Ashton Woods opponents, wearing red as symbolic protest, crowd into the Sandy Springs City Council chamber Aug. 18.
Ashton Woods opponents, wearing red as symbolic protest, crowd into the Sandy Springs City Council chamber Aug. 18.
Ashton Woods property owner Caroline Glenn Mayson (seated, third from left) is joined by residents and officials at the Sandy Springs City Council meeting Aug. 18.

The Ashton Woods housing portion of the Mercedes-Benz USA headquarters project—whose plan now includes a new 14-acre public park—won approval from Sandy Springs City Council tonight in a 5-1 vote.

But many opposing neighbors—dozens of whom attended wearing red shirts to symbolize their stance—might sue the city over the approval, an attorney and a neighborhood association leader said afterward.

“It’s an imperfect project…but it’s a good project,” said Councilman Andy Bauman, who, like his peers, explained how he wrestled with the pros and cons.

Matt LaMarsh of the Mount Vernon Woods Homeowners Association, one leader of the local opposition, said residents may sue as several threatened to do in public comments. They allege the city improperly considered the plan as one parcel instead of two, making density calculations incorrect, among other issues. Hakim Hilliard, an attorney hired by unhappy neighbors, attended the meeting.

“We’ll consult with [residents] and see if that’s still the case,” LaMarsh said in an interview of the appetite for a lawsuit. “We think that’s still the case. We’ll see if anyone else wants to join the fight.”

The hotly controversial plan covers 75 acres along Glenridge Drive, straddling Abernathy Road. It combines the new Mercedes headquarters and Ashton Woods’ variety of single-family, condo and apartment homes.Some commercial space is in the mix as well. Mercedes is generally liked, while the housing—especially the 399 apartment units—have been debated, largely for traffic impacts.

The property is currently owned by Caroline Glenn Mayson, who demolished her family’s historic mansion on the northern part of the site earlier this year amid local protests. In a major change to the plan, 14 acres of that site will now be preserved as a public park, complete with hiking trails, to be donated to the city.

The council approved the plan with a couple of changes proposed by Councilman Gabriel Sterling—notably including a reduction in the number of apartments to 355 maximum. That apparently was too much for Councilman Graham McDonald, who voiced density concerns and was the only no vote.

Most councilmen described the vote as a difficult one, but said they were swayed by the live-work design of various housing types built around a corporate headquarters. The large new public park, which drew support from the Sandy Springs Conservancy, was welcomed as well.

They also indicated that the lawsuit they fear more is one from Mayson or the developers, because that could wipe out the site’s zoning and let them build whatever they want.“It may not be the best plan, but it the best plan compared to all the others I saw,” said Mayor Rusty Paul, weighing in despite not getting a vote under the city’s form of government. “I wish there was another answer…but there’s not.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.