By Amy Wenk
The chimney turned up the heat at the July 21 meeting of the Sandy Springs City Council.
After much public outcry, the council addressed the community’s desire for an archaeological assessment of the William Power cabin site and stacked-stone chimney at the new Morgan Falls Overlook Park.
“What happened … was a triumph of process and substance,” Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said. “The council heard from the public, and they acted on the public’s interest to protect the William Power cabin. I’m thrilled.”
The Sandy Springs Conservancy was granted permission to access Overlook Park to conduct a third-party historical study of the site at its expense. The assessment will determine the age, footprint, ownership and historical relevance of the Power site.
“We’re all very, very pleased,” said Trisha Thompson, Dist. 2 director for the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods.
She said she was “astounded” at the community turnout for the meeting July 21. Members of the conservancy and Heritage Sandy Springs were among those there.
“There was the greatest broad-based support for saving that chimney as is and on site of any issue that I have ever seen in the 10 years I have been doing zoning in Fulton County and now in Sandy Springs,” Thompson said.
The assessment must be complete by Aug. 15 because contractor Astra Group soon will begin construction at Overlook Park. The council likely will vote on the findings at its next meeting Aug. 18.
Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul said that if the chimney “can be preserved safely in place, it will be.”
The Power site, where one of two chimneys still stands, was uncovered last fall when the city cleared Overlook Park.
“Although we were aware of the chimneys and other archaeological sites, both our environmental assessment and the Georgia Power relicensing study deferred study because of the impenetrable thicket of bamboo and wisteria,” said Joey Mayson, the conservancy’s president. “Once the invasives were cleared, everyone could see the beautifully constructed, stacked-stone chimney, which most likely predates the Civil War.”
But the city never planned to conduct an archaeological study of the site.
“The pushback from the mayor and several people on the council was over whether or not the site was historic,” McEnerny said.
A building officer examined the chimney and determined it was structurally unsound. The plan was to hire a specialist of structural conservation to take apart the chimney and reassemble it on the same spot.
“We love the chimney,” Mayor Eva Galambos said. “When it was uncovered from all the bamboo, it was like a revelation.”
She said the city wants to keep the chimney and did not “understand what all the excitement is about.”
The commotion gained momentum after National Park Service architectural historian Tommy Jones recommended that a historical assessment be done, that the two chimneys be preserved and stabilized, and that the other historical landscape features be preserved.
“This was a bubble-up from the community,” said McEnerny, who championed the site’s historical study after attending a planning meeting on Overlook Park in April.
In the months that followed, she sent several e-mail messages to the council and discussed her concern at a June 16 work session.
But she couldn’t garner the “consensus of council” to allow the public to speak.
The council has a long-standing policy to bring issues to work sessions, where a majority must vote to place an item on the agenda.
But McEnerny overturned that process July 21 after consulting City Attorney Wendell Willard and learning the city’s charter allowed her to place the issue on the agenda “so the public could share their viewpoints,” McEnerny said. “No longer will four council members block any one council member’s right to place an item on the agenda.”
Galambos was not thrilled at the change of procedure, saying: “We will have longer meetings from now on.”
Now it is up to the conservancy to find funding for the archaeological assessment, which Mayson said will cost an estimated $40,000.
The conservancy hired Jack Pyburn of the architectural firm Lord, Aeck and Sargent to compile information on the history of the site. That $3,600 study will aid historical interpretation when it is completed the week of July 27.