The controversial Sandy Springs Circle roadway design—especially a plan to turn two travel lanes into on-street parking—may get a second look after a noisy, three-hour meeting drew about 125 residents to Sandy Springs City Hall Aug. 17.

“We’re not interested in building a project that the city doesn’t want,” Mayor Rusty Paul told the crowd about the design for Sandy Springs Circle between Hammond Drive and Mount Vernon Highway, which includes sidewalks and a multiuse path. The project could be built next year and is in the right-of-way acquisition phase, which city Capital Programs Manager Andrew Thompson estimated could cost $2.8 million to $3 million.

Bryant Poole, Sandy Springs’ assistant city manager for infrastructure, explains the Sandy Springs Circle plan to the crowd at the Aug. 17 City Hall meeting. (Photo John Ruch)

“How do we kill this thing?” one resident shouted in a meeting filled with much laughter and applause. Most of the complaints aimed at the parallel-parking spaces and reduced lanes, which city engineers say would slow traffic while more than handling needed capacity on what is now a four-lane road. The engineers explained that traffic on such a road is not about lanes, but about how intersections function, and that the project would actually somewhat improve the flow of an average 8,000 vehicle trips per day in the corridor in 2018.

Many people said they generally liked the idea of making Sandy Springs Circle a “boulevard” lined with trees and sidewalks, while the multi-use path had friends and foes.

A large contingent from Sandy Springs United Methodist Church attended, voicing concerns about how the right-of-way acquisition for the trail could affect the church’s property values. Rev. Thomas Martin, the church’s senior pastor, declined to comment on the record. Paul asked church members whether they have a specific plan for their property in mind, but got no response.

In an email sent to church members before the meeting, Martin said the main concerns are that the plan takes about 42 feet of property and realigns the driveway to a spot with a worse view of oncoming traffic and that might encourage traffic to cut through the parking lot. The email also complained about the city process, saying the church only saw a detailed design in May and was told in August that none of its suggested modifications can be made.

“Our main concern as a church is that the acquisition of land on our South Campus, proposed by the city, puts at risk the ministries and activities both presently taking place and any future ministries that may occur at the church,” Martin wrote in the email.

“I think there was an ask for reevaluation of some aspects of the project,” but also support for walkability features and a “more efficient and safer” street, said City Manager John McDonough after the meeting. He said the City Council has the authority to make just about any project change if it chooses.

Not building the project at all seems unlikely, as Thompson said it would leave much of the street without sidewalks and could force the refunding of federal money. But it also appears that tweaks are possible.

Sandy Springs City Councilmember Chris Burnett (left), who called for the Sandy Springs Circle meeting, speaks with residents before the presentation. (Photo John Ruch)

The $7 million Sandy Springs Circle project dates back to a 2010 sidewalk and path plan that grew into a larger roadway plan approved as a general concept in the City Center Master Plan public process in 2012. However, nothing more was heard about the specific, full design for the roadway and streetscape until this March, when the city unveiled it in an open house with less context and no formal presentation. The design sparked confusion and criticism—including expressions of surprise from the mayor himself. That was partly because of the length of time that had passed, partly because of increased citywide concerns about traffic, and partly because of new elements in the full design.

City staff previously said that March open house would be the only public meeting about the full design, and declined a city Planning Commission demand for a presentation at one of its regular meetings. But recently elected District 3 City Councilmember Chris Burnett, who made traffic a top campaign issue and who manages a bank on Sandy Springs Circle, requested another public meeting. The Aug. 17 presentation was the same one the City Council previously saw privately, officials said.

The first full design for Sandy Springs Circle as presented at a March 9 public meeting.

Dave Nickels, the Planning Commission member who once blasted the design as “stupid” and pushed for another public meeting, attended the Aug. 17 presentation. He said he remains unconvinced the project is worth the cost and joked, “Traffic calming’s going to be when someone tries to parallel park. The wreck is going to stop a lot of cars.”

Asked why the city didn’t just give the presentation to the public from the start, McDonough variously denied the process was different from other projects; responded with lengthy silence; and said the project was widely known while blaming traditional and social media for stirring controversy. But McDonough also said that “we adapt” and improve city processes from time to time to remain responsive to the public.

Mayor Rusty Paul speaks to residents about the Sandy Springs Circle plan Aug. 17 at City Hall. (Photo John Ruch)

“The mayor and the new councilman [Burnett] heard concerns and that’s why we had the meeting tonight,” McDonough said.

“Consensus was, poeple like the idea of a boulevard…People like walkability,” McDonough said, adding that he also heard, “People are concerned about parallel parking.”

Mayor Paul emphasized the design’s origins in the publicly approved City Center Master Plan with its goal of a walkable community. “So be careful what you tell us, because we take it seriously,” he said of how the city’s planning is responsive to public input.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

6 replies on “Sandy Springs Circle road design may get a second look”

  1. The residents of Sandy Springs too often direct their anger at the mayor and the city counsel when indeed the person most responsible for the destruction of the Sandy Springs dream may well be the City Manager John McDonough. He embodies the attitude at City Hall that “this would be a great city if it weren’t for the people that live here.” He reluctantly came to the table last night and it still doesn’t sound as if he could give a damn about what the residents want. He really doesn’t seem to believe he is accountable to anyone – and he may be right.

    It is time for Sandy Springs residents to take the city back from the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who “know better than us”. The City Center is by far the biggest thing McDonough ever managed and he appears to be in way over his head. When a City Manager begins to behave like the Fulton County Commission we incorporated to replace and resist any attempts at transparency and accountability, it’s time to find a new city manager.

  2. to “Old Spartan” the comments by the Mayor are often foolish and arrogant. McDonald may be incompetent , but I don’t think Paul gives a damn about residents when it comes to his pet projects and ANY building in east Sandy Springs.Just another episode in the long line of dubious projects ordered up by this ship of fools.

  3. Old Spartan and Alex are both right. The comments being muttered amongst many of the attendees at the Aug. 17 meeting had a common theme: They don’t really care what we want, they aren’t looking for feedback, they only want to EXPLAIN their plan and their reasoning to us, so we would then UNDERSTAND and shut up.

  4. Rusty Paul and the city council have been flogging this plan for years. The mayor is only surprised that anyone would dare disagree with him. They don’t listen to the people. The people didn’t want a monstrous city hall. The people didn’t want Glenridge Hall turned into another cheap apt complex. The people don’t want Hammond drive expanded and they don’t want SS circle become another traffic back up. Now compare what the people want to what the politicians want. I think we all know how this will turn out.

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