Sandy Springs is a city racing to keep up with its own spectacular growth. In 2017, the city moved forward on two major accomplishments that will shape its future for decades: the City Springs civic center and the new Development Code. From traffic to affordable housing to politics, the city saw it has a lot more changes in store.

City Springs rises, as does its budget

The main public structure of City Springs as seen from the apartments include the new City Hall on the upper floors and ground-floor retail spaces. (John Ruch)

The city’s new civic center will be the story of 2018, with an August grand opening of its arts facilities preceded by the new housing, park, retail space and City Hall. The past year saw major progress, with the buildings nearing completion, a $2.5 million donation establishing a new theater company and the hiring of a general manager for the arts facilities. But it’s also costing the city more, with the budget rising to over $229 million in a year-end announcement.

Tackling traffic problems—and some non-problems

Consultant Randall Strunk of Columbia Engineering listens to residents’ feedback at an October City Hall meeting about a project to rework the intersection of Grogans Ferry and Roswell roads, just one of many projects being funded by the new TSPLOST. (John Ruch)

With a new transportation sales tax kicking in last spring, the city jump-started a wide array of projects, from a PATH400 multiuse trail extension to rebuilt intersections around town. It was a fast but sometimes bumpy start, as tax revenues are mysteriously lower than projected, and confused communication about one plan – adding multi-modal lanes on Mount Vernon Highway – triggered neighborhood outrage about property impacts.

But the biggest traffic stories were non-stories, as the new Braves stadium in Cobb County and the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction project failed to produce highly feared congestion.

Namesake spring gets a new design

A concept sketch of the new spring, showing the canopy, the glass-enclosed spring and the seating area. (Photo John Ruch)

The spring that gave the city its name currently lies beneath a metal grate in Heritage Green park. A new design, commissioned by Heritage Sandy Springs, was unveiled and would expose the water, making it flow over stone, under a modern canopy. However, permitting issues delayed construction until late 2018 at the earliest.

A new zoning code and affordable housing focus

After more than two years of work, the city adopted a new zoning code meant to last at least a decade. The new Development Code’s main goals: simplifying the code, protecting most single-family house neighborhoods from large infill redevelopment, and targeting certain “small areas” with more detailed and refined plans. Affordable housing in the increasingly expensive city was an emerging theme in the public discussions, and various drafts of the code contained widely different affordability programs. For now, the code contains limited middle-income affordability incentives, while Mayor Rusty Paul says he will launch an affordable housing task force this year to develop a full policy.

Changing times for churches

The congregation of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church gathers for Sunday services March 19. (Phil Mosier)

Dwindling attendance and expensive buildings combined for changing and challenging times at local churches. Apostles Church was sold to St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church after a failed senior housing redevelopment plan. Church of the Atonement rebranded as Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as part of an effort to remain open. And Metropolitan Baptist Church announced it will close, with a plan on the table to replace it with two large houses.

The 6th Congressional District battle

Karen Handel is joined onstage by husband Steve after her Election Night victory at the Hyatt Regency at Villa Christina. (Phil Mosier)

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Price’s brief elevation to President Trump’s cabinet triggered an epic Congressional race that drew a national spotlight, burned through enormous out-of-state contributions, and energized local Democrats. Republican Karen Handel finally beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive Congressional race of all time. But Round 2 is coming fast, as the office goes on the ballot again this year; several Democrats have already announced runs, and while Ossoff has not, he recently moved into the district. Meanwhile, Price is already out of D.C., resigning amid scandal over expensive airplane flights.

A city water war brews

Resident Richard Cross discusses the water flowing through his yard and driveway from a broken hydrant on Kayron Drive. (John Ruch)

The Kayron Drive fire hydrant that leaked all summer during a drought, until it was fixed after Reporter questions, was not a big story in itself. But it’s one example of many problems with Sandy Springs’ water infrastructure that is owned and maintained by the city of Atlanta. The Sandy Springs City Council complained about safety and other concerns, and Mayor Rusty Paul said that this year, he will seek a better deal with Atlanta — even if that means suing for control of the system.

The call for a new North Springs High

North Springs Charter High School as pictured in a Citizens for a New North Springs presentation.

A longstanding wish for a new North Springs Charter High School, whose core building dates to 1963, was revived by a group called Citizens for a New North Springs, which quickly drew backing from the city of Sandy Springs. Fulton County Schools says North Springs will instead get a previously planned renovation and addition, but advocates hope to leverage the process for a new building. And CFANNS co-founder Jody Reichel won election to the City Council.

Property tax surprises

Former Fulton County Chairman John Eaves listens as Chief Appraiser Dwight Robinson answers a question from a homeowner at a June 14 town hall on property tax assessments at the Buckhead Library. (Evelyn Andrews)

A sudden increase in assessed property value in Fulton County sparked outrage and concern over the higher-than-expected taxes homeowners were faced with paying. The Fulton County Board of Assessors, later reversed the increases and used the lower 2016 values instead. But that temporarily affected cash flow at local school districts. New Fulton Chairman Robb Pitts said he’ll modernize the appraisal system, while some state legislators are proposing a tax-increase cap.

MBUSA HQ rises, triggers naming debate

The rear entrance to the Mercedes-Benz USA headquarters, facing the Abernathy and Barfield roads corner, opens onto a veranda. (Kate Awtrey)

Mercedes-Benz USA’s headquarters, set to open this year, neared completion glittering like a corporate jewel the city is glad to add to its collection. But MBUSA’s desire to rename part of Barfield Road for itself — which also would put its name on the letterhead of a neighboring Mormon temple — triggered a debate over corporate branding of public property. MBUSA agreed to a renaming of its small section of the street.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.