By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

The Sandy Springs City Council voted 4-2 Aug. 19 to allow Holy Spirit Preparatory School to build a football stadium on Long Island Drive.

Onlookers hushed their companions when emotional reactions threatened to break out before the vote on the use permit for the athletic complex. Holy Spirit students and parents cheered afterward in the parking lot.

Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny and Dist. 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie voted no.

Representatives from both sides presented arguments similar to the ones they used before a July 17 Planning Commission vote on the issue, which resulted in no action.

City planning staff recommended denying the permit to build a 400-seat stadium, a 15,000-square-foot field house, a swimming pool and tennis courts. The vacant, 8-acre property is zoned to be developed with as many as 31 single-family residences.

Chuck Berk of Long Island Drive argued that the complex would violate the comprehensive land-use plan, designed in part to protect neighborhoods from overdevelopment.

“Protect your homeowners. We voted to have our own city so we could have local control,” he told the council. “Please listen to the voice of the community. As Mayor Galambos stated in her inaugural address, our neighborhoods, whether composed of starter homes or mansions, are the backbone of our community.”

Dist. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins introduced the motion to approve the permit with stipulations about how often and for what purposes the field may be used.

“We’re taking a dead piece of property and making it green,” she said. “I really want to expand the number of recreational fields for our kids, whether those are private schools offering them or us buying up parks. You all know we don’t have a lot of money just lying around to go buying up parks. Any innovative way such as this where we can add green space for our kids … that is not a bad thing.”

McEnerny, in whose district the school is located, introduced a substitute motion to deny the permit but didn’t get a second. “I think all of us recognize the benefit of having strong regional schools in our neighborhoods,” she said, but the city has nine public schools and “16 private schools within 4½ miles of Georgia 400 and I-285. … I’m against providing a use that is intrusive into our neighborhoods when a school has enough room or could accommodate their administrative needs or ball fields at some other location.”

MacGinnitie said the city needs to stand by its comprehensive land-use plan because “it allows people the benefit of their economic expectations. People can move into our community, buy a piece of property, develop it and know what’s going to go in around them.

“I think these battles are fundamentally bad for our community. No matter what happens tonight, there’s going to be a lot of bad feelings. If we send a message tonight that we don’t live by the plan, we’ll have more of these battles.”

After the meeting, Ron Beerman of Long Island Drive said council members were not holding true to campaign promises.

“One of the primary reasons they were elected which was to protect the neighborhoods of Sandy Springs,” he said.

Gareth Genner, the president of Holy Spirit, said McEnerny was “coming from a point of strong principles, and we have to respect that.”

The decision, however, “means the students will get the facilities that they really need to have,” he said. “There are a large number of conditions which will protect the neighbors, and we plan to be good neighbors.”

Among the conditions, the school may construct no more than 15,000 square feet of building space, which can’t include classrooms, and must work with the city arborist to create evergreen landscaping. The facilities may stay open until 11 p.m. 12 times a year for varsity and junior varsity football; otherwise, the hours of operation will be limited to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Brian Daughdrill, who lives near the school, said the vote surprised him. “There is no fair reading of the comprehensive plan that says this is an acceptable use of the property.”