By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

Stormwater runoff could become an issue as Sandy Springs officials consider The Epstein School’s expansion plans and the opposition of neighborhood associations.

The school plans a 10-year expansion that would increase its student body from 650 to 850. Its rezoning application was scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on Aug. 21 and the City Council in September. However, it likely will be deferred at the school’s request and face the Planning Commission in October and the City Council in November.

The project would include more parking spaces and an internal loop road for the carpool line, all of which means more paving. Paved surfaces prevent storm water from soaking into the ground and thus can create runoff.

Neighbors recently came forth with a 1980s legal action against Fulton County that resulted in the construction of two retention ponds to ease flooding of Colewood Creek, which empties into the Chattahoochee River about a mile west of The Epstein School.

One of the ponds now is an overgrown basin behind Arlington Memorial Park. City planners couldn’t pinpoint the second basin but said information about both ponds will be included in a comprehensive study of the city’s stormwater system, which will be started this fiscal year.

Colewood Creek runs through the yard of Mike McGuinn, who lives on Tanacrest Court. A steady, 30-minute downpour floods his property, and his house temporarily becomes an island. He fears that Epstein expansion will make the problem worse.

When McGuinn and neighbors brought legal action against the county, the creek regularly flooded a bridge in his front yard. The county agreed to build the two retention ponds shortly before the case went to court, and that action improved the situation.

McGuinn said he wanted the county held accountable for allowing too many houses to be built upstream of his.

“They continued to permit more and more homes upstream, and the runoff just grew greater and greater and greater,” he said. “We basically used the position that if a governing body assumes … the authority to issue land-use permitting to determine what can and can’t be done with the land, then (it) has to accept liabilities when they use that in such a way where it causes harm.”

He said his only opposition to the Epstein project is the possibility of additional stormwater runoff. The school, which sits within 500 feet north of the creek, is less than half a mile upstream of McGuinn’s house.

“I can’t afford any more runoff,” he said.

Dan Brown, the superintendent of the Chattahoochee River Park, said stormwater runoff has a significant environmental impact on the river. “It has for years and continues to. When we learn of these things — as we are able, we will follow up and do whatever is necessary and appropriate,” he said. “At this point, for this situation, I don’t have enough info to respond, basically, but I will look into it.”

Brown said property owners living along Colewood Creek contacted him about the effects the proposed expansion could have on stormwater runoff.

Stan Beiner, Epstein’s head of school, said the school’s plans include an underground detention basin that would minimize runoff from the property. He said the school can’t be made responsible for previous stormwater problems.

“The storm water that comes from the school … is a very small portion of this issue. There will be no more water coming from the school if the plan goes through than now, but it would be better controlled,” he said. “The majority of the water isn’t coming from the school; it’s coming from the area.”

Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul declined to comment on the controversy over Epstein, which is in his district. He works as a contract legislative lobbyist for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, which partially funds the school. He said he will let City Attorney Wendell Willard decide whether he should recuse himself from voting on the rezoning.

Beiner said the school’s administration continues to work with neighbors to win support for its plan. “We’re going to continue to dialogue and work as best we can to come up with something that will be positive for everybody.”