Members of the Sandy Springs City Council disagree about whether the old Target site the city bought for $8 million in 2008 is the best location for a future City Hall.
Mayor Eva Galambos confirmed on Jan. 20 that some members of the council want to explore alternatives. On Jan. 5, the city issued a request for information and a request for qualifications seeking other options.
“I personally am totally wedded to the Target site,” Galambos said, but other council members “wanted to see what other possibilities existed.”
She said the former Target property, located at 235 Johnson Ferry Road, is ideal because it can be accessed from all directions.
But residents attending City Council’s public meetings don’t know about the disagreement. People who attended a Jan. 18 public meeting at the Heritage Bluestone Building to learn more about the city’s downtown development efforts pressed City Manager John McDonough for an explanation.
“With downtown development being a top priority, the council has asked that we have an open and deliberative planning process,” McDonough told the audience.
McDonough also declined to answer a question about why the city is moving forward with plans to use eminent domain to acquire property around the Target.
According to official meeting records, the council never publicly discussed seeking alternatives to the Target site before Jan. 5. The issue did not appear on any meeting or work session agendas. The RFI asks for ideas that would serve as alternatives to the Target site and the RFQ would help secure a company to develop the downtown master plan.
It’s still not entirely clear which council members are sticking with the Target site and which ones want to see if there are better ideas.
Three of the current members – John Paulson, Chip Collins and Gabriel Sterling – were not on the council when the city made the purchase.
“You’ve got some new council members that weren’t involved in all that to begin with,” Councilwoman Dianne Fries said. “Before we bite the bullet, we want to make sure this is the best for the city.”
Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said she discussed the requests with McDonough and Councilmen Tibby DeJulio and Sterling in a private meeting prior to Jan. 5. DeJulio and Sterling said they did not remember the details about the council’s discussions with McDonough about the requests.
Sterling said it is his understanding the RFI and RFQ did not require a vote. Meinzen-McEnerny said there was no reason for the council to discuss its intent before the city issued the RFI.
“There’s nothing to discuss yet,” she said. “We’re out there gathering information.”
Fries said she did not remember when the council discussed the issue with McDonough. Council members Collins and Paulson said the requests might have been approved at the council’s Jan. 3 meeting. Those meeting records indicate the council did not vote on any issue pertaining to an RFI or RFQ for its downtown.
Target is still an integral part of the city’s downtown, city leaders said.
“We’re just doing a little bit of comparison shopping to make sure we’re on the right track,” DeJulio said. “Something could pop up that we don’t know about.”
What will the city do with the property if it isn’t used for a City Hall? Council members said it could do any number of things.
“We could sell it,” Collins said. “It’s a valuable piece of property but we’d have control over who we sell it to. … People have proposed one of the best uses for that property is as a downtown city park and there’s an argument that a city park itself would be a catalyst for development.”
Sterling also said a park could add value to nearby property. Meinzen McEnerny said she does not support the park idea.
Fries and Galambos said it was too early to speculate about what would happen if the city doesn’t put a City Hall on the Target property.
“You’re getting way ahead of us,” Fries said. “Let’s get the information out and see.”