A resident’s lawsuit against Sandy Springs over his commercial property’s change to a residential designation in the new zoning code has come to an end as the city prepares to reverse the move. The change is part of a court-ordered mediation agreement.
The property at 80 Johnson Ferry Road was initially placed in a “City Springs” zoning category, which allows for a high-density mixed use, during the implementation of the city’s new Development Code in 2017. But it was later changed by city staff to an exclusively residential category intended for townhouses.
The owner, Stephen F. Johnston, claimed in the lawsuit that the city rezoned his property as “revenge” for an earlier eminent domain dispute.
“The zoning is going back to what it should be, so I am fine,” Johnston said. “I think everybody will be happy when it is done.”
City spokesperson Sharon Kraun did not respond to a request for comment.
Other documents filed along with the rezoning call for variances that would allow for a new building or structure and a parking lot.
Johnston said the variances are not intended to prepare for a specific new building, but rather in anticipation of what a future owner may want to do on the property.
“We’re trying to get out ahead of it,” he said.
The 80 Johnson Ferry property is a 1950s house that, Johnston says, has been used as commercial or office space since 1986 and was zoned as such.
Johnston, who chairs the board of the prominent local videogame-oriented company Launch Media Network, bought the property in 2010 as home for another business.
In 2014, the city attempted to take part of the property by eminent domain for its neighboring Marsh Creek water detention and park project. Johnston successfully fought the land-taking. In 2016, he moved his business out and has been attempting to sell the property ever since.
Johnston said city staff never asked him about the zoning change — though it did ask two of his neighbors — and that he found out about it by accident while attending a Planning Commission meeting. Residents and neighborhood associations complained of other unpublicized changes to land-use and zoning designations during the rewriting of the codes, but Johnston’s appears to be the only one to go to court.
Johnston filed the suit in September 2017. A federal court-ordered mediation, which resulted in Johnston and the city agreeing to change the zoning back to allowing a commercial use.
The two required preliminary community meetings have been held and the case is set to go before the city’s Board of Appeals Dec. 11. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 1 Galambos Way.