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Posted by on June 27, 2013.

Eminent domain action draws criticism

The city will buy the parcel at 6204 Roswell Road for $1.2 million, and has offered $440,000 for the property at 6224 Roswell Road in order to move forward on its downtown development plans.

The city will buy the parcel at 6204 Roswell Road for $1.2 million, and has offered $440,000 for the property at 6224 Roswell Road in order to move forward on its downtown development plans.

Sandy Springs isn’t playing around with business owners who won’t sell their property for the city’s new downtown.

If the owners won’t sell, the city will use its powers of eminent domain to take their property.

City Council made the point at its June 18 meeting, voting to buy two similar pieces of property along Roswell Road for two distinctly different prices.

The parcels are both .29 acres, both front Roswell Road, and are both adjacent to the former Target building on Johnson Ferry Road that the city purchased for $8 million in 2008.

The city will pay $1.2 million for the parcel at 6204 Roswell Road owned by Dorothy K. Steinheimer, who was a willing seller. The city authorized using its powers of eminent domain to buy property at 6224 Roswell Road, currently home to a Makara Mediterranean Restaurant, but offered only $440,000.

George Cotsakis Jr., the son of a former Atlanta City Councilman, owns the property and is refusing to sell to the city. Cotsakis has declined comment. Attempts to reach Steinheimer were unsuccessful.

Mayor Eva Galambos, during the June 18 meeting, warned property owners that the council is “serious” about its downtown revitalization project. The city center will be located on Roswell Road just north of I-285 and will have mixed uses. It’s a decade-long effort expected to cost upward of $100 million.

“It’s eminently plain that this council has adopted a plan for downtown Sandy Springs that includes a municipal complex which fronts on Roswell Road, and would occupy some of the land (where) this particular piece of property we’re talking about is located,” Galambos said. “We have made every effort, and continue to make every effort, to negotiate with each of the property owners. They get an appraisal and we get an appraisal. I am happy to say that one of the property owners who was adamant that they were going to fight us is now coming around. I hope this one will come around because we want to be fair, but you cannot acquire a whole block by saying ‘Pretty please. Pretty please,’ so we’re having to get serious.

“I still hope that eventually all of these will be negotiated at arm’s length, with appraisals, but the council, with this community, has decided to build a downtown, and you eventually have to take steps to do it, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Councilman Gabriel Sterling cast the only vote against using eminent domain.

City Attorney Wendell Willard said the purchase prices were based on independent property appraisals obtained by the city.

“We relied on an independent appraiser to make a determination,” Willard said.

Sandy Springs residents criticized the city’s actions in online comments posted on ReporterNewspapers.net.

“It is so very, very wrong to use eminent domain to acquire property for this purpose,” Janie Barker wrote. “I had thought that the city of Sandy Springs would not resort to such shenanigans. I will certainly remember this when elections come around.”

“The real truth here is that the city wanted to ‘punish’ the person not willing to work with them for being ‘uncooperative,’ whereas they wanted to reward the person willing to sell,” wrote Derek H. Baugh. “Government sucks, and the city of Sandy Springs is no different.”

Concerns over eminent domain aren’t confined to the city’s downtown project, however.

Community Funeral Service President D. Brooks Cowles has a 20-year lease at the former Sentell Baptist Church on Roswell Road. He’s concerned the city will take the church as part of a plan to realign the intersection of Windsor Parkway and Roswell Road.

He wrote to Sterling because of his earlier stance against using eminent domain. In an email forwarded to the Sandy Springs Reporter, Cowles told Sterling he has retained an attorney who specializes in eminent domain cases.

The city will have to realign the intersection in order to accommodate the expected increase in traffic from a planned mixed-use development near the intersection of Roswell and Wieuca roads. Cowles asked if taking his property would violate a state law that requires property taken through eminent domain to be restricted to a public use for 20 years.

Willard said property taken for road projects are not subject to the 20-year restriction.

“We’re not doing anything as far as construction of that road for a private need,” Willard said. “It is for the public need.”