision for the next 10 years of its redevelopment wrapped up following an 18-month public process. The new Comprehensive Land Use Plan preserves about 67 percent of the city as “protected neighborhoods” of single-family houses, while targeting certain areas—Roswell Road, Perimeter Center, MARTA stations and Powers Ferry Landing—for higher-density, mixed-use projects.
The Comp Plan also gives details for specific ideas that could change the city’s look and feel, including turning Roswell Road into a tree-lined “boulevard”; creating a new street grid and possible alternative transit lines in Perimeter Center; and capping Ga. 400 with a park in the medical center area.
The Comp Plan is just one part of the city’s “Next Ten” planning process. It will serve as the basis for a new city zoning code that is already in the early writing stages and will kick into high gear with community meetings in 2017.
Political drama leads to new state rep., city councilmember
The drama began when two candidates—Silcox and City Councilmember Graham McDonald—announced campaigns to challenge longtime HD 52 incumbent Joe Wilkinson. Wilkinson said he had been grooming both challengers as potential replacements when he retired, but that McDonald’s candidacy “blindsided” him. A short time later, Wilkinson announced his resignation and endorsed Silcox, while also claiming McDonald’s candidacy was part of a “plot” to replace him hatched by Mayor Rusty Paul and District 51 state Rep. Wendell Willard, which both men denied.
Silcox beat McDonald in the Republican primary. Burnett, a banker, won a special election for McDonald’s open City Council seat.
Gigantic mixed-use projects proposed for Perimeter Center
Mixed-use is the hot real estate trend—white-hot on Perimeter Center’s Peachtree-Dunwoody Road corridor, which saw several mega-projects proposed or start construction that could bring hundreds of new apartments and businesses. One factor: interim land-use guidelines adopted by the city late last year that encourage high-density, mixed-use projects in that area.
Long-planned mixes of apartments, retail and office space began going up at the Palisades office park and a site near the North Springs MARTA Station. The Concourse Center, home to the King and Queen skyscrapers, announced a $90 million mixed-use addition, and the Peachtree-Dunwoody Pavilion office park on Pill Hill has a similar plan. Biggest of all: a $2 billion plan for 1117 Perimeter Center West involving five skyscrapers up to 35 stories tall. It remains to be seen how many will actually be built; Concourse and Pavilion already went back to the drawing board.
With an eye to street-widening, city buys up Hammond Drive houses
The city spent $2.5 million buying up residential properties on Hammond Drive as placeholders for a controversial possible widening of the roadway, a trend of “protective buys” that is likely to continue in 2017. The city also launched an affordable housing program for police officers and firefighters by renting some of those homes at below-market rates pending any widening, which would be at least a decade away.
City gets greener with two new parks
Two new parks joined the city’s inventory: Lost Corner Preserve on Brandon Mill Road and the Marsh Creek Rain Garden on Johnson Ferry Road near City Springs.
The city already owned Lost Corner for years, but its full opening finally came in March to celebrate the renovation of its historic 1920s cottage into a community gathering space.
The Rain Garden is a stormwater pond facility that doubles as a park. A pilot program in filtering stormwater pollutants with aquatic plants, it may become the model for similar pond-parks around town.
Sandy Springs Circle design triggers re-thinking of walkable streets plan
Since 2012, the city has planned a new grid of walkable, tree-lined streets in the downtown area. But an early effort to start building that type of system on Sandy Springs Circle ran into major opposition from hundreds of residents and the Sandy Springs United Methodist Church, ultimately triggering a design change.
The street plan, including converting two travel lanes into on-street parking, was approved by the public in 2012 as a general concept. However, nothing more was heard about the specific, full design for the roadway and streetscape until March, when the city unveiled it in an open house with less context and no formal presentation. The design had some new features that even confused city officials. After a City Hall meeting drew 125 people, the city tweaked the design to restore a travel lane and promised better communication about future streetscape plans.
Performing arts center takes shape
City Springs, the city’s giant downtown development on Roswell Road, is about 18 months away from its opening date. In 2016, the project, anchored by a new City Hall and performing arts center, began rising from the ground. The 1,000-seat theater was the first recognizable building to take shape; meanwhile, the city released some new design concepts for its interior and started the process of hiring a general manager to begin booking shows.
Out with the old city logo, in with a new one
A new city logo of abstract blue-and-green brushstrokes was quietly developed and adopted by the city council. It replaced the 10-year-old city’s first and only other logo, which showed a line of trees and a river. Officials said the new logo, developed at a cost of more than $90,000, will be more modern and more flexible in its uses.
Presidential politics come to town
The U.S. presidential race came to town in February, when Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican candidate, made a campaign stop at City Hall with Mayor Rusty Paul and several city councilmembers in support. Kasich praised Sandy Springs, which has privatized and outsourced most city departments, as a model for “Uber-izing” government.
Late in the race, Donald Trump’s state campaign headquarters moved to the city. After winning the election, Trump nominated local Congressman Tom Price to be secretary of Health and Human Services. That nomination could have a ripple effect of other open legislative seats as officials consider a run to replace Price. State Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), who represents part of the city, already declared his intent to run.