School is taking over neighborhood

To the editor:

Songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote: “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

That famous 1970 song lyric is particularly meaningful to the Mountaire community in Sandy Springs, where the Epstein School has quietly purchased or optioned eight homes and plans to bulldoze them, pave paradise and literally put up a parking lot. School officials actually presented this dreadful plan to Sandy Springs on the same day the EPA issued a citywide smog alert for Atlanta.

The Epstein School, located unfortunately smack-dab in the center of a quiet residential neighborhood, wants to expand enrollment from 650 to 850, dramatically increase pickup/drop-off traffic, level eight homes, clear-cut the tree cover, build a bigger parking lot and greatly increase school facilities. Yikes!

Despite oft-repeated commitments to Fulton County and Sandy Springs to cap enrollment at 650, the Epstein School has quietly set about growing the campus. Many in the community, recalling the old Fulton County era, worry that the fix is probably in and that the Sandy Springs City Council is just going through the motions.

I hope they are wrong because this issue speaks to the very future of Sandy Springs and whether those representing moneyed interests will have their way with the new city government as they did in the past with Fulton County.

There is cause for concern. Our neighborhoods have been under assault since Sandy Springs became a city. Affordable single-family homes have rapidly disappeared. The Abernathy expansion alone razed 42 homes for the benefit of Cobb County commuters. Twenty-six more homes, an entire neighborhood, were bulldozed to make way for a new elementary school.

That is particularly irritating when you realize some brilliant Fulton County visionaries quietly sold the former Underwood Hills elementary school to the Epstein School in a sweetheart deal. Now, a decade later, taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars to replace it. You almost can’t make this stuff up.

Fulton County was infamous for shortsighted and foolish decisions when it came to Sandy Springs. Allowing an exclusive private school to operate in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood was one of them. We incorporated as a city to fix Fulton County’s mistakes, not to compound them. Rather than expand, the Epstein School should seek ways to reduce its footprint.

If we aren’t careful, we may yet earn the derisive title of “Golden Ghetto” as affordable single-family homes and neighborhoods disappear from our city. More important, if we permit the destruction of a historic residential Sandy Springs neighborhood for the benefit of a private school, no one’s neighborhood is safe from the bulldozer, regardless of zoning.

Sandy Springs will never achieve its potential as the great new city it can be unless we cherish, support and preserve our neighborhoods.

David Davis

School has openly discussed plans

To the editor:

By redeveloping our campus to accommodate more students, while at the same time removing cars from the streets, we are proud that we are proposing a plan that would benefit both the school and our neighbors. We are taking these steps because our school is a popular and nationally recognized school right here in Sandy Springs. In fact, nearly half of our students are city residents.

As soon as we started developing our plans, we began talking to our neighbors in order to ensure that their ideas were part of our final plan. We held a series of five meetings with our neighbors in order to garner their feedback. After those meetings, the original plan was significantly modified based on the ideas that we heard from our neighbors. As a result, we now have a plan that includes controlling traffic through a bussing plan, the removal of carpool lines from the streets, the removal of almost all street parking by adding over 120 new parking spaces, and the creation of a park along one of our borders.

Unfortunately, a small but vocal group of activists have used this opportunity to advance their own personal agendas by misrepresenting both the plan and the school’s communication with the neighborhoods.

For example, despite the inaccurate rumors being spread, we are maintaining nearly all the existing tree canopy and building a new park; we are building a modest school auditorium and we are merely relocating an existing soccer field.

Another egregious misrepresentation concerns the terms of our land use permit issued in 1994. At the time, the permit allowed up to 650 students. We have assiduously adhered to that cap for the last 14 years. In fact, we have been so respectful to our neighbors about the cap that we contacted them to discuss a temporary increase of 10 students to accommodate evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

So 14 years later, we are going through the proper process to ask permission to increase our cap of students. The activists are claiming that because we were once governed by a certain cap, we have forever given up our right to ask for an increase. This twisted logic is like saying that once you agree to a salary as an employee, you forever give up your right to ask for or receive a raise.

Fortunately, despite the misrepresentations by this small group of activists, many of our neighbors are not being fooled. We have received numerous calls and letters from our neighbors who are both supportive of our plan and appreciative of the school’s efforts to be a good neighbor.

Over the next few months, there will be much debate about our plans. We look forward to continuing to work with our neighbors to ensure that our redevelopment will be a benefit to the school and our neighborhood.

Robert Franco
The Epstein School
Sandy Springs resident