The first of several public meetings on the City of Sandy Springs downtown master plan drew a respectable crowd for 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, and the attendees were thoughtful, passionate and opinionated.
The May 8 meeting, hosted by city consultant Goody Clancy at the Hitson Center on Mt. Vernon Highway, drew about 80 people representing residents and business leaders.A similar number attended a second meeting that evening.
In the morning session, the biggest point of contention of the city’s downtown plans – whether anchor it to a new municipal complex at city-owned property on Johnson Ferry Road– was largely absent from the broader discussion.
But when the audience split into individual group discussions, the fate of the property, commonly known as the former Target site, was mentioned more than once. Residents also wanted to talk about how to make the downtown area pedestrian friendly and how to design it so it would alleviate traffic on Roswell Road instead of aggravating it.
David Dixon, principal in charge of planning and urban design for Goody Clancy, said the firm is holding meetings with property owners around the city center area and neighborhood organizations. He said he was struck by the similarities between people’s views, not their differences.
“In some cases, people agree more than they sound like they agree,” Dixon said.
He said his interviews so far have revealed people across the spectrum, young to old, well to do and getting by, share similar goals. They want a downtown where people can walk to a fancy restaurant or get a modest meal, a space where people can gather for or events or just to hang out.
People want something with a mixed use that has multiple purposes. That may or may not include a city hall, and Dixon said a city hall could take many forms.
Some people who attended the meeting said they would like the city to integrate the City Hall plan into a larger redevelopment effort.
“Developing the downtown area includes the City Hall,” said David Evans, a resident. “City Hall is just some meeting rooms, but they should make it something more.”
Evans said either the Target property or the old Tom Jumper Chevrolet property farther north on Roswell would be likely options for a City Hall. Some residents at the meeting said they were frustrated at the sight of the empty Target building the city purchased for $8 million in 2008.
“Anything’s better than an abandoned Target,” said Molly Welch, a Sandy Springs small business owner who lives three blocks away from the site. “I think the Target should be torn down and seeded with lawn for now.”
Jason Toole, an accountant with a local CPA firm, said there is common ground between the people in attendance. He said people he spoke with want a downtown that will draw in businesses and make Sandy Springs a destination point. His question is whether the Target site would better accomplish that goal as green space, as the business owners who are members of the Main Street Alliance have suggested, or as a City Hall, which is Mayor Eva Galambos’ preference.
“I came here because of Target, where they want to put the City Hall,” Toole said. “I think that’s a divisive issue.”
There will be another meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday and more meetings later in June to help Goody Clancy develop the city’s downtown master plan. The final plan is expected this fall.
Staff Writer Chase Brightwell contributed to this article.