The city of Sandy Springs remains stymied by the owner of three billboards on property it owns because of a legal battle that has held up for nearly a year its efforts to improve the area east of its new City Springs complex.

“I’m putting the city attorney (Dan Lee) on the spot,” Mayor Rusty Paul said. “I’m getting a lot of questions about the property on the east side of Roswell Road, this wasteland. (Residents ask) why the city is not cleaning that up. … The trial part of the litigation has been over for quite some time (since Dec. 19).”

Paul talked about the issue during the mayor and council reports portion of the Sandy Springs City Council’s Nov. 19 meeting at City Springs. The city bought four lots at or near the Mount Vernon Highway/Johnson Ferry Road/Roswell Road intersection, which Sandy Springs aims to redevelop into a compressed-grid improvement project that is expected to cost up to $31.6 million.

But those plans remain on hold until Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams rules on a settlement in a lawsuit in which the city paid $4.8 million for the four parcels to Adam Orkin, the man who also owns the billboards under the business W.B. Holdings-Triangle LLC.

Since 2015 the city had tried to purchase the property from Orkin and after using condemnation proceedings the following year as a leverage tool, eventually came to a settlement agreement. The settlement, Lee said, included everything except the billboards, based on an amendment to extend their lease.

“If the property were ever sold to an entity that could condemn it, the entity in the billboard would cease to exist,” Lee said. “After reviewing the lease and seeing that clause in there, we moved for condemnation of removal of that leaser.”

Orkin, who was renting out the billboards to a billboard company, even tried to pay the billboards’ annual rent of $25,000 to the city in an effort to extend the lease, Lee said. Despite the fact that the settlement was agreed upon months ago, Adams’ decision is still pending.

But once Adams makes her ruling and even if it favors the city, Orkin could still appeal it to a higher court, further delaying Sandy Springs’ redevelopment plans.

Interim City Manager Peggy Merriss said Sandy Springs is considering a temporary cleanup effort to the property, which Paul calls “one of the top two eyesores” in the city. But, Merriss added, the city won’t spend a lot of money on the project.

“We want to do what we can that’s economical so when the billboards are torn down, we don’t spend a lot of money tearing down those improvements. … But we got a pretty loud signal that this should be cleaned up,” she said.

Said Lee, “Of all the things I get asked about in Sandy Springs, the billboards issue is the number one issue. … Not to be trite, but to pay $5 million for something and not be able to use it is a major problem.”

Phone messages left with Orkin and Adams at their offices seeking comment were not returned.

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