The Sandy Springs City Council approved reversing a property’s change to a residential designation, an agreement reached with the property owner as 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 property at 80 Johnson Ferry Road has one house that has been used commercially since the 1980s. The gate to the right leads into the city’s Marsh Creek Rain Garden Park. (Google Maps)

The council Dec. 18 approved changing the property to the “City Springs Character Area,” which allows for commercial uses.

Two nearby property owners complained at the meeting that the zoning change could open the property up to more intrusive commercial uses that could affect their homes.

“We were not a part of this negotiation until it was presented to us, and we want to be included in that,” David Waldman, who lives next to the property, said at the meeting.

Bill Cleveland, the president of Environment Sandy Springs, expressed concerns about the future use since no site plan is part of the agreement. The owner has the ability to redevelop as long as it conforms to zoning standards, Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said.

“If you can do it for one person and make one property privileged, then why not the others?” Cleveland said. “Can you guarantee that this will never happen again?”

Mayor Rusty Paul said that he “shares everybody’s concern about this,” but that the city was unlikely to win the lawsuit and is required to change the zoning. 

“It’s with a certain degree of concern that we are taking the required steps,” Paul said. 

Councilmember Chris Burnett added, “I think we are all sort of holding our nose with this one.”