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Greenspace purchases with impact fees show big differences: Atlanta, Sandy Springs

David Pendered
Allen Park, sign, sandy springs Sandy Springs intends to expand Allen Road Park and has authorized spending $1.2 million to acquire about 1.5 acres of hilly land between the park and Roswell Road. Credit: David Pendered

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. Some information has been removed; other information added, beginning with the paragraph, “On Monday afternoon….” and concluding at the end of the section that begins, “Phase 2….”

By David Pendered

In the race to acquire land for greenspace before the land is otherwise developed, Atlanta and Sandy Springs are pursuing projects with plans to pay for them with impact fees that are more than 10 times higher in Sandy Springs than in Atlanta.

Allen Park, sign, sandy springs

Sandy Springs intends to expand Allen Road Park and has authorized spending $1.2 million to acquire about 1.5 acres of hilly land between the park and Roswell Road. Credit: David Pendered

Atlanta is in the process of buying a snippet of land, 0.18 acres, next to Kirkwood Urban Forest, and intends to add it to the forest. The Sandy Springs City Council agreed last week to buy 1.5 acres next to Allen Road Park and add it to the park that abuts the northern edge of I-285, a block west of Roswell Road.

Both cities are paying with impact fees, which are one-time fees assessed on new developments. Proceeds of the fees are to be spent to offset a development’s impact on transportation, police and fire, and parks.

Atlanta charges a pittance compared to the city on its northern border. Consider just the impact fees charged for parks:

  • Sandy Springs charges $4,543.67 for each house, apartment or townhouse, according to the city’s rate structure.
  • Atlanta established three rate structures for parks, evidently to offset the varying cost of land in different parts of the city. The fee in Northside is $410 per house and $285 for an apartment or townhouse. The fee in Westside and Southside is $246 per house and $171 for an apartment or townhouse, according to the city’s rate structure, which includes a map of the three districts.
Allen Park, graffiti, sandy springs

The word LOVE is written on a trash can in Sandy Springs’ Allen Road Park. Credit: David Pendered

Sandy Springs updated its rate structure for impact fees in 2016 from a prior rate scale set in 2008.

Atlanta set its rates in 1993 and hasn’t raised them since – efforts to do so stalled in 2010 and 2017.

Atlanta’s current effort to raise rates was launched in January 2019 by the Atlanta City Council.

Some on the council had expected to have recommendations by now. The goal was raise the rates and use the higher proceeds to help fund the Fiscal Year 2021 budget that takes effect July 1 – helping to pay some costs associated with transportation, police and fire, and parks. To that end, the council voted in January 2019 to re-establish the state-mandated Impact Fee Advisory Committee that can address the rate structure. Little happened for months.

On Monday afternoon, a spokesman for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reached out to say a previous edition of this story included a timeline that was, “categorically untrue.” In response, that timeline has been removed from this edition of the story. In its place is the administration’s verbatim timeline for producing the recommendations.

As noted in the administration’s report, presented Nov 12, 2019 to the council’s Community Development Committee, the schedule – in its entirety – states:

“Phase 1 (Short term) Updating the program. Now – July 2020.

  • “Evaluating adopting the completed 2017 Development Impact Fee Study with minor edits to update the program after 26 years
  • “In parallel, staff is leading an effort to improve program administration and transparency”

“Phase 2 (Long term) Modernizing the program. July 2019 – July 2021.

  • “Evaluating a more holistic modernization of the program after making management, administration, and fee level updates
  • “Focus on tackling policy issues tied to the program related to technology, affordable housing, and strategic use of exemptions.”

On Nov. 5, 2019, the panel held its first working session. Meantime, between January and November, the administration determined that it wanted to retain the consultant who worked on a prior review, Duncan Associates. The council voted Jan. 21 to authorize that contract, at up to $41,100.

Allen Park, sandy springs, creek

A wooden footbridge over a stone-filled creek that mitigates stormwater runoff is tucked beneath the retaining wall of I-285, visible in the distance. Credit: David Pendered

On Thursday, the panel is scheduled to meet at Atlanta City Hall. The agenda shows a two-hour meeting comprised of 85 minutes for staff updates and 25 minutes for public comments. The five-member panel is chaired by Mallory Peterson, a senior vice president with Selig Development Co., a subsidiary of Selig Enterprises, which is a commercial leasing, management and development company with a significant portfolio in Atlanta.

The parcels that Atlanta and Sandy Springs are acquiring for future greenspace include:

  • Atlanta is starting the process of acquiring 0.18 acres of land to expand Kirkwood Urban Forest, in Northeast Atlanta. The size equates to 7,840 square feet. The price is $128,895. The proposal is to get its first hearing Tuesday in the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development Committee.
  • Sandy Springs has authorized the purchase of 1.52 acres to expand Allen Road Park, which abuts I-285 a block west of Roswell Road. The purchase price of $1,190,000 was approved Feb. 4 by the Sandy Springs City Council.

 

Allen Park, sandy springs

Allen Road Park, in Sandy Springs, is a popular spot for area residents when temperatures are warmer than they were after the snowfall on Feb. 8. Credit: David Pendered

 

Allen Road Park, dog walker

A dog walker and dog walk the path at Allen Road Park, evidently unfazed by the chilly temperature after the snowfall on Feb. 8. Credit: David Pendered

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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