By Joe Earle

Dozens of angry residents filled Sandy Springs City Hall’s meeting room April 12 to protest a community redevelopment plan being proposed by city officials.

City officials are seeking to create an Opportunity Zone for the redevelopment of properties located along Roswell Road in an area mostly south of I-285. Creating the zone would allow businesses in the area that create new jobs to qualify for a state tax credit of up to $3,500, city officials said.

Residents argued that the plan would hurt their property values because it would label areas of Sandy Springs as “slums.”

“Just about all of us have put a great deal of money into upgrading [our homes],” said Charney Berger, a resident of The Cloisters condominium. “I don’t see how, if we are designated as a slum, how that would fail to diminish the value of our property. That is the great concern.”

Fred Allen of Willow Glen said homes in his community were valued at up to $300,000, but “I think it would take a magician and hypnosis to get anybody to pay that much for a unit in a ‘blighted’ area. I think the loss to our value will be absolutely incredible.”

Residents attending the April 12 meeting also complained that they had little notice of the city’s plans, which were outlined in a public hearing before Sandy Springs City Council on April 6. After hearing complaints from the audience that night, council members asked that the April 12 meeting be called so city staff members could present the plans to the public in greater detail.

The council is to consider the proposal again on April 20.

Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos

During the April 12 public meeting, Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said the point of the program was to try to improve areas of the city that were in decline.

“Our intention in embarking on this was to give an incentive to these very bad parcels to improve,” Galambos said. “If the bad parcels improve, your parcels are going to be better off.”

Galambos said the use of the word “slum” was “unfortunate.”  City officials said the word reflects the language used when the Opportunity Zone program was created a half century or more ago.

“We certainly don’t mean to imply that these areas are ‘slums’ or are blighted, but we do mean to imply that we have some blighted properties,” Galambos said. “What are we doing here – trying to deny incentives to people to hire people?”

But resident Tom Walls argued that the benefit offered by the Opportunity Zone wasn’t worth the ill will the plan was creating among residents.

“This is chump change,” resident Tom Walls said. “This is not worth the animosity in this room. … I’m so frustrated with how trivial the payback is.”

Noting the city of Sandy Springs recently was listed among the nation’s 10 wealthiest cities in a study of 420 cities done by Web site, Walls said it appeared city officials were going out of their way to find low-income areas in order to qualify for the tax incentives. “It looks like we’re hunting for slums,” he said.