Mayor Touts North End Revitalization, Water Independence

SANDY SPRINGS, GA — Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday at City Springs to hear Mayor Rusty Paul give his annual State of the City address, a message that gave attendees a glimpse at three major subjects he wants tackle over the next four years.

Transportation, redeveloping the north end of the city and gaining water independence from the city of Atlanta were on the mayor’s mind during the event, which was hosted by the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce.

The June 26 speech was the latest in a series of events held at City Springs since its May 7 grand opening, Since early May, the first concert at Byers Theatre, opening day of the 2018 Heritage Sandy Springs Farmers Market and Food That Rocks have all been held at the new development.

Tuesday’s address was held in the City Springs Conference Center, a place Paul said residents, business owners and stakeholders should feel welcome to use. While the space was designed primary with residents in mind, the mayor reminded the audience that Sandy Springs businesses "are our residents, too."

"And it’s very important that you feel at home here as well," he said.

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The mayor got down to business, noting he and other elected officials, property owners, developers, nonprofit organizations and residents are embarking on a plan to address redevelopment in the North Springs area of the city. This area along Roswell Road, bound by Abernathy Road to the south and the Chattahoochee River bridge to the north, is under the microscope of the North End Task Force, which is exploring options to bring the area on equal footing with the southern part of the city.

While there are some good things going on there, such as a thriving business office community, there are some challenges, such as a "struggling retail environment," Paul said. There are also large tracts of older, aging apartments complexes in need of revitalization, and the Task Force is charged with bringing back recommendations to city leaders on how Sandy Springs can "energize that area."

"The end goal is a healthy retail environment," he said.

Another component of this redevelopment initiative would be to provide more opportunities for home ownership on the north side, as home equity is still the greatest source of family wealth in this country, the mayor said. He reiterated his previous statement that it is "immoral" to ask police, fire and EMS crews to "risk their lives" in a city in which they can not afford to live. This focus on homeownership will also keep the community diverse not only ethnically, but generationally and socially, Paul said.

This push to promote homeownership is not about gentrification or driving out working-class people, the mayor said. Rather, this call is about ensuring those who are employed in the service industry not only work in Sandy Springs, but can also afford to call the city home.

Paul also touched on the push to create a viable transportation network that will move motorists around the city, whether by car, bike, wheels or feet, in a more efficient manner. He praised the recent announcement that the state would pump $100 million into bus rapid transit interchanges on Ga. 400 from North Fulton County to southern Forsyth County.

"Nathan Deal has become my hero," Paul said, adding the governor has been receptive to the transportation needs in the Sandy Springs and metro Atlanta area.

However, the drive to improve the current network shouldn’t just be a north-south initiative, but should also be one that stretches from the west in Cobb County to the east in the Dunwoody and Brookhaven areas of DeKalb County. Congestion on Interstate 285 can be just as bad as Ga. 400, so it’s imperative that Sandy Springs reaches out to cities such as like Smyrna to come up with a plan to improve traffic flow.

Locally, the city is also using T-SPLOST dollars to install a trail network along Mt. Vernon Highway from City Springs to the Sandy Springs MARTA Station. The mayor noted that during a visit to another city, he thought of a unique idea that could be included in the Mt. Vernon project. One city, he said, has a network of trails that includes quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sandy Springs could adapt that initiative to create quotes from other famous people and include them as part of the Mt. Vernon project.

"The staff hates it when I go out of town," he said jokingly, adding he’s known for bombarding city employees with ideas he unearths in other jurisdictions.

He later told Patch that the design for the Mt. Vernon work could be done by the end of summer. Eventually, he’d like to see the trail tie into the Path 400 trail that would run from Ga. 400 and I-285 to Loridans Drive in Buckhead.

Last, but certainly not least, is the city’s desire to break away from relying on Atlanta to provide water service to its 100,000 residents. The city of Atlanta began providing Sandy Springs with water in the 1950s because Fulton County, at that point, didn’t have the infrastructure in place. It was easier for Atlanta to extend its service district into the Sandy Springs area since the county did not have much development in the area.

Paul told the audience that the agreement between the county and the city expired in the 1970s and has not been renewed. In an interesting twist, Fulton County kept the title to the water below the surface and never ceded it to the city of Atlanta. Sandy Springs has been operating on auto-pilot over the last 40 years when it comes to relying on Atlanta for this vital nutrient.

"Water is probably one of the biggest, long-term frustrations of this community," he added. "And there’s nothing that’s more important. I mean, we can talk about transportation all day long, but if you can’t get water, you’ve got a real problem."

Sandy Springs is facing a critical point, as it has not seen any real investment done by Atlanta to the aging water system. Sandy Springs residents not only pay higher rates for water than Atlanta residents, the city has also seen the number of leaks grow by 20 percent each year. Atlanta has also been "slow" to respond to minor service requests, Mayor Paul charged. While it’s better today, it’s still not a great solution. For example, there are still fire hydrants that are inoperable in Sandy Springs.

So, Paul said he wrote a letter this week to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms asking if both cities could sit down and discuss the water system, which shows evidence of little to no modernization.

This has been a long-standing situation the city of Sandy Springs has grappled with, but it has held off on taking action due to the seemingly never-ending tri-state water wars between Georgia, Alabama and Florida. With the U.S. Supreme Court expecting to make a decision on that topic any time this week, Paul said it’s high time the city begins the process of untangling itself from Atlanta. It’s even offered to pay for any studies needed to determine the condition of the system, since Sandy Springs doesn’t know what could be facing underneath the asphalt and dirt.

"Our biggest concerns are about what we don’t know about what’s happening to that infrastructure underground," he said.

Image via city of Sandy Springs

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