Sandy Springs’ city officials are getting tough with property owners who want to erect billboards on Roswell Road by putting off plans to improve the appearance of part of the city’s main thoroughfare.

Mayor Eva Galambos said at the Sandy Springs City Council’s Aug. 2 meeting she didn’t want to spend $540,000 to buy the rights of way needed for the Roswell Road streetscape project between Johnson Ferry and Abernathy roads because the project would be a waste of money if billboards are erected along the road.

“I’m a little reluctant to improve properties where we might get billboards…,” Galambos said at the meeting. “I feel a little bit uncertain about wanting to expand improvements that will increase property values.”

The council voted to delay the matter for two months. The money would match the $2.16 million in federal money awarded for the project.

Property owner Bob Brown called it retaliation and said the city is taking a “heavy handed” approach to an issue that most people don’t care about. Brown owns three pieces of property along the stretch of road, but said he has no immediate plans to erect a billboard, though he’s willing to consider it.

“I’m not sure how they can withhold funds,” Brown said. “Those funds do not belong to the City Council; those funds belong to the people.”

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in June that sign companies that had been denied permits under a Fulton County law before Sandy Springs became a city could put those billboards up. There are currently eight applications to erect billboards in the city, city officials said. City officials have been looking for ways to restrict them.

Galambos has implied that the city wants property owners to voluntarily reject billboards. When asked if the owners could expect any further action by the council, she said, “We took the action we did … and I think it speaks for itself.”

City Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said the city intends to follow the law as interpreted by the court, but said the city also has a right to protect its interests.

At the Aug. 2 meeting, she asked City Attorney Wendell Willard if the city could selectively implement the streetscape improvements to avoid properties that allow billboards. Willard said the city could.

“We are not going to violate the law, but we do have some options relative to expending taxpayer funds to streetscape improvements,” McEnerny said.

Virgil Beddingfield, who owns property at 8600 Roswell Road, which is not part of the proposed project, said the city shouldn’t have the right to withhold street improvements from property owners. Beddingfield said he’s willing to allow billboards on his property.

“I don’t think they have the right to dictate or threaten or hold people hostage,” Beddingfield said. “As taxpayers, we assume the rights of every other taxpayer. It’d be the equivalent of someone saying we’re not going to improve your street if your door is green.”

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