Present and future construction were major themes in Sandy Springs in 2019. Enormous controversy erupted over the state’s plans for highway toll lanes. The city celebrated the first anniversary of City Springs, while looking ahead to North End redevelopment and a new trail system. And city government changed significantly, with a move away from the outsourcing of City Hall departments.
Toll lanes to take houses
Residents were shocked by the revelation that the state’s plans for toll lanes on Ga. 400 could involve demolishing more than 40 houses and other buildings, and property acquisition was already underway for similar lanes on I-285. Impacts to schools and other properties were a concern, too.
The city pressed for changes. In one case, GDOT changed its plans for the toll lanes project on Northridge Road and Pitts Road after the city sent a letter expressing concerns. The city also floated, then dropped, the idea of paying an additional $30 million for GDOT to move a proposed toll lane interchange to Crestline Parkway and has opted to endorse GDOT’s plan to build it on Mount Vernon Highway. The toll lane projects are now delayed by years, but property acquisitions continue and a new round of open-house meetings on the I-285 portion is planned for January.
City wins billboard lawsuit
A judge ruled in favor of the city in a year-long lawsuit to order the billboards across from City Springs to come down. Although the lawsuit was carried out over a year, the issue with the property dates back years. The property is a triangle of concrete and gravel that has remained untouched since commercial buildings were torn down by the city in August 2018. The city has long aimed to spruce up the area with a park and paths, but projects have been stalled due to the lawsuit. Now, the city must wait even longer to bring the billboards down because the company that owns the billboards has filed an appeal against the order.
City Springs celebrates one year
The City Springs civic center and its Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center celebrated their first birthday, after a year that included adding new public art, buying an outdoor stage to host concerts and welcoming new restaurants and businesses. But operating the building has proven to not be an easy feat for the city. The Performing Arts Center still relies on a city subsidy to keep it in the black, and the organization formed to help with funding programs has had issues with leadership and has taken a ‘reset’ on its fundraising goals. The city has also sued the contractor for the civic center and was buying water from the city of Atlanta for the fountains that face Roswell Road.
The Sandy Springs City Council balked on some settlements for right of way acquisitions for city road projects, claiming the costs are too high and calling for explanation. The city is mainly acquiring strips of land for various streetscape projects, but some settlements have involved entire properties for land-banking purposes.
Lake Forrest Dam repairs and lawsuits
After nearly a decade of repairs being ordered by the state for the Lake Forrest Dam, the City Council has approved a contract for the repair design. The design could restore the lake, but the process could take as long as two-and-a-half years and involve a 12-month closure of Lake Forrest Drive. Because of the current condition of the now-drained private lake, two Lake Forrest Drive homeowners are suing the city of Sandy Springs, among other dam owners, for negligence in dealing with the lake and the dam.
North End redevelopment pursued
For years, the city has planned to redevelop the North End area, with recommendations forming from a Task Force. The findings from the task were presented in December 2018 and in December 2019, the city took a big step in its plans by hiring an architect firm to create designs for four shopping centers in the area. But a lot of questions still remain about the North End, including what role the city will play in the redevelopment, and an advocacy group is continuing its push for affordable housing in the area.
City government changes
The city shifted away from its “public-private partnership” system of outsourced, privatized government services this year. The move was done in a low-key fashion and presented as a mathematical cost-savings decision. The city had privatized its services since its 2005 founding and drew international attention for being a pioneer in the government model. Oliver Porter, a Sandy Springs engineer and artist who founded the privatization idea, believes the city has already deviated too much from that model and that the current shift is risky. In another big change, the city’s first full-time city manager, John McDonough, left for another job. Andrea Surratt takes over in the new year.
Incorrect sales taxes
Major retailers, including Home Depot and Pottery Barn, were found incorrectly charging Atlanta’s higher sales tax rate within the city. The problem is rooted in ZIP codes, such as Sandy Springs’ 30328, that the United States Postal Service generically labels as “Atlanta” even though they are entirely outside that city. The problems have compounded in the era of online sales, which are taxed based on the customer’s delivery address, resulting in a complicated sales tax system whose flaws raise the ire of local governments and retailers alike.
Storage facility controversy
City officials and residents took very different stances on proposals for two self-storage facilities. The City Council approved one on Northwood Drive for hitting “high points,” but denied another on Roswell Road for doing quite the opposite. The Council approved the proposal for a three-story self-storage facility at 120 Northwood Drive, whose development would involve demolishing the current building and displacing several businesses, a church and three nonprofits. But the site also would provide a new city park and bring back the current nonprofit organizations.
Master trail plan
Designs for the city’s master trail plan were approved by the City Council, beginning a system that will eventually allow bicyclists and pedestrians to travel on 31 miles of paths. The master plan recommends a $33 million implementation plan to span 10 years. The implementation plan would complete some segments of three of the six major projects, which include trails along Roswell Road, a bridge over the Chattahoochee River at Morgan Falls and other connections.