By John Schaffner

The weather outside was dreary and cold, but it didn’t dampen the interest of many Sandy Springs residents in seeing how city officials and a citizen advisory committee envision future development of their city and to lend some of their own visions to the process.

Billed as two nights of Comprehensive Plan public “visioning” sessions on the last day of January and first day of February, city department heads, staff and consultants set up eight display stations around the city council/city court chambers. Residents could view preliminary concepts in areas of transportation, recreation and parks, interim land use plan, economic development/redevelopment, natural and cultural resources, housing and population and community facilities and intergovernmental services.

The main purpose of the two evenings was to get the more than 100 residents who attended the two sessions to fill out questionnaires about their likes and dislikes and to add their comments to the ongoing process, which is expected to continue through October 17.

Over the course of the two evening sessions, Mayor Eva Galambos and several of the members of City Council were in attendance to greet their constituents and listen to comments, as were several members of the Citizens Advisory Committee that has been working diligently on Phase I of the plan development. Now they will work with the city throughout Phase II of the process, which includes far more direct public input.

Both sessions were led by Deputy Commissioner Van McNeill of the city’s Department of Community Development. He explained that the first hour or more would be devoted to residents being able to visit with city staff and consultants at the eight stations to gain and understanding of the various maps and charts. That was followed by an hour or more of public comment, which was tape recorded to provide input for future planning meetings.

McNeill pointed out that Phase I identified 80 priorities with the help of the Citizen Advisory Committee. He said Phase II is designed to set the policies and visions of what the residents want the city to be. He pointed out that the state requires a comprehensive plan and told the audience that the target for having the plan drawn is July.

The first session was for residents who live north of Abernathy in the city. The second session was for residents south of Abernathy and drew almost twice the attendance as the previous night’s session.

At first, the city was not going to make available on its web site the visioning questionnaires that were available to be filled out by residents at the two meetings. Sandy Springs Business Association Executive Director Donna Gathers was one of the most vocal critics of that decision. The city later announced that the questionnaires would be on the web site by the following day.

“People are busy…. They have their families,” Gathers said. “You are never going to get the large turnout at meetings like this,” to get a large amount of public input.

When the first evening session was opened to public comment there were only four people who wished to address the Citizen Advisory Committee, council members and city staff.

Clark Otten, who lives on Roberts Drive, was concerned about the future use of the Chattahoochee River corridor. “Some say it will not be touched, some say it will become a park,” he said. He was concerned because he said landowners have not been contacted about the possible future use of their land.

Bill Odray, who owns two acres on the river at Roswell Road and Roberts Drive and operates the Spirit of Roswell riverboat, spoke out about traffic problems at the bridge on Roswell Road at rush hour and runoff that is causing erosion on his property. “No one is saving the river bank,” he said.

At the Thursday evening session, more than a dozen residents went to the microphone to give their viewpoints—most of which dealt more with long-range planning than the comments made during the first session.

Janet Wells, who lives on Beechland Drive, told the group the green space issue is very serious and needs to be a planning priority.

Richard Farmer of Glenridge Drive said the city needs to “firm up the definition” of protected neighborhoods. He said there needs to be a definition of borders. He also stated the transportation plan “is based on assumptions from the 1980s and 1990s,” which he said are no longer valid.

He was followed by Bill Cleland who charged that the planning “is based on a static community.” He suggested Sandy Springs should look at the concept of a “city of villages. Move services closer to neighborhoods based on council districts.” He also said the transportation system is built out. He suggested looking at underpasses on some of the major arteries. He also suggested the city look at ways to grid the commercial district. “We need to evolve a redevelopment policy,” he concluded.

Jan Lebenowitz told the group much could be accomplished with a strong tree ordinance, a message that was reinforced later by Long Island Drive Coalition President Nina Cramer, who said “the most important natural resource in Sandy Springs is the tree canopy.”

Bob Beard of Vernon Woods Drive talked about the potential for redevelopment of Roswell Road . He said it is important to plug in neighbors to redevelopment decisions. “The residents feel in the dark,” he added.

Bernadine Richard, president of Sandy Springs Society, told the group she is very concerned about the arts in Sandy Springs. She wants to see a center for performing arts and an artists’ colony. She suggested negotiating with developers. “If they want to add an extra floor or two onto the height of their building, negotiate with them for a performing arts center or artists’ colony on the first floor of the building,” she said.

Richard also was concerned about trees in the city and protecting historical properties.

But Gary Luther said he does not believe there should be a tree ordinance in the city.

Bob Axt spoke in favor or the tree ordinance, but was really lobbying for bike trails that are interconnected, saving the sidewalks and looking out for pedestrians by doing away with suicide lanes and replacing them with landscaped islands with turn areas.

The questionnaires that were filled out by those attending the two sessions and those that were filed online will be tabulated by Jerry Weis, the consultant working with the city on the comprehensive plan. The Citizen Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet Feb. 12 to review the results of the visioning workshops.