City Council’s approval of a City Center master plan is as historic as when Sandy Springs became a city on Dec. 1, 2005, according to Councilman Chip Collins.
“It’s a gigantic step for this city,” Collins said, during the Tuesday City Council meeting. “Let’s not get too bogged down about the details of the plan.”
Since last spring, Goody Clancy has worked - with community input - to develop a downtown plan that creates the Canton Street feel that Sandy Springs residents long for. Consultant Ben Carlson said a developed downtown would have a sense of place, walkable streets, green space, a civic cultural center, and a livable market center built through public private investment. The plan was praised by Nick Telesca of Branch Properties, which acquired City Walk shopping center in November. Plans are to connect the shopping center to a walkable Bluestone Road.
Some folks have a watchful eye on the details of the master plan and how it is to be developed.
“The final details of this plan are not perfect, nor will they be accurately depicted in reality,” said Pat Chesser, who supports the plan.
Chesser serves on the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee and is a senior vice president at Ackerman & Co. commercial real estate firm. “Most of the details of this plan is drawn on other people’s land,” said Chesser, during the public comment portion of the meeting. “The Market will ultimately dictate what gets built and will do so within the city’s guidelines. You have to start small and ultimate let it organically build outward.”
The master plan includes properties that are intended for green space, including the triangle at Mount Vernon Highway, Johnson Ferry Road and Roswell Road, where longtime businesses stand.
See: Plans for New Downtown Would Uproot 40-Year Business.
The Hitson Memorial Activities Center at Sandy Springs United Methodist Church, on the other side of Mount Vernon is included in the master plan, and that concerned Erik Olson, who serves on the church board of trustees.
“Our property is on this plan. We really do not understand why, and the reason is the property is not for sale,” Olson said. He asked if the city intends to exercise its right to eminent domain now or in the future. “If not, then we respectfully request that the Council state that on the record,” he said.
The church was built in 1848. The Hitson Center was built 30 years ago, said Olson, worried that future Council members might use the master plan to take the property.
“The inclusion of the property on the master plan does not mean the city intends to take it away from the church,” said Mayor Eva Galambos. “None of us have even thought that we are trying to force anything on the church. Don’t feel threatened,” the Mayor said.
A playground in the new downtown area is a priority for the Sandy Springs Conservancy. Chairman Steve Levetan said the Conservancy wants a playground to be included in the first phase of development. “We’ve been assured by staff that as we move forward, the inclusion of that playground is going to be a part of what’s considered moving forward,” he said.
Levetan emphasized that the Conservancy has been included in downtown development considerations from early on.
Councilman John Paulson said he receives emails from residents who want more green space. “The city will attempt to put as much green space in there that makes sense,” he said. "I’m not in favor of taking all of the development of this plan and bulldozing it, and making it a park. Fundamentally, I think this is a good plan. I like the concept.”
Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny motioned to add another acre of green space on the Target site, but it was not seconded.
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