Sandy Springs may approve a change that will allow the city manager to approve zoning variances for the city’s own projects, including tree removal, without public notice or hearings.

City Attorney Dan Lee said the change will make the design process easier. A resolution up for a City Council vote Nov. 5 says city projects often have design changes that can be time-sensitive and public notice requirements can negatively impact construction schedules and possibly cost the city more money.

“Every time the right of way is to be affected, other than the sale, we have to go back to council,” Lee said. “This is an administrative way for [the city manager] to speak as the property owner.”

In its current code, Sandy Springs requires any changes on city projects that would need a zoning variance to be approved or denied by the City Council in a public hearing. A zoning variance is a request to deviate from current requirements.

The amendment would instead allow the city manager to act as the owner of property involved in city projects. By acting as the property owner, the city manager could approve variances from the city’s Development Code without council approval. The resolution says such variances may be needed to mitigate the impact on such things as trees, infrastructure and private property.

The proposal comes while the city manager position is in a transitional phase. John McDonough, who held the job from the city’s inception, left earlier this year. Peggy Merris is serving as an interim city manager while a search for a long-term replacement is underway and expected to finish by early next year.

The council will vote on the amendment at its Nov. 5 meeting. If approved, the amendment would go into effect immediately.

Melanie Couchman, a founder of Sandy Springs Together, an affordable housing advocacy group, expressed concern about the potential amendment in an email and encouraged people to attend the City Council meeting to voice their thoughts.

Lee said one project that inspired the proposed change was the state-ordered repairs for the Lake Forrest Dam.

The dam has trees growing on top of it, which is not allowed by the Environmental Provisions Department. The repairs will require the trees to be cut down. The city’s tree ordinance will require the trees to be replaced at another site by the property owner, which in this case is the city.

“We will be cutting back a bunch of trees and somebody has to sign for the tree exchange,” Lee said.

The council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at City Hall, 1 Galambos Way.

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.