District 1 Sandy Springs City Councilman John Paulson is continuing his efforts to salvage some residents’ homes in his district while even saving the state money on its Georgia 400 express lanes and bus rapid transit project.
In a June 18 letter to Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry, Paulson outlined four recommendations to both please his constituents but also save the state millions of dollars.
“This is a 16-mile project of which a third is in Sandy Springs, but 95 percent of the homeowners impacted by the project are in Sandy Springs,” Paulson said. “So with that we want to mitigate the adverse impacts to Sandy Springs.”
At its meeting June 18 at City Hall, the council voted 6-0 to approve his letter, making it official city policy. Paulson’s four recommendations are:
♦ Close the Pitts Road bridge and rebuild the bridge instead of GDOT’s plan of tearing down four homes to build a new bridge while leaving the old one open. Paulson had mentioned this alternative at the March 19 council meeting. Since 40 to 50 homes are expected to be impacted by right-of-way acquisition for the project, any solutions to save some of them are welcomed. He said at the June 18 meeting this plan change alone would save GDOT $30 million.
♦ Move the express lanes from the outside of northbound 400 before Northridge Road to the inside. GDOT was originally going to put the lanes there until the Fulton County Schools district asked it to keep them on the outside so they would be away from Dunwoody Springs Elementary School. But Paulson spoke with Patrick Burke, the district’s chief operations officer, about making that compromise in a way where the lanes would still be far enough away from the school to appease the district.
♦ Run the express lanes under the Northridge bridge over 400 instead of over it. GDOT has said it could cost more to put the lanes under the bridge, especially since that bridge was rebuilt about three years ago. But residents overwhelmingly have requested the lanes be built under it.
♦ Wait as long as possible to tear down the noise barriers separating existing homes from 400, and install the new ones as quickly as possible, to minimize the sounds associated with both construction and the vehicles traveling on 400.
In an emailed statement, Burke said the district is working with the city and GDOT on the project’s plan to reach a compromise but nothing is set in stone yet.
“The planning for the (Georgia) 400 project is in early stages and (the district’s) operations staff are working now to make sure that the impact of the … project on our schools is minimized and the safety of our students, staff and community are prioritized during GDOT’s implementation of the proposed expansion,” he said. “The school system will continue working with GDOT during the summer based on their preliminary conceptual drawings. (The district) is assessing the potential impact of these plans and will address any concerns with GDOT and the Georgia Department of Education.
“Regarding the input from Sandy Springs, (district) staff and counsel are reviewing the proposal, but no decisions nor recommendations have been made by (the district) in response.”
Paulson said he even talked to GDOT Major Mobility Investment Program Manager Tim Matthews about his letter/recommendations earlier in the day. In an interview after the meeting, Paulson was asked if he believes the state will fulfill his requests.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I’m hopeful they will make the right decision. But I have no idea (about) what they’ll decide. But I think it’s a win-win for them.”
In other meeting news, the council voted 6-0 to approve the city’s fiscal 2020 budget. At $116.3 million, it’s nearly $6 million more than the current fiscal year and a new record, but is expected to include monies for the city’s top priorities, including public safety raises.
“The (fiscal) 2020 budget provides for the same millage rate at 4.731 mills as last year and maintains adequate reserves in the fund balance to ensure sound fiscal integrity of the city,” City Manager John McDonough said at the June 4 meeting, when the budget was introduced. “The (fiscal) 2020 budget includes resources to allow the city to provide a high level of public safety services to the citizens of Sandy Springs and also provides capital funding to address the significant backlog of existing infrastructure deficiencies.”
The June 4 meeting served as the first of two public hearings on the budget, with the second one the June 18 meeting. The new budget will take effect July 1.
City activist Tochie Blad was the only resident who spoke during the public comment portion of the June 18 budget hearing.
“Under the general category there are three line items for general administration for more than $500,000,” she said. “This may be a good time to tighten up the purse strings. I’m not sure why three different line items were approved for general admin funds. ... The other item to bring to your attention is the cultural arts center with $2.5 million. You may want to consider doing more funding. A 19,000-square-foot building was being considered. There was never really a council vote on this. It just appeared on the budget.”
Finally, McDonough confirmed he has accepted the city manager’s position for the city of Greenville, South Carolina, after being named its favored candidate among the three finalists for the job.
McDonough’s last day with Sandy Springs is Aug. 2, and his replacement has not been named yet, city spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said. McDonough has been with Sandy Springs since January 2006, about a month after its inception.