By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

The Long Island Neighborhoods Coalition filed a lawsuit Sept. 18 in Fulton County Superior Court to reverse the Sandy Springs City Council’s Aug. 19 decision to allow Holy Spirit Preparatory School to build a sports complex on Long Island Drive.

The council’s 4-2 vote to grant the school a use permit for the property went against the planning staff’s recommendation of denial. Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny and Dist. 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie voted no.

The suit names as defendants the city of Sandy Springs, Holy Spirit and landowner Anne Boone. They were given 30 days to file a response.

Because the council acted as a quasi-judicial tribunal when it granted the use permit and variances, the lawsuit is an appeal to a higher court. A judge will rule based on information confined to the public record of relevant city meetings. No live testimony or new facts will be introduced.

The use permit allows the construction of a 400-seat lighted stadium with a speaker system, a 15,000-square-foot field house, a swimming pool and tennis courts. The property is about 8 acres.

McEnerny, in whose district the property is located, declined to comment on the lawsuit. So did City Attorney Wendell Willard.

Holy Spirit Preparatory School President Gareth Genner called the lawsuit an “unvarnished attempt to delay the process” of construction.

Modifications are being made to the design of the sports complex, which is planned to be open for the fall of 2009. The sound system and bleachers are being reconfigured to “further enhance shielding,” he said.

The school is “proceeding with the design process” and doesn’t anticipate any delays in opening the complex, he said. “We may have to incur additional costs if the construction period is condensed, but we will be looking to recover those costs from the litigants.”

Brian Daughdrill, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of his neighbors, called Genner’s claim that the lawsuit is an attempt to delay construction “the response that you always get from the permit holder.”

“Obviously, I disagree,” Daughdrill said. “We raised at the hearing that there were legal issues, and they are legal issues that impact the people bringing the suit. It’s not to delay this. The matter is we believe it was wrong when they voted on it.”

The lawsuit questions the Community Unit Plan (CUP) zoning of the property, which was put into place by Fulton County years ago. The lawsuit says the city’s zoning ordinance requires CUP property to be at least 10 acres. Under that zoning, the site just inside I-285 could be developed with as many as 31 single-family houses.

The suit also contends that the special use permit granted to the school would be valid only if the sports field were built as an “accessory” rather than primary use for the property, which isn’t the case. The facility should be treated like any other recreational field, the suit says. That would make the planned loudspeaker system and night games impossible.

Genner said that the “same issue was raised with the city attorney some time before the permit was issued” and that “the city attorney judged it to be without legal merit.”

Daughdrill said neighbors have long opposed the lights and sound system for the stadium.

“We don’t believe this can be done the way they’re doing it, legally,” he said, adding that there probably are ways to go back and correct a lot of the legal errors. “I don’t know that (neighbors) will ever support (the permit) in its current configuration, but they might not be active opponents of it if it didn’t include lights and a PA system.”