By Katie Fallon

Although the June 19 City Council meeting was marred by stormy weather and a late-arriving councilman, the city’s Comprehensive Plan was finally approved to be transmitted to the state for review.

The council voted to send the plan to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA), but not before including last minute amendments, an action that has been common in the process over the last few months. The vote came following a public hearing in which a majority of residents spoke about the land use changes included in the plan.

District 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio was approximately three hours late to the meeting after his flight from St. Louis was delayed into Atlanta because of the evening’s bad weather. Because of DeJulio’s initial absence, Mayor Eva Galambos decided to delay the public comments regarding land use issues in his district, which includes the southeast portion of the city.

While many changes have been made to the land use portion of the Comprehensive Plan via the Citizen Action Committee, Planning Commission and City Council, there are some notable ones.

The city’s Town Center has been defined as Sandy Springs Circle to the north and west, Cliftwood and Carpenter Drives to the south and Boylston Drive to the east. Within the Town Center, six stories has been established as the height limit. If a project includes an assemblage of five or more acres, the mayor and City Council can entertain density and height bonuses.

A height limit of 15 stories was also established at Dunwoody Place and Roswell Road. That limit includes a minimum of 25 percent greenspace, with an additional five percent requirement of greenspace or open space. A five percent greenspace requirement has also been established for Living-Working land use designations along all portions of Roswell Road within the city.

At the core of the city’s Comprehensive Plan process, apart from city staff themselves, was the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). The group acted not only as a vehicle for making recommended changes to the plan, but also as a means of relaying developments in the process back to neighborhood and resident groups and taking those groups’ concerns back to the table.

“It was the mayor and City Council’s intent that there be a framework in place to ensure that there were multiple opportunities for the citizens to be heard during the development of the plan,” said Vann McNeil, Sandy Springs’ deputy director of Community Development.

Indeed, CAC member Harriet Mills said the process was arduous at times.

“It has been a long haul,” she said. “We did struggle. We had many, many public hearings.”

Between July, 2006 and April of this year, the CAC held 16 meetings, four public hearings, four public comment meetings and two visioning workshops. Many of those meetings lasted upwards of five or six hours.

“The preparations for each meeting required many hours to develop plan materials for the CAC to review prior to their meetings in order to then provide the staff with guidance as to what should be included in the plan,” McNeill said.

The land use changes garnered much of the community’s concerns during the plan’s development. McNeill said the future land use map, which alone was the subject of 10 meetings, was an effort important to the community as a whole because the city’s interim Comprehensive Plan was inherited from Fulton County. He said the land use changes are designed to reflect the development and neighborhood values of the Sandy Springs community rather than the county.

Various CAC members, including Mills, Joey Mayson and D.J. Delong made final comments to the council before their votes were taken. They expressed still-prevalent concerns about the state of Sandy Springs’ infrastructure and the amount of greenspace in the community.

Once the final revisions to the Comprehensive Plan have been made, the city expects to submit the document to the ARC and DCA within the week of July 1. Once this happens, the state will have approximately three and a half months to review the plan and send it back to the city with suggestions. The City Council is expected to vote on the final plan sometime in October or November.

McNeill said the city does not anticipate holding any more public comment sessions once it has received the Comprehensive Plan back for revisions. He said the state does not require a public hearing before the mayor and council approve the final plan that will incorporate the state’s comments and recommendations.

State law requires that the Comprehensive Plan process be completed within two years of a city’s incorporation, which is Dec. 1 for the city of Sandy Springs. The city began its Comprehensive Plan process in July of last year.

Also during the June 19 meeting, the council passed the 2oo8 budget, which covers the period of July 1 to June 20, 2008. In the final two public hearings for the budget, the last of which was hled directly before the council approved it, the city faced no public opposition.

The balanced budget totals $104.9 million, which includes a $79.4 million budget for the general fund. The remaining portion of the budget provides funds for which the city adopts annual budgets.

Public safety and transportation improvements remained top priorities, with each receiving substantial funding. The budget also calls for the millage rate to remain at 4.731.