The Sandy Springs City Council decided to hold off on approving an ordinance that would allow developers to pay a fee instead of bury utilities outside their projects.
The council tabled the proposal at its April 2 meeting following opposition from the developer behind a new shopping center on Roswell Road and the president of a developers advocacy organization. The idea would allow developers to pay a fee to the city of $2,000 per foot of utility line instead of bury utilities themselves, which is already required. The city would then place the money in a fund to be used to pay for utility burial in target areas.
The city rules require all new subdivisions and developments over 20,000 square feet that touch utility lines to relocate the lines underground. The requirement applies only to utilities that directly service a building, not to massive transmission lines like those running on tall metal poles along Roswell Road.
“You’re not requiring any developer to do it. It’s alternative to them doing it themselves and you’ve already got that on the books,” said Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert.
The cost is more than what was paid for utility burial already done at City Springs, but is about an average, he said. Sandy Springs paid AT&T and Georgia Power Co. $950,000 to bury the lines around City Springs.
The funds would be used to bury utilities in target areas, the first ones being in the city center, north end or Perimeter Center areas before moving to other parts of the community. The proposal also said the city could pay for half the cost, with developers paying the other half, of the burial to encourage redevelopment in the north end, which has been the subject of a special “revitalization” task force.
The idea was created and vetted by a council put together by the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, the city said. That group said burying utilities in development project is difficult not only because of price, but also because of the uncertain timelines it creates, according to the proposal.
The developer that built The Plaza at City Springs development on Roswell Road that holds a Starbucks and Zoe’s Kitchen said during public comment the project would not have happened if he had to pay or bury utilities.
“As a developer, I can tell you you’re asking us to choose between two impossible options,” said Steven Cadranel, the president of Arris Realty Partners. “I understand the aspiration of burying utilities, but unfortunately right now I don’t think we have a sustainable solution.”
He estimated that having to pay into the fee or bury utilities would have increased the cost of the project by 15 percent, making it infeasible.
“In the best interest of continued redevelopment in Sandy Springs, I think this ordinance deserves additional study,” Cadranel said.
Michael Paris, the president and CEO of the Sandy Springs-based developer advocacy organization Council for Quality Growth, also spoke against approving the ordinance now and asked for it to be tabled.
“We’re concerned about the implementation in this case,” he said. There are concerns about where the money ultimately will be spent and how the price was decided, Paris said.
Mayor Rusty Paul defended the proposal, saying it doesn’t require developers do anything new.
“That’s only one option, if they don’t like that price they can do it themselves,” Paul said. “We’re giving them the choice.”
Councilmember Chris Burnett moved to table the ordinance for further study. The council unanimously agreed. Councilmember John Paulson was absent.