Improving traffic congestion dominated the conversation at a town hall held the evening of July 11 with Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, state Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Roswell), Tom Mahaffey, the president and CEO of the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber, and Kirk Shrum, the Fulton County Schools area executive director for the Central Learning Community, which includes Sandy Springs schools.
The town hall was held by Atlanta Realtors Association at its headquarters in Sandy Springs on Lake Forrest Drive and was open to the public. The over 100 attendees submitted questions during their online registrations which were read by a moderator during the town hall.
Questions over how to ease traffic congestion in the Sandy Springs area were the most asked, organizers said, and much of the conversation was spent lamenting the lack of progress in public transit options and transportation infrastructure.
“We have great roads for one to two million people,” Beach said, “but we have six million, and more are coming.”
Mahaffey noted that businesses including State Farm in Dunwoody and Mercedes-Benz were motivated to move to the area to be near MARTA stations.
Over the past 10 years, Beach has seen a shift from businesses wanting to be based where they want to live to now wanting to be based where their target workforce is. “The talent”, Beach said, has different priorities than they did 10 or 15 years ago.
“They want transit options, they want Uber options, they want bike lanes, they want walkability and the BeltLine,” Beach said.
To further drive businesses relocating to Atlanta or the Perimeter Center area, Beach said the surrounding counties will have to work together to make meaningful improvements in transit options, and move away from the disjointed system currently in place. Each county has a different system that doesn’t communicate, Beach said.
“We will never be a world class economic region with a transit system that is so disjointed,” he said.
Beach also said he has recommended the state have input and for MARTA to be renamed and rebranded to “Atlanta Transit Line”.
On Sandy Springs specific development, Mayor Paul said the city has finished the final draft of the new zoning code and land use map, which he hopes will address development issues that were “tearing the community apart” by limiting redevelopment in traditional residential areas zoned for single family homes.
“We’re hoping for a little peace between our two warring factions,” Paul said of the residents and developers.
He also discussed a forthcoming task force that will look at the land use plan and affordable housing options, especially as many public safety officers can’t afford to live in Sandy Springs. He referenced a line he said during his 2013 inauguration as mayor, saying “it is immoral to have police and firefighters putting their lives on the line for a community they can’t afford to live in.”
On water issues, Paul said that he “fully expects” Sandy Springs will sue the city of Atlanta in the next few years to gain control of Sandy Springs’ water, citing the finding that over 100 fire hydrants do not work.
After the town hall, he walked the statement back in response to a Reporter Newspapers’ question and said the statement was somewhat “tongue in cheek”. He said he hopes the city will be able to sit down with the next Atlanta mayor and come to a solution without suing Atlanta.