The city of Sandy Springs is mulling a proposal that could allow developers to pay a fee instead of burying their utility lines for aesthetic reasons. The recommendation was made by a special committee and is seen as a possible way to spur redevelopment in the city’s north end.

The city rules require all new subdivisions and developments over 20,000 square feet that touch utility lines to relocate utility lines underground. The requirement applies only to utilities that directly service a building, not to massive transmission lines like those running on tall metal poles along Roswell Road.

A map shows the utility burial priority area around the City Springs district recommended by the city planning staff to the City Council. (Special)

The city prefers to put utility wires underground for aesthetics and to reduce accidental power outages, but there has been concern in the development community about the increased cost, Jim Tolbert, the assistant city manager, said during a presentation in the City Council’s Dec. 18 non-voting work session.

“There’s been a lot of consternation about that, a lot of issues,” Tolbert said.

The idea is to allow developers to pay a fee to the city of $2,000 per foot of utility line. The city would then place the money in a fund to be used to pay for utility burial in a target area. The concept was created by a committee put together by the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce, Tolbert said.

Areas where the city might bury utility lines itself are the City Springs district and the north end, Tolbert said. In the north end, the city could pay for half the cost of the burial to encourage redevelopment in the area, which has been the subject of a special “revitalization” task force that produced a report expected to be reviewed by the City Council at its Jan. 22 retreat.

“You could do half-price in the north end, when elsewhere you may have to pay full price,” he said.

The fee of $2,000 per linear foot was taken from the average costs of burying the lines, Tolbert said. Committee members did not approve the amount and were “reluctant” to give a solid number, he said. The cost is more than what was paid for utility burial already done at City Springs, but is about an average, he said. Sandy Springs paid AT&T and Georgia Power Co. $950,000 to bury the lines around City Springs.

“As we know from our own experience with City Springs, the costs from Georgia Power are very prohibitive. There’s no rhyme or reason. It’s just a number that they give you with no breakdown,” Tolbert said.

And waiting for Georgia Power to perform the work can make scheduling and budgeting difficult for developers, Tolbert said. The logistics of burying the utilities on a small lot can also be prohibitive and can affect other properties, he said.

“They get it to when they want to get to it,” he said.

He said Georgia Power has told the city that “undergrounding is not a priority to them and they would rather we not do it.”

The City Council instructed Tolbert to continue working on the proposal, and it is expected to return for a vote at an upcoming meeting.
Councilmember Andy Bauman said he thought January may be too quick to vote.

“I want to chew on this a little bit,” he said. “I would be concerned about some unintended, unforeseen consequences, particularly given the magnitude of $2,000 a foot.”