A billboard-swapping deal that would have allowed new LED signs in Sandy Springs was officially killed by the City Council Nov. 21, six weeks after it was tabled amid controversy.

Councilmember Andy Bauman, who wanted to vote down the proposed ordinance from the start, said at the Nov. 21 council meeting that keeping the proposal on the table did not serve citizens well. He called for a vote to withdraw it, which was unanimously approved. That means it can only return by refiling it as a new agenda item and starting the hearing process all over again.

The billboard on the Johnson Ferry Road/Mount Vernon Highway triangle on Aug. 25, the day the city began demolishing buildings around it. (John Ruch)

The city’s immediate billboard problem involves signs on the triangle of land at the intersection of Mount Vernon Highway and Johnson Ferry and Roswell roads. The city recently purchased the land, partly for a park to serve the new City Springs civic center across Roswell, and partly for a redesigned intersection. City Attorney Dan Lee has indicated that taking the billboards by eminent domain could cost as much as $800,000 and that negotiations are foundering.

A state law allows a deal where a billboard can be relocated somewhere within 250 feet in lieu of an eminent domain reimbursement, Lee and staff attorney Joe Leonard said, but that does not apply in a city without an existing billboard relocation ordinance. Sandy Springs is one of those cities, partly because it doesn’t want the giant signs anywhere, officials said.

To resolve the triangle situation, the city attorneys proposed a new ordinance that offers two options when a billboard is targeted by eminent domain or the “threat thereof.” Like state law, it would allow for relocation within 250 feet, or elsewhere in the city at up to three alternative sites reviewed by the city’s Community Development director. It also proposes a trade-off scheme to allow the targeted billboard to be “upgraded” into an LED version in exchange for the owner removing three of its other, existing billboards anywhere in the city. (The ordinance refers to “sign faces,” so a double-sided billboard would count as two.) All such moves are optional and would require the city’s approval.

At the Oct. 3 City Council meeting where the proposal was tabled, some residents said the city should pay any price to buy out the billboards rather than allowing new LED signs anywhere. Several councilmembers expressed hesitancy, too, with Bauman calling it a “Pandora’s box.”