To the editor:

St. James Anglican Church, located at 5975 Mitchell Road in Sandy Springs, is the site of a proposed residential development.

Dan Whisenhunt of the Sandy Springs Reporter newspaper reported that I, on the behalf of the surrounding neighborhoods, requested a delay from the Planning Commission of the scheduled May 17 hearing for the proposed development at 5975 Mitchell Road.

The delay was requested to try to work out the differences between the developer, Bryan Flint of Arrowhead properties, and the neighboring homeowners, who are directly affected by this proposed project.

I believe that further details will be helpful regarding the position of the neighborhoods that surround the proposed development and why a delay was requested and necessary in the first place.

The great majority of the surrounding neighborhood residents are solidly united in supporting an appropriate development on this property, the key word being “appropriate.” We welcome an appropriate development, such as a subdivision with 10 to 12 single-family, detached homes, that reasonably preserves at least some of the beautiful existing mature foliage and the natural lay of the land, with set-backs that don’t infringe on or cause unreasonable and even potentially damaging issues to the neighboring subdivisions and a development that is otherwise in keeping with the preponderance of the other residences adjoining this proposed development and along Mitchell Road.

The developer’s original and subsequent proposed plans, however, have not provided that, instead proposing very high density for this relatively small 2.34-acre piece of property, first with 19 attached townhomes and the latest plan containing 14 detached single-family residences, both being densities that are well above the norm as compared to the majority of the surrounding neighborhoods.

The price point of the proposed homes in the development have also been an issue, with the developer’s original plan calling for $350,000 per townhome, which is well below, and would negatively impact, the majority of the pre-existing homes in the neighborhood.

The developer’s strategy has now become transparent; at least it has to me. It is obvious that he has asked for the moon in order to eventually get something less but still acceptable to him. He wants to show that he has had many meetings and has already made many concessions to the neighbors of the proposed development, and that we are now being unreasonable with our demands. That is however in fact far from accurate.

Yes, the developer can say he has submitted multiple plans; he has worked with us to reduce density (though not enough); to address the historical issues; to deal with the issue of the huge trees (that in the end most of which are still going to be cut down); he would change the originally proposed above-ground drainage pond to an underground drainage retention system (that still leaves remaining issues); and he has said he would raise the specs of the homes so that the potential selling prices will be more in keeping with the predominant prices of the pre-existing homes in the surrounding neighborhoods. Yes, he has addressed those matters (though not all satisfactorily).

What he, however, has not done is that he has not worked with us in earnest to provide the most important elements that we have asked for all along since Day One and he has been non-committal and evasive on those key matters, those being:

1. To withdraw the request for the excessive zoning variances and build within the current approved zoning. The Sandy Springs zoning staff personnel have already recommended to deny the developer’s variance requests due to there being no existing hardship that requires such variances – but that is only a recommendation and city leaders can still do whatever they wish.

Accordingly, it is important to understand that the neighbors’ pushback in this area is not just another effort by a group of “say no” at any cost neighbors. but is instead due to very real issues, those being the matters of:

a) the developer’s plan to get set-back variances in order to build (too many) homes to the very outer edges of the property, including to the extreme back of the development, right on top of a high and steep incline, with three homes located directly below it and that has a retaining wall that has already failed in the past and, b) the privacy issues that such excessive set-back variances will cause for the residents directly adjacent to the proposed development. The proposed new 40-foot high homes, if permitted to be built with the requested extreme set-back variances, will be looking right into the bedrooms, other windows and the back yards of the adjoining homes, way too close for comfort.

2. To reduce the density of the development to no more than 10 to 12 homes, in harmony with the density of most of the surrounding neighborhoods.

3. To ensure to the surrounding residents that the proposed development will be completely built-out in a timely manner (a year has been proposed by the neighbors) and that it will not sit around for several years with only a couple of homes actually built, with the other lots just being empty other Georgia red clay, maybe with roughed pipes sticking up, as has occurred so often here and elsewhere throughout the country in this current terrible economy.

4. To provide the neighboring residents with actual details and tangible written commitments for these items as well as for the other things the developer has “said” he would do. Trust is a great thing, and I usually do trust folks (until they demonstrate otherwise) but trust just doesn’t get it in matters such as this with so many unknowns and with the evasiveness the developer has exhibited so far. With so much at stake and with so many residents involved, written, binding commitments are necessary.

The city, of course, would be happy if the developer and neighbors could agree to a negotiated a settlement. We would too! The neighborhood group has been trying hard to work with the developer in a fair, business-like and reasonable manner, but the developer has not (not yet at least) responded with any definitive answers to the key logical and reasonable questions we have asked him, and we still have no binding commitment whatsoever on anything related to this development.

“Kumbaya” and “Can’t we all just get along” sound great, but in the real world business is business. It boils down to the fact that it takes two to negotiate – but so far only one side has actually participated in good-faith, that being the neighbors to this proposed development.

In closing, it just doesn’t seem right to me that established and long pre-existing homeowners such as we are should be put in the position of having to defend our turf in such a manner as we have to do here.

Jerry Erbesfield

President, Ridgemere Homeowners Association