A property owner’s plan to revive a proposal for a riverfront event space has been thwarted by the Sandy Springs City Council voting to deny a change in the Development Code. Residents and a councilmember said the change would go against the city’s comprehensive plan and not protect neighborhoods as promised in the code.
The proposal would have allowed commercial uses on two riverfront properties that are in the Residential Estate character area map, a zoning district that currently prohibits them. The owners would need to seek a conditional use permit, which is a request to change or expand the existing use allowed in the Development Code.
The proposal involved two properties both adjacent to the Chattahoochee River which the city identifies as “gateways,” with one near the Roswell Road bridge in the north and the other at the Johnson Ferry Road bridge in the west.
William Odrey, the owner of one of the properties, 9755 Roswell Road, spoke in favor of the change at a Jan. 11 Planning Commission meeting and spoke about a plan to build a riverfront event space.
This is not the first time Odrey expressed his interest in building an event space along the Chattahoochee. In 2016, he had a proposal to build a four-story riverfront event facility served by motorized trolleys.
A brief description filed with the city from 2016 included a 30,000-square-foot facility with a 5,000-square-foot observation deck on the Chattahoochee River at the corner of Roswell Road and Roberts Drive. Customers and guests would access the facility via a trolley service operated by Odrey, according to the statement.
The plan required rezoning from residential to commercial use, and that, along with increases in traffic, concerned residents.
Odrey’s plan involved replacing his own ranch house with the event facility, designed by Sandy Springs-based Restaurant Consulting Group in what he called a “Frank Lloyd Wright-ish” style with staggered stories and stone exterior. It included a 5,000-square-foot observation deck overlooking the Chattahoochee River.
It is unclear whether Odrey wanted to implement the same plan from 2016 or if he had a new one. Odrey and Pete Hendricks, the attorney representing the property owner in 2016, did not respond to requests for comment.
City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said city officials had not been in talks with Odrey because he did not file with the city an official plan for the project.
Increasing access to the Chattahoochee River and activating the city’s gateways was a priority of The Next Ten plan, a 10-year vision for the city that informed a new Comprehensive Plan and zoning code, as well as part of the plan for the city’s North End redevelopment. But protecting neighborhoods was another priority of the Next Ten, some residents argued.
Ronda Smith, the president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, spoke in opposition to the change.
“River activation, as desired in the [Comprehensive Plan] and within the revitalization plan, will not be an easy undertaking and must be achieved with sensitivity to both community and environment,” Smith said. “The allure as a recreational amenity is powerful, but the engagement of the river cannot come at the imposition of or the impact to protected neighborhood quality of life.”
Resident Tochie Blad also spoke in opposition to the change.
“This is going to open up that barn door and allow encroachment into the neighborhoods with commercial,” Blad said. “If your intent is to activate the river and increase North End redevelopment, there are other ways to go about this without adopting this text amendment that goes against one of the principles Next Ten plan.”
City Councilmember John Paulson, whose district represents the Roswell Road property, recommended denial.
“This is actually kind of a difficult decision because on one hand, when the Comprehensive Plan was passed there was verbiage in there [that] addressed this for residential properties right on the river,” Paulson said.
But, Paulson said, he chose to move against the change because in the Development Code, it says if a parcel is going to be rezoned, it must go through a process of the character area map being amended and approved.
“That was done for a reason so that we had diligence and time that goes into making decisions about changing character of different properties,” Paulson said. “One of the ironies of this text amendment is it bypasses that and that concerns me.”
“Any other property in Sandy Springs would have to go through if they wanted to change their zoning,” Paulson added.
The council unanimously denied the text amendment change.
Smith referenced the Planning Commission meeting where Odrey spoke in favor and talked about his plan to create a riverfront event space.
“While one would like to imagine a public-serving facility, the support at the Planning Commission for this amendment on private property rings a for-profit business approach,” Smith said.
The Commission voted to recommend denial of the change because of the “encroachment on a protected neighborhood” and that commercial-type usage should not be allowed.
The Commission felt the change would benefit one property owner which conflicts with one of the review criteria in the Development Code.
The Commission also said it could set up precedence for future issues regarding one property and special legislation to change one property in the Development Code.
The city has long wanted Chattahoochee River Access and it has been deemed as one of the priorities of the forthcoming North End redevelopment.
In September 2019, the city awarded a contract to Heath and Lineback Engineers to conduct a feasibility study for trails and access along the Chattahoochee River, including the identification of possible locations and methods to create access. The study will also look at how to connect to the city’s Master Trail Plan, which is underway.
Public meetings are expected in mid-June and fall 2020 and the study is expected to be complete by the end of 2020, according to the city.
According to the city, the staff was tasked with looking into a proposal that would increase the recreational activity potential of property in these prescribed areas.