A proposed change to the city of Sandy Springs’ code of ordinances that some feared would give the city manager too much power is no longer a threat, one resident said.

“I spoke last time against this text amendment as it was previously drafted because the broad and vague language, I felt, was opening up an opportunity for the city manager to bury things or even eliminate certain zoning requirements,” said Shea Roberts, a 23-year zoning attorney. “… But I have reviewed the revised language and because it now restricts it to solely the right-of-way, I’m not going to object to it tonight. I appreciate that you all took my comments and others from other members of the community’s concerns into consideration.”

At its meeting Nov. 19 at City Springs, the Sandy Springs City Council voted 6-0 to approve design modifications within the right-of-way allowance regarding its code of ordinances. Roberts was the only resident who spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion, a far cry from the Nov. 4 meeting, when the item was immediately deferred from the agenda.

At that meeting, the amendment would empower the city “to delegate the review of variances on city or city-sponsored projects to the city manager,” according to documents posted to Sandy Springs’ website.

At the beginning of that meeting, District 6 Councilman Andy Bauman motioned to have the item removed from the agenda and be deferred to the next meeting, a move that was approved 6-0. He said he did so to give the city and the council more time to study and possibly tweak the modifications, and since he anticipated public comment on it.

During that meeting’s public comment portion, five of the seven residents who spoke or planned to speak said they were going to talk about the modifications, many thanking Bauman and the rest of the council for deferring the agenda item. Some added the issue needed more time for city discussion and so residents could get proper notice on it.

Based on Sandy Springs’ honed-down version of the amendment and the public’s lack of opposition to it, the city was listening. The new code change would only “delegate the review of design modifications in the right-of-way on city-sponsored projects to the city manager,” a city document states.

District 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio, who motioned for the design modifications’ approval at the Nov. 19 meeting, said he experienced a right-of-way issue this amendment could address when he lived on High Point Road.

“They were building the sidewalk across the street from me,” he said. “They were going to have to take down a very large tree, but we came up with a compromise to go around the tree instead of through the tree. I think this was totally unnecessary to have hearings about this. … I think this is a way to make the city more efficient and more effective.”

Bauman, who said the amendment “is an issue of process on the council,” asked interim City Manager Peggy Merriss, who has over 35 years of experience in city management, if Sandy Springs’ handling of the issue is the same in other cities.

“Yes, that is how it would be handled almost everywhere I’m aware of, either by the city manager or the construction manager,” Merriss said. “You all just happen to have a fairly unique ordinance within your zoning code that speaks to your zoning.”

But Roberts warned if the city strayed from the more specific design modifications, it could face myriad legal problems.

“I would like to say that while I’m not going to litigate over the matter, I still believe that even such a minor text amendment affects a zoning change that does subject (the city) to the state’s zoning procedures laws,” she said, adding she urged the city to be more transparent. “It should have gone through the public process the way a text amendment normally would. The minimal manner in which this item was published in public was wholly insufficient.”

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