By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

The Sandy Springs City Council on Oct. 7 changed a single word from its Aug. 19 decision to allow Holy Spirit Preparatory School to build a sports complex on Long Island Drive.

The change was described as a clarification — not all council members were sure they had voted on a use permit reflecting their actual intentions.

But the change resulted in a different vote. In August, the council voted 4-2 in favor of the permit. This time, the vote was 3-3, and Mayor Eva Galambos broke the tie by voting in favor of the motion, which passed without having been advertised and without any public comment.

The motion struck the word “only” from a stipulation that the property could contain a “field house, concession stand, and administrative offices for athletic department staff only.”

The change clarified that the school is allowed to house administrative staff, such as admissions workers, on the site.

The move came after the Long Island Neighborhoods Coalition filed a lawsuit Sept. 18 challenging the validity of the use permit and the variances associated with it. Representatives from Holy Spirit have called the lawsuit an attempt to delay the construction of the sports complex.

The change in wording led Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul to reverse the position he took Aug. 19 and vote against the motion Oct. 7, bringing about the tie.

“That is supposed to be an athletic complex. If we breach that agreement by putting in administration, then I think we’ve gone beyond at least what my original intent was,” he said.

Dist. 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie and Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny voted against the revised motion, just as they voted against the use permit Aug. 19.

MacGinnitie said he viewed the amendment as a “substantive change to what we approved — what we discussed — that night.”

“To make a change, I think, would be pretty troubling from my perspective. There may very well be the votes to do it, but we ought to do it when the interested public is in front of us and we can have a substantive conversation about it then,” he said.

Brian Daughdrill, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of his neighbors, said there has “clearly been a decision on a land-use issue.”

“The fact that you have different votes and a tie … that’s troubling, because there’s clearly been a shift on the council,” he said.

Holy Spirit President Gareth Genner said the council “clearly and unequivocally approved the administration building” Aug. 19.

“If there were some form of typographical error, it really is not substantive,” he said.

Dist. 2’s Dianne Fries, Dist. 4’s Ashley Jenkins and Dist. 5’s Tibby DeJulio voted for the amendment. They also voted for approval of the use permit Aug. 19.

Because the City Council acted as a quasi-judicial tribunal when it granted the use permit and variances, the lawsuit by the school’s neighbors is an appeal to a higher court. A judge will rule based on the public record of relevant city meetings, and no live testimony or new facts will be introduced.