Sandy Springs halts big-box store downtown

Amid rumors of a Wal-Mart store settling in its town center, the Sandy Springs City Council has placed a moratorium on granting permit applications for large commercial buildings.

Tuesday night’s action came following a week of resident inquiries into unverified reports that the retailer had plans for a super center along Roswell Road just south of Hilderbrand Drive. The area lies in Sandy Springs’ showpiece district designed for mixed-use residential and small business.

While there is no indication a Wal-Mart store is coming, the possibility spurred the city to do something.

Sandy Springs officials used the 90-day moratorium to address a possible loophole between the zoning code and the city’s 2027 comprehensive plan, which prohibits large commercial developments in the town center district.

“The rumors helped expose an issue,” Sandy Springs spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said. “Downtown development for the city is significant, and they want to get it right.”

The City Council special meeting attracted delegates from organizations representing more than 4,000 homeowners.

“I’m here because of the uncertainty,” said Doug Faciglia of the Glenridge Hammond Neighborhood Association, which includes 480 homes. “The potential traffic would be a concern, and it could change the character of the area.”

Wal-Mart officials said last week they have no Sandy Springs land contracts or project approvals in hand. City officials likewise denied there were any development plans.

The 90-day moratorium temporarily halts land-use petitions or development permit applications for commercial developments of 30,000 square feet or more in the town center area.

The moratorium will give the city a chance to put its ordinances in line with its land-use plan for downtown, said Trisha Thompson, zoning chair for the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods.

Thomson, who served on the citizen’s advisory panel for its comprehensive plan, said there were areas in Sandy Springs where big-box stores would be appropriate, but downtown was not one of them.

“We felt the town center should be, ‘Live, work, walk,’ ” she said. “Big box is not conducive to that.”

Howard Austin, vice president of City Walk Heights Condominium Association, said his group would oppose any nearby big-box store opening in downtown.

“It would destroy most if not all of the character of the area,” he said.