Sandy Springs City Council on June 18 authorized the taking of private property for the city’s future downtown.

The vote came at the end of a lengthy City Council meeting during which council members also discussed the controversial Sandy Springs Gateway project near Chastain Park.

City Council voted 5-1 in favor of using eminent domain powers to acquire .29 acres at 6224 Roswell Road, the Makara Mediterranean Restaurant. Councilman Gabriel Sterling was the only “no” vote and he has been adamant he will not support using eminent domain to obtain private property.

The property will become part of the city’s future downtown, a revitalization effort that will transform the area near the intersection of Roswell Road and I-285.

Sandy Springs intends to offer $440,000 for the 6224 Roswell Road property, which will be leveled to make way for a city hall. According to Fulton County property records, the county’s appraiser determined the property is worth $642,500.

City Attorney Wendell Willard said negotiations between the city and the property owner, a Florida-based trust affiliated with the family of George Cotsakis, are at a standstill. The owner has retained an attorney, Willard said.

City Council’s vote on June 18 allows the city to use the eminent process as a last resort, Willard said.

“We will be able to continue hopefully talking with these property owners,” he said.

Willard said the city intends to purchase the entire square by early 2014.

Sandy Springs resident Trisha Thompson was the only person who spoke during the public hearing about the use of eminent domain, and she asked City Council to better explain its actions.

Mayor Eva Galambos responded by warning property owners that the city will move forward with or without them.

“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.”

Councilwoman Dianne Fries echoed Galambos’ sentiment.

“I just want to make it clear for them, we are running parallel. We’re still trying to negotiate with them all the way through,” Fries said. “They know we’re serious now.”

The city council meeting also revealed new details about the Gateway Project, a mixed-use development near Chastain Park, at the intersection of Roswell and Wieuca roads. Because of its location, the project will affect both Sandy Springs and Atlanta’s Buckhead Community.

City Council deferred a zoning application at the request of project developer JLB Partners and residents. JLB Developer Hudson Hooks said he’d like to continue negotiating with the project’s future neighbors.

JLB has proposed 700 units, a number residents in both cities say is too dense.

The Georgia Regional Transportation Agency is requiring the realignment of the intersection of Roswell and Windsor Parkway to accommodate the anticipated traffic from the JLB development.

There have been various cost estimates of the realignment project. In separate presentation during the meeting the council learned the realignment could cost between $3.7 million and $5.7 million, depending on which option the city chooses.

Buckhead resident Gordon Certain attended the June 18 meeting. He said the additional information about the project is helpful, but said the city isn’t considering all of the potential consequences. He said in addition to inflicting more gridlock on residents, it will also harm local businesses.

“I didn’t hear anything about the other businesses that would be disrupted,” he said.

In other business City Council:

–          Approved the city’s $88 million Fiscal Year 2014 General Fund budget.

–          Approved a zoning variance for a large mixed use project at the corner of Peachtree Dunwoody Road and Abernathy. The variance allows the developer, Hines Interests Limited Partners, to build a 26-story building instead of an 18 story building allowed under the current land-use plan.

City Council members were divided over variance the project, which passed with a tie-breaking “yes” vote from Mayor Eva Galambos. Council members John Paulson, Dianne Fries and Chip Collins voted “yes.” Council members Tibby DeJulio, Gabriel Sterling and Karen Meinzen-McEnerny voted “no.” Several residents of the nearby Mount Vernon Plantation apartments spoke against the variance.

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