By Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos
I have covered the progress of our great city during the past five years in the inserted newsletter that comes with this edition of the newspaper. What about the next five years? What do I hope for and see in store?
I do believe that in five years we will see a new City Hall complex either finished or under construction where the old Target store was located. I cannot visualize, of course, its ultimate appearance. I doubt it will be Colonial style or Art Deco. Surely our community will have a voice in what it prefers.
My hope is that the construction of the new City Hall will serve as the catalyst for the redevelopment of our so-called downtown. Just the volume of folks who make City Hall a destination daily will serve as an impetus for redevelopment of surrounding properties.
The economy will have turned around by then, and with more jobs there will be more demand for housing, office and retail space. The plans this community adopted in its comprehensive land-use deliberations call for mixed use in our downtown area. Not every parcel will have to include all the uses, but within adjacent lots and blocks there will no doubt be a greater variety of land uses than we see today. The big hole at Hammond and Roswell Road is slated for a mid-rise apartment building with retail at ground level.
Sandy Springs has almost no empty land, so we certainly do not expect an explosion of population on account of filling in empty lots. However, I feel certain the redevelopment of outdated apartment complexes along the Roswell Road corridor will not happen unless replacement housing has somewhat greater densities.
Certainly we do not envision towers, but the two-story, so-called garden apartment model is outdated. Nor is it economically feasible for a developer to tear down the current units and replace them with the same number. So the replacement housing will accommodate more people than live there now, and that means the population growth that may occur in Sandy Springs will be the result of redeveloped multi-family housing.
So the Roswell Road corridor will gradually take on a more urban aspect. Its appeal can be insured by the use of good architecture, thoughtful landscaping that includes trees, and by enhanced sidewalks and other amenities that will make walking along Roswell Road a pleasure rather than a chore.
The great motto I constantly hear from urban planners is “make it pedestrian friendly.” This outcome depends on good public infrastructure such as wide sidewalks and a feeling of safety for the walkers. But it also depends on having something pleasant for pedestrians to look at.
I stated to the property owners who are now focusing on how to redevelop their downtown properties that no matter how beautiful the sidewalks, if all I have to view is auto repair shops or fast food frontages, then the incentive to walk is absent. Give me some store windows with enticing displays! And that, of course, also implies, give us stores that are an alternative to having to go to the mall to buy shoes or a party outfit.
I’ve always considered the neighborhoods of Sandy Springs the jewels of our crown. Our dedication to maintaining the current densities of the neighborhoods and the tree canopy, together with strong code enforcement, should safeguard them for future generations and certainly without any changes in the foreseeable years.
What transportation improvements can we count on for the future? In five years I doubt that I-285 will be different yet, but possibly some express bus rapid transit (BRT) will already exist that makes it easier to get from Cumberland to Perimeter.
My preferred alternative is BRT, because it is more flexible than a fixed rail line, can be changed if travel patterns change and costs a lot less than fixed rail. Of course we would like this BRT to include some portion of our downtown and possibly use a widened Hammond Drive to access the major employment centers in the Perimeter area.
Occasionally, I still hear the old complaint from some homeowners about our accommodating commuters from Cobb or DeKalb counties who clog our streets and roads to access their jobs. Indeed this was voiced recently as we adopted the North Fulton Transportation Plan that includes the widening of Hammond Drive. My answer to these complaints is, “Thank goodness for the employers in our area that attract residents from other parts of the metro area. That is a net gain for us and helps our tax base.”
Most folks understand that it is the healthy mix of office and commercial properties that helps pay the property bills to cover the service levels we all desire. We can’t have these welcome components of our tax base if we try to keep out the employees who need to travel to these destinations.
Certainly within the next five years we will add another park to our inventory of great green spaces. Morgan Falls Overlook Park has been a stunning success, and gives us the impetus to move forward. The linear park along both sides of the new Abernathy Road will offer additional green space and recreational space for Sandy Springs.
As finances permit, we plan to improve two more major sites: Morgan Falls at the River below the Dam, and the Lost Corner property donated to the city of Sandy Springs.
The fabulous utilization of Overlook Park by young and old alike is a model to which we aspire as we move to improve the other two sites. There is also the possibility of a new dog park in the southern part of Sandy Springs.
The indoor swimming pool, which has been high on my wish list from day one, will have to wait. As we have learned more about recreational possibilities, a public/private partnership to achieve this objective may prove to be the most practical route. We will keep trying.
During the past five years, we’ve received a lot of accolades and national recognition. But to continue to rate among the most desirable places to live, we cannot rest on our laurels. I feel certain that together the residents and business community of Sandy Springs will keep our city in the top ranks.
Eva Galambos is in her second four-year term as the mayor of Sandy Springs.