By Amy Wenk
Mayor Eva Galambos several times slammed her gavel to quiet outspoken citizens.
“She’s never done that to the crowd,” Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries said.
But on April 20, Sandy Springs City Hall was packed with residents who clapped, booed and made loud remarks despite instructions not to disrupt. One person was removed from council chambers.
“I’m almost as old as you are,” the man grumbled to Mayor Eva Galambos after she called for security.
All the excitement was over the choice of words in a redevelopment plan the city ultimately approved that night 4 to 2.
City officials had no qualms labeling areas in the city as “slums” or “blighted areas.” The antiquated terminology, they said, was necessary to spur redevelopment along Roswell Road.
During the debate, which lasted an hour or more, speakers on both sides were impassioned.
Former Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul took the podium to voice support and call for a brighter city future.
“What was the city’s original goal that we all believed in, that every one of you ran on? The redevelopment of Roswell Road,” Paul said. “This is your chance … Don’t let this opportunity pass you by, because who knows, Roswell Road’s future may very well depend on it.”
Vocal residents followed with angry rebuttals and concerns about the process.
“We are not against economic development,” said resident Robin Beechey. “We are for it. We are for transparency. We are for open government. We are for compliance of the law.”
The redevelopment plan was needed for city staff to call properties along Roswell Road, from Mount Vernon Highway to Long Island Drive, “Opportunity Zones.” That area qualifies because in 2000 more than 15 percent of its people were impoverished.
Businesses in the Opportunity Zone that create at least two jobs would be eligible for a state tax credit of up to $3,500.
Residents were up in arms about being told they live in slums. They felt the labels would harm their property values.
Due to the outcry, council approved the plan with a revised map of redevelopment areas along Roswell Road. Removed were parcels with owner-occupied residences or condos as well as all properties south of Glenridge Drive.
“Your voices were heard,” said Dist. 3 Councilman Chip Collins. “I commend every one of you.”
Fries and Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio cast the dissenting votes.
“Several weeks ago, one of the national publications came out and said Sandy Springs was one of the seventh or ninth richest communities in the country,” DeJulio said. “Eighteen percent of the people had incomes over $200,000 and yet we have Roswell Road full of pawn shops and liquor stores and little places like that because people haven’t had an incentive to go ahead and redevelop it.”
DeJulio said the redevelopment plan does not change any of the city’s zoning procedures or let city officials use eminent domain.
The city’s staff first presented the redevelopment plan for approval April 6.
Residents said no one knew about the plan and asked council for a deferral, which the board granted.
A community information meeting was held April 12 that drew about 60 residents, most angered their neighborhood was to be labeled a slum.
The city rushed approval on the plan because city officials say state requirements will change May 5. Other cities like Roswell, Marietta and Union City have areas designated as Opportunity Zones.