By Gerhard Schneibel

The Epstein School’s request to withdraw its application for a use permit to expand was granted Jan. 20 on a 5-0 vote by the Sandy Springs City Council with no conditions.

The economy is to blame, said Pete Hendricks, a lawyer for the school.

“It would be some time before the school could even begin to consider coming back before you,” he said. “We’ve heard the concerns.”

“It might be years before we could raise the money needed for this,” school President Robert Franco said.

“Some have suggested that our withdrawal because of economic factors is not genuine, and my only answer to that is read the newspaper and watch the television,” he said.

School neighbors Ann Feldman and Andy Porter asked the City Council for an outright denial so the school wouldn’t be able to reapply for expansion under the same plan.

Feldman said the school has “spent an untold amount of city time and taxpayer dollars and is now casually walking away.”

“An all-or-nothing attitude left us at an impasse,” she said. “The residents of Sandy Springs need to know that they can rely on their mayor and City Council to protect their neighborhoods.”

Franco said at some point the city will have to make decisions about the status of private schools in protected neighborhoods under its comprehensive plan.

About 40 religious institutions and private schools are in protected neighborhoods in the city. To argue those institutions should primarily serve the neighborhoods around them would be a mistake, he said.

“Are we going to become a community segregated by where we choose to worship or go to school?” he said.

The school plans to continue its meetings with neighbors. “There is no reason this effort should stop because of the withdrawal of our expansion,” Franco said. “We have an incentive to compromise, and our incentive is to grow our school. The Epstein School has been a good neighbor and a good citizen as a school.”

Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio made the motion to grant the withdrawal. The expansion plans have been “probably the most contentious issue” in city history, he said.

“I hope the school has come to the realization that if and when they come back, that it better be a better plan, and they’d better work it out with the neighbors,” he said.

The school intended to increase its enrollment from the current cap of 650 to 850 over 10 years after expanding its facilities from 106,000 square feet to 158,000 square feet. The project would have increased the campus from 11.16 acres to 15.44 acres, and the school would have built a loop road, a 450-seat theater, a two-story early childhood building and an outdoor classroom.

Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul, a contract lobbyist for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, abstained from the vote.