For years, the Powers Ferry Landing area in far western Sandy Springs has asked for more attention from city government. Last month, it started getting that spotlight with the first stakeholder meeting for a special local plan in the city’s “Next Ten” process.
It may be time to rise and shine for an area along Northside Drive’s I-285 interchange that the late Mayor Eva Galambos once called a “sleeping giant.” But the biggest local change is outside of the city’s hands: the new Braves baseball stadium opening next year in nearby Cobb County.
The stadium traffic could be a minus, but its economic impact could be a plus, some local business people say. And they expressed confidence that the city can help an area that they said needs more tweaking than remaking.
“I think there are so many positives…with the whole halo effect” of the stadium project, said David Rossman, general manager of the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria hotel, which hosted the Next Ten’s Powers Ferry Landing meeting.
Traffic and the unknowns of the stadium impacts were top concerns expressed by stakeholder meeting attendees, said city Economic Development Director Andrea Hall, who led the gathering. But, she added, “Residents seemed to be happy with the types of amenities that are in the area already.”
Ted Sandler, an attorney who also chairs the city’s Board of Appeals, agrees. He has worked in a Powers Ferry Road office building since 1986.
“It’s a small, little office/commercial enclave that, for the most part, has been fully developed,” said Sandler. He believes the area’s future is not in large rezoning, but in smaller efforts to “beautify the area.”
Powers Ferry Landing is an unusual mix of development, with some typical gas stations and fast-food businesses joining high-rise office towers on heavily wooded lots, all ringed by some of the city’s largest and most expensive homes. The nearby Chattahoochee River is a major natural asset. But the area’s only direct link to the rest of Sandy Springs is I-285, which mostly brings Cobb commuter traffic.
Some Powers Ferry Landing business leaders have complained to the city and the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce that their area is overlooked.
“I think sometimes people in that area feel like they’re an appendage of Sandy Springs,” said Hall.
“The answer is yes,” said Sandler of Powers Ferry’s sense of being left out, adding that “I don’t feel that way,” but some of the big office building owners do. On the other hand, he said, an effort a few years ago to create a self-taxing community improvement district failed.
“The city was interested. The Chamber of Commerce was interested,” said Sandler of the CID effort. But some business owners hesitated because they feared “another overlay of government authority,” he said.
A CID can fund improvements to streets and landscaping, and Hall noted that stakeholder meeting attendees said they like CID-funded improvements nearby in Cobb County. Sandler said the CID idea may return as Powers Ferry Landing copes with the effects of the Braves stadium.
Whether they’re done by a CID or the city, such streetscape and landscape tweaks appear to be the area’s main desire, as oppose to large-scale redevelopment. Hall said the general public will have a chance to weigh in on Powers Ferry Landing at a future Next Ten planning workshop.
Rossman said that while filling a few vacant commercial buildings–including a Wendy’s that has been vacant for years—would be helpful, the area’s “kind of low-key aspect is also a plus. For us, we can sell it as…a bit of a respite from other business areas.”
Better pedestrian and bicycle access, as well as clearer connections to the river, would be benefits for hotel guests and other visitors, Rossman said.
“You can get to [the river] if you know how to get there,” he said, adding that in many places, “You’ve got a nice crosswalk, but there’s no sidewalk.”
Another idea floated at the stakeholder meeting, Rossman said, is to make Northside Drive and New Northside Drive two-way streets.
Sandler agreed that small-scale changes are the future, except that there be more “community-related development” like Fulton County Schools’ new headquarters and elementary school on Powers Ferry Road.
Sandler noted that the area has some strong barriers to big redevelopment, including legal limits on building within 2,000 feet of the river. There also are restrictive covenants—private developer-community agreements enforceable through zoning—on much of southern Powers Ferry Landing that limit such features as development height, density and lighting, he said.
“I think the treasure is just the quiet, relaxed residential area,” said Sandler. “When we have visitors to Atlanta, this is one of the areas we show them. It’s an area to be appreciated in Sandy Springs.”