By Gerhard Schneibel

The Sandy Springs Design Review Board voted 3-1 July 8 to recommend denial of Holy Spirit Preparatory School’s plan to build a sports complex on an 8-acre tract that runs parallel to the south side of I-285 between Long Island and Lake Forrest drives. Board member Eric Gregory voted to approve the design.

Holy Spirit currently plans to build a regulation-size football and soccer field with lights, a speaker system and bleachers for 400 people. The facility will also include tennis courts, 150 parking spaces and, eventually, a lap pool.

Original plans included a field house and an administrative building. Faced with opposition, however, the Catholic school combined the two into a single, 15,000-square-foot building with 12 offices.

Board member G. Melton Mobley said the project was too ambitious for “neighbors to sleep easy at night.” He pointed out the city has no means of enforcing a private agreement guaranteeing neighboring properties will not be bought to expand the development.

“As you read through the material, this is really more than a field,” Mobley said. “They’re talking about moving the entire administrative staff. … That really isn’t fairly considered a field house.”

The design will come under scrutiny again when the Planning Commission considers an application for a special-use permit July 17. Neighbors have hired Atlanta lawyer Brian Daughdrill to oppose the school’s plans. The property is zoned residential, and the school will purchase the site only if it gets the permit.

Chuck Berk, a homeowner in the area, said he is concerned about increased traffic on Long Island Drive, light pollution and noise.

“Long Island Drive is one of the nicer, prettier, almost pastoral streets with all the trees and the large lots,” he said. “What makes a 150-lot parking lot butting right up to Long Island Drive appropriate for this neighborhood? It just doesn’t seem right.”

Gareth Genner, the president of Holy Spirit, said it is misleading to characterize the area as entirely residential. He said the Atlanta Board of Realtors and Atlanta Montessori School are in the area, and office condominiums are under development.

“If this project were not to go ahead, then the most likely use for that site is office condominiums because the noise from I-285 makes it unsuitable for residential purposes,” Genner said.

Private studies show that the area could handle peak traffic during sports events, he said, and the light and sound systems would meet city requirements against light and sound pollution.

“The sound from the speaker system would be insignificant when drowned out by I-285. We do not believe that any neighbor will be able to hear any sound from the system,” Genner said. “The light literally chisels to a stop at the edge of the fields. These are highly advanced systems that cost a considerable amount of money.”

Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said she’ll keep an open mind about the project, but she said many residents “feel that if the City Council is truly committed to neighborhood protection, then our vote should be denial.”

“It’s not going to be an easy decision. There is no simple answer. There are merits on both sides,” she said.

She expressed concerns about noise and about traffic on Long Island Drive. “I definitely understand why expansions of ball fields are needed, but I also on the other hand understand how intrusive that can be, especially with lit ball fields.”

Berk said the sides are negotiating. “We keep trying to come up with something that would be appropriate, but at this point we haven’t been able to,” he said. “My belief is that the City Council members were elected on a platform to protect our neighborhoods, and this is an excellent opportunity for them to demonstrate that.”