Paul: Water, transit, north end Sandy Springs’ top priorities

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul gives his State of the City Address at a luncheon at City Springs Tuesday.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul has already accomplished one of his four goals for his second term: seeing the new City Springs complex open.

“We have our Sandy Springs Foundation set up so we can turn these facilities behind me and below us into an art education center,” Paul said in his State of the City Address Tuesday at City Springs.

Though the complex opened in May, the luncheon tied to Paul’s speech and hosted by both the city and the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber was the first event held on its conference level. City Springs’ performing arts center won’t open until August but hosted a private concert earlier this month.

Opening City Springs is actually one of two goals Paul has accomplished since he was reelected in November without opposition, with the other being implementing The Next Ten comprehensive land-use plan.

But he is now focusing his attention on three other missions: improving the city’s north end/affordable housing, transportation and water service. The last two are the goals he outlined in his reelection campaign announcement in July, and water is arguably be the most urgent matter.

Paul said the city of Atlanta started supplying water to Sandy Springs in the 1950s and ’60s, when it was an unincorporated Fulton County community, at the county’s request. An agreement reached between Fulton and Atlanta then expired in the 1970s and has not been renewed, and the county still has the title to the water/sewer system.

Since it was implemented and since Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005 and contracted with Atlanta to provide water service, Paul said, the system has had no upgrades. And in the nearly 13 years of Sandy Springs’ existence as a city, it has seen Atlanta’s service decline despite high rates, he said.

“What we have seen is leaks have grown by about 20 percent per year over the last few years and our partner to the south has been slow (to fix them), particularly on minor leaks,” Paul said. “If you’ve got a leak in your yard, all of you know the problems and challenges we face in getting the small stuff done. It’s better today but still not a great solution. Many times some of our fire hydrants are inoperable.”

He said he sent a letter to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms this week to ask for a meeting to discuss how Sandy Springs can acquire the water system from Atlanta.

“I’m hoping it’s congenial,” Paul said, adding Sandy Springs is willing to pay for any studies needed to determine the water/sewer system’s value and condition.

He said Sandy Springs waited to meet with Atlanta until after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Tri-State Water Wars between Georgia, Florida and Alabama regarding the use of the water flowing from the Chattahoochee River, possibly closing that case.

However, the wars are still being fought after the court’s justices voted 5-4 July 27 to send the case back to a special master, saying the special master “applied too strict a standard in concluding that Florida failed to meet its initial burden of demonstrating that the court can eventually fashion an effective equitable decree.”

Sandy Springs even included in its fiscal 2019 budget, which was approved by the city council June 19, $1 million for a water reliability program. It’s the first time the city has allocated funds for such a program.

As for transportation, Paul praised Gov. Nathan Deal, who last week announced plans for the state to invest $100 million on bonds to pay for 65 miles of bus rapid transit express lanes on Georgia 400 north from Interstate 285 to the Forsyth County line.

“We’ve still got to figure out where the (four new planned bus rapid transit) stations are going to go,” the mayor said. “… For the first time, we’ve got an opportunity to put our arms around it and begin to integrate a multimodal way to move people through this area, and we’re excited about it.

Paul said the region could get more funds if Fulton voters approve them in a referendum at a date to be determined.

Those monies would come from the remaining 0.25 percent left over in transportation special-purpose local-option sales tax (TSPLOST) funds not yet utilized. In 2016 Fulton’s voters approved a total of 0.75 percent in TSPLOST funds for all cities in the county except Atlanta, which approved a separate 0.90 percent tax. Paul said the referendum likely won’t be placed on the ballot until next year.

The city is already getting about $100 million in TSPLOST funds for road projects and the state and federal government are contributing about $1 billion for the 285/400 interchange improvement project, which is under way. So now Paul said he and other area mayors are focusing on addressing the region’s east-west traffic woes.

“There’s been a parallel meeting with the mayors of Tucker, Doraville, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Smyrna to look at how we can do the same thing east and west (as with the 400 bus rapid transit project), because 285 is just as bad as 400,” Paul said. “So we have to be able to figure that out.”

He said he plans to have the Wisdom Trail built in Sandy Springs along Mount Vernon Highway from City Springs to the Sandy Springs MARTA Station. The two-mile route would be a tourist destination similar to the Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade in San Diego, a 0.75-mile trail that includes many quotes from King’s speeches, but instead would have quotes from several luminaries. Paul visited the promenade recently.

As for the north end/affordable housing, he said the task force he created after the Sandy Springs City Council voted to adopt redevelopment of the north end as a priority for the city is looking into improving that area’s retail and housing sectors. Due to suburban blight, the north end has a lack of retailers in that area, and Paul said its apartment complexes are getting old but its office industry is in good shape.

“The end goal is a healthy retail environment,” he said. “Why? Because if the retail environment is healthy, the rest of the community will be.”

One of Paul’s goals for that area and the rest of the city is affordable housing for lower- and middle-class residents, a sentiment shared by a major corporation’s CEO he spoke to earlier this week.

“That CEO listed affordable housing as the No. 1 challenge they have as an employer in this market,” he said.

Speaking of corporations, Paul also said he was happy Mercedes-Benz USA is using Sandy Springs for its headquarters’ address. Some other large companies based in the city, such as UPS and the InterContinental Exchange, which owns the New York Stock Exchange, use Atlanta for their address, according to their websites.

In introducing Paul, chamber board chair Chip Collins, who replaced him as the District 3 councilman in 2010, said he leaned on Paul in his election campaign the previous year. Paul told him to focus on neighborhoods and the city center (City Springs) and to think big on the city center.

“Since taking office four years after giving me that advice, Mayor Paul has heeded his own wisdom,” Collins said. “… City Springs has been the catalyst for the revitalization of Roswell Road. I’ve heard the figure of $750 million of development on Roswell Road between Johnson Ferry (Road) and 285.”

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