By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.netIgnatius House is closer to starting its planned expansion on Riverside Drive.

Despite three residents’ concerns, the Sandy Springs Planning Commission April 15 voted in favor of the retreat center’s proposed plans. Final approval from City Council could come May 18.

The retreat center wants to construct a 3,000-square-foot administration building and then renovate its retreat house for more rooms. Extra parking spaces, system and landscape upgrades and a larger home for the Jesuit priests are in the plans.

Also under consideration is the creation of two columbarium, which are garden areas for interning ashes of cremated remains. Ashes could be buried, put in an above-ground structure or spread on top of the ground.

Some residents April 15 opposed that idea.

“I believe that a cemetery of that sort doesn’t belong in that neighborhood,” said Bob Karimi who lives near the retreat center on Riverside Drive.

Resident Seyyed Anvaripour said he was worried a nearby columbarium could decrease his property values. He lives across from Ignatius House.

“I strongly disagree with this decision,” Anvaripour said.

Planning Commission member Wayne Thatcher said residents shouldn’t be concerned.

“I can assure you that cemeteries within neighborhoods do not affect property values,” Thatcher said. He said he served on a property task force prior to the city’s incorporation that inspected properties and found almost 20 cemeteries around Sandy Springs. Most were tucked away in neighborhoods.

“You just don’t realize how many we have and where they are,” Thatcher said.

Bob Fitzgerald, project manager for Ignatius House and former executive director who retired last fall, said he was pleased with the decision from the planning board.

“We look forward to working with staff and the state and to making a significant contribution to the community through the improvements,” Fitzgerald said after the meeting.

Ignatius House leaders have launched a capital campaign to raise $2.2 million for the facility improvements. They want to begin construction this year and will continue to work in phases for several years.