Sandy Springs finished projects meant to transform the city in 2018 — and started some, too. The year saw the opening of City Springs, planning for the future of parks, drafting redevelopment proposals for the north end, and taking Atlanta to court over the water system dispute. Here are some of the major events of the year in Sandy Springs.
City Springs opens
City Springs, the city’s new massive civic and arts center, fully opened in September, completing a years-long effort to open an ambitious $230 million complex that includes a new City Hall. The complex now hosts regular city government and public input meetings, as well as a wide range of music and theater performances.
Some aspects are still being figured out — the Performing Arts Center manager left the operation three months after the grand opening, and some of the development’s restaurants have not yet opened.
A “cultural center” initially envisioned as part of City Springs was spun out by the city into a separate building, proposed to hold local groups such as the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce and Visit Sandy Springs, the city’s tourism arm. An art gallery and Holocaust memorial are also on the table.
Toll lanes bring concern
The Georgia Department of Transportation released little information about its plan to build toll lanes on I-285 and Ga. 400, but the details that were known by the public brought major concerns from city and school leaders. The new lanes could tower 30 feet or higher above neighborhoods, and possibly bring new interchanges to Mount Vernon Highway, Johnson Ferry Road, Northridge Road and others. The Fulton County School District voiced concern that the new lanes, which would come close to or take property from some Sandy Springs schools, would be unsafe for students.
Court battles end as others begin
The year brought the beginning and end to several of the city’s court battles. The security alarm industry sued the city over its new ordinance that creates fines for false alarms that companies must pay themselves; the case was later dismissed but may be appealed. Sandy Springs won a Georgia Supreme Court decision that paved the way for the city to shut down the three local strip clubs. In November, the city took Atlanta to court in a dispute about access to documents Sandy Springs has requested in preparation to challenge the water rates set by Atlanta. The city used eminent domain to take property for projects like the Sandy Springs Circle streetscape and Roswell Road sidewalk project.
Residents lobby for school changes
A group of a few residents were able to leverage support to convince the Fulton school district to build a new North Springs Charter High School instead of a renovation. Some of the same people later called for a separate Sandy Springs school system that they say would save the city money and provide more control over the local schools.
Scandals force out officers, judge
The city experienced two unusual scandals during the year. Municipal court judge Sharon Dickson resigned from the bench after accusations from a Muslim civil rights organization that she made “bigoted” comments to an Iranian-American defendant, whose sentence was later reduced. She remains on the Dunwoody bench. In a separate incident, three Sandy Springs police officers resigned from the department after one was charged in an alleged domestic violence incident. The other two officers resigned after an internal review found they violated policy.
Violent crime comes to town
2018 saw violent crime incidents unusual to Sandy Springs. An elderly woman was murdered in June in a particularly violent crime that remains unsolved. Another woman was killed Memorial Day weekend in a murder-and-arson attack, apparently by a boyfriend who later committed suicide. An alleged gang member was charged with dragging an FBI agent from a truck in a January incident in which he was shot. In May, a juvenile burglary suspect was shot by Sandy Springs Police officers after he allegedly shot at them and engaged in a three-hour standoff in a parking lot.
North end redevelopment proposed
A city-created task force drafted a report calling for a new multiuse trail, community center and mixed-income housing to spur redevelopment in the north end. Additional ideas from three affordable housing advocates who were previously behind a secret mixed-income concept for the area, including creating an anti-displacement policy, were left out of the final report. The recommendations head to the City Council for review.
New parks open as master plan nears completion
The city closed in on creating a new parks master plan that is planned to guide future park creation and inventory the city’s existing facilities. Meanwhile, the city opened a new park on Windsor Parkway and planned new parks at Crooked Creek near the Chattahoochee River and in the River Shore neighborhood.
Mount Vernon/Johnson Ferry concept chosen
The city unveiled its plan to remake the Mount Vernon Highway and Johnson Ferry Roads intersection, calling for a major realignment of the strange intersection, eventually opting to build the smaller of the grid concepts. A proposed cut-through road has remained a major sticking point among residents. It was first controversially proposed to cut through a Sandy Springs Branch Library park and then later through the house of a longtime resident. The city now says it will wait until the house “becomes available.”
Election ousts some longtime Republicans
The November elections brought major shake ups to local offices with some longtime Republican state officials replaced by Democrats. Democrat Josh McLaurin won the District 51 seat after a bitter race, replacing longtime Republican Rep. Wendell Willard. U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, a Republican who won her seat in 2017, lost to Democratic challenger Lucy McBath. Fran Millar, a longtime Republican state senator who represented Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, was defeated by Sally Harrell. Republican Rep. Meagan Hanson lost her Brookhaven and Sandy Springs seat to Democrat Matthew Wilson. Republican Rep. Deborah Silcox and Sen. John Albers held onto their seats.