In a monumental year, Sandy Springs dealt with the pandemic and was the scene of several racial justice protests. The city government embarked on processes that will continue into the new year, including racial dialogues and proposals for North End redevelopment.
The pandemic strikes
Tents at Medical Center hospitals were an early sign that the pandemic was becoming serious. The many shutdowns included the Performing Arts Center at City Springs, and the city manager and city attorney were among those who contracted and recovered from COVID-19. Sandy Springs joined 12 other Fulton County cities in a dispute over CARES Act fund distribution, ultimately agreeing on getting $4.5 million for reimbursements on pandemic expenditures. Those funds were in part given to nonprofits including the Community Assistance Center for housing help and a $1.2 million fund for small businesses. In private efforts, the Solidarity Sandy Springs food pantry was born and appears to be a long-term program.
Fulton County Schools first to shut down and reopen
The Fulton County School System was the first local public system to shut down due to the pandemic and the first to reopen for optional in-person classes. Officials closed three schools early on March 9 when one employee reported a positive COVID-19 test and a day later closed all schools to in-person instruction — a closure that lasted until Oct. 14 in the next school year. As the New Year dawns, about half the students were attending in person and 17 of the district’s 93 non-charter schools had closed in-person instruction and switched to fully remote learning because of the number of students or staff who had confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Racial dialogue discussions
The historic, nationwide Black Lives Matter protests came to Sandy Springs as well, where Mayor Rusty Paul attended one demonstration to praise the activism. He soon announced a series of racial dialogue meetings and a proposal to change the spelling of Lake Forrest Drive and Forrest Lake Drive out of concern they were named for a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader. Held through the virtual platform Civic Dinners, the 44 racial dialogue meetings drew more than 300 participants. Among the suggestions that came out of the process was a city “diversity and inclusion” commission Paul says he will propose in January. And more discussions are planned.
North End shopping centers get redevelopment concepts
A long city process aimed at spurring redevelopment in the North End resulted in conceptual designs for mixed-use makeovers of four Roswell Road shopping centers: the Northridge, the former Loehmann’s Plaza, North River and North Springs. Next, the city has to figure out how to incentivize or subsidize such projects and how to balance redevelopment with calls for affordable housing.
New public safety headquarters in the works
After years of housing its police department and municipal court in multiple buildings at an office park, the city spent $10.9 million on an office building at 620 Morgan Falls Road as a new public safety headquarters. Along with pending renovation there, the city planned to seek bids for construction of two fire stations, one of which would be on the Morgan Falls property.
Hammond Drive widening design unveiled
After years of planning and debate, the city revealed design concepts for a Hammond Drive widening project that include expanding the two-lane road to four lanes with a grassy median; adding two large roundabouts at major intersections; and putting a pedestrian walkway underneath the road. The design could affect 80 properties with either displacement or right of way takings. The 1.1-mile project between Barfield and Roswell roads was projected to cost $60 million to $63 million, which voters might be asked to partly fund through a special local option sales tax.
City takes over Heritage Sandy Springs site
The city took over the Heritage Sandy Springs park and museum facilities on Blue Stone Road as the nonprofit cited the pandemic’s economic impact as forcing it to become dormant. The city also began planning an $8.6 million Cultural Center that would house an art gallery and offices of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and its exhibit “Anne Frank in the World,” which is currently housed in a Roswell Road shopping center.
River access parks, trails proposed
The city proposed better ways to access the Chattahoochee River by improving amenities at the existing Crooked Creek and Morgan Falls parks and creating a new green space on Roswell Road. A major motivation was a policy goal of sparking redevelopment in the North End.
I-285 toll lanes shock with property impacts
The Georgia Department of Transportation in January revealed preliminary designs for toll lanes, on I-285, which are intended to speed traffic as part of a metro-wide system, but would impact hundreds of properties and would turn some local streets into highway interchanges. Approximately 155 properties in Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs could be affected or demolished, leading some local homeowners to threaten lawsuits. More details will come in the new year.
–Bob Pepalis, John Ruch and Holly R. Price