The Galloway School ended its plan to put athletic fields on Sandy Springs’ High Point Road at the Jan. 19 City Council meeting, bowing to intense opposition from hundreds of residents.

“We recognize there is a lot of anxiety in the community,” Sharon Gay, an attorney for the Buckhead-based private school, told the council. She requested an approval of withdrawal rather than denial—which could freeze any rezonings for a year—so that any other, community-driven plans for developing the land would not be blocked.

An aerial map, from city zoning filings, of the High Point Road property where the Galloway School sought to place an athletic facility.

Galloway informed neighbors last fall about the softball and tennis facility, planned for the southern dead-end of High Point Road, only after it had placed the land under contract from its owner, former NFL football star Warrick Dunn. Councilman Tibby DeJulio noted that got the process off to a bad start, with dozens of residents opposing it for reasons of traffic and potential flooding on the adjacent Nancy Creek.

“This is a case study in why people need to discuss [projects] with their neighbors before permits are applied for,” DeJulio said. “That’s kind of a lost art these days, talking with our neighbors.”

It is unclear whether Galloway has any other options for athletic fields it has said it needs badly and cannot fit on its campus near Chastain Park. “I know they looked long and hard for over 18 months” before settling on the High Point site, Gay said in an interview. “This is a hot real estate market.”

Galloway entered the council meeting intending to back off from the athletic field plan, but not to withdraw altogether. Last week, it requested a 60-day deferral of the council’s decision.

“Galloway wanted time to consider alternative uses,” Gay said in an interview. “Clearly, we were not going to proceed with recreational fields.”

But at the council meeting, Gay agreed to withdraw the entire plan as the council made it clear that denial was a real option. The council unanimously supported the withdrawal.

The withdrawal was a big turnaround from Galloway’s appearance last month at the Sandy Springs Planning Commission, which voted to recommend denial. At that meeting, Gay indicated a legal fight could be brewing, saying the letter of the zoning code was on Galloway’s side amid disputes about the school’s traffic and water runoff studies.

Among Galloway’s opponents who supported the withdrawal were Bill Gannon of the High Point Civic Association and prominent local zoning attorney Pete Hendricks, who represented local homeowners.

Galloway sits just south of the Sandy Springs border and is only one-and-a-half miles from the High Point Road site. The school had many supporters throughout the debate and even some opponents were torn as they have children enrolled there. Among them was Councilman Andy Bauman, who has children in seventh and tenth grade at the Galloway. Bauman said he sought an ethics opinion from the city attorney on whether he should recuse himself from the vote for that reason, and was told it’s not a conflict.

Bauman said he received hundreds of emails about Galloway’s plan and recounted some of the good and bad reasons residents put forward in opposition. Perhaps the worst reason: Saying Galloway should be rejected because it’s in Atlanta, not Sandy Springs. “I reject that out of hand. That’s un-American,” Bauman said.

Of the good reasons to oppose, “the essential one,” Bauman said, was High Point’s designation as a “protected neighborhood” in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a non-binding set of land-use guidelines. Galloway previously argued that zoning code allows athletic fields there and trumps the Comp Plan, a view that the Planning Commission rejected. Bauman said that “protected neighborhood” is “not just a throwaway phrase in our Comp Plan.”

“I think cases like this really beg and scream for consensus to come through,” Bauman said of the debate, adding he was supporting withdrawal only in the hopes that someone else will find a better use for the site. “I would have opposed this. I do oppose this.”

John Ruch

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