A plan to replace a church with a senior housing complex got a thumbs-down from the Sandy Springs Planning Commission for the second time on June 16, as a downsized plan failed to appease neighbors. The City Council will make the deciding vote next month.

A rendering of Parc Communities’ redesigned senior housing plan for the Apostles Church site at Glenridge and Hammond drives in Sandy Springs, from a city filing.

Parc Communities’ plan for luxury senior housing at the Apostles Church property at Glenridge and Hammond drives has become a flashpoint in debates about the city’s rapid redevelopment, from Facebook groups to the City Council District 3 race. The site is within a “protected neighborhood”—an old-school ranch-house suburb—in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, a kind of land-use bible whose interpretation is in dispute. Even the Planning Commission was split, 4-1, on its denial recommendation.

When the project was first proposed in January at 201 units and up to 75 feet tall, neighbors objected that such density and scale violated the “protected neighborhood” concept. After gaining a City Council deferral last month, Parc shrank the plan to 171 units and 48 feet tall. That made no difference to residents, who still oppose rezoning and permitting the project.

“This is not suitable at this density in this location—not at all,” Trisha Thompson, president of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods, told the commission.

“If this was next door to me, I would be having a cow,” said commission member Susan Maziar. “I think we need to stick to the [land-use] plan.”

But Parc attorney Chip Collins, a former City Council member, noted the Comprehensive Plan also calls for more senior housing in the city, and that Hammond Drive already has dense uses nearby, including the landmark Concourse Center skyscrapers and an office park abutting one side of the church.

Collins pointed out that the Comp Plan is non-binding, is undergoing a major rewrite, and has been overridden before. As a “great example,” Collins cited last year’s intensely controversial approval of the Mercedes-Benz USA headquarters and adjacent Ashton Woods housing development farther up Glenridge along Abernathy Road.

“The land use plan is not the Constitution. It’s a guide,” Collins said. “Like [the] Mercedes [project], the land-use plan for this [church site] is not realistic,” he added, drawing some laughter and grumbling from the crowd of opponents.

A majority of commissioners were concerned the project is essentially a giant apartment building like those in Perimeter Center or the Roswell Road corridor, as the rezoning would be for apartments, but deed-restricted to senior housing. If Parc failed financially, the building’s only use would be as apartments, some commissioners said.

“Very appropriate for a church [site], this is debating angels dancing on the head of a pin” as to whether it’s apartments or senior housing, said commission member Dave Nickels. Fellow commission member Reed Haggard said, “I think ultimately, when this comes down to it…we’re either approving or not approving a 171-unit apartment building.”

But it was not an easy decision for some commissioners, who said they liked the project’s concept and noted that the church, which is selling due to financial problems, will be redeveloped into something. Commission member Steve Tart was Parc’s lone supporter in the 4-1 denial vote.

“I do believe change is inevitable,” said Tart, noting the site is “one inch” away from the office park and agreeing the Comp Plan is flawed. “Sandy Springs is no longer a suburban community. It’s an urban environment growing into an urban neighborhood,” he said.

Haggard agreed that change happens, reeling off a list of hotels and towers he has seen replace his childhood hangouts. But, he added, the underlying question is, “Where do we draw the line of [urban] expansion down Hammond?”

The Planning Commission’s vote is a non-binding recommendation to the City Council, which will try to answer that question in its decision on the project.

John Ruch

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

7 replies on “Smaller senior housing plan is still too big, Sandy Springs Planning Commission says”

  1. After making exception after exception to the land use plan, the City of Sandy Springs is now looking at enforcing the land use plan. I guess the City got tired of all the complaints about overdevelopment that was not needed and the traffic nightmares we are seeing today. The church/Parc should sue the City because that’s all the citizens of Sandy Springs heard from City officials about the Ashton Woods boondoggle. What ever happened to seller’s rights? This is the mess that City officials created because they didn’t have the courage to face the developers in the recent past.

  2. The juxtaposition of opinions on this project is dripping with irony…to date, the only two people I’ve seen publicly declare support for this project are the rezoning attorney for the project and a planning commission member (the lone “yes” vote last night) who is himself a developer (surprise!). Contrast that with the voluminous opposition comments on NextDoor, on Zoning Coalition, and the 50-60+ pages of unanimously-opposed community opposition letters in the official Planning Packet…with probably another 60 pages received these last two weeks and probably another 60 before city council meeting.

    A 4-story apartment complex that is 521%+ over the land use plan Maximum does NOT belong directly adjacent to a single-family residential neighborhood. The point remains that ALL of Sandy Springs residents should care about the dangerous precedent this project will set (or not set) if approved. If approved, no one in any District of Sandy Springs could be certain of what the future holds for their home. Any resident living in a single story house would have to worry that if a few of their neighbors assemble a large parcel of land to sell to a hungry developer, their peaceful house might end up with a 4-story apartment building next door, hurting their quality of life, their property value, and rendering their house difficult if not impossible to sell. That’s not a great feeling. This is not conjecture either; the actual applicant for this project has already publicly mentioned his interest in acquiring the remainder of the properties along Glenridge for other projects and allowing “apartment creep” even further into our ostensibly protected neighborhoods.

  3. RuRu —

    So you’re arguing that because illegal zonings have occurred in the past, that if our city council decides to grow a spine and begin protecting communities and enforcing city policies that that is grounds for a lawsuit? That’s like trying to argue your way out of a ticket on 285 because they caught you doing illegal things but not everybody. And as our mayor is fond of saying, MB/Ashton woods was a “once in a generation” project that merited bending the rules. These senior apartments are a once in a generation proposal or even a “once in a block” proposal!….literally Hammond Glen and Mt Vernon towers senior living are right next door. Our city is not lacking senior apartments in this neck of the woods…at all.

    The seller has the right to sell the land to whomever they choose. The buyer has a right to build upon it whatever complies with the current zoning. The buyer can always make the sale contingent on rezoning.

    And you speak of property rights…with this proposal, the seller will be costing the collective residents of Aberdeen Forest, Austin Place and GHNA neighborhoods many, many millions of dollars of lost property value (lowering the taxes they’ll pay to the city as well), so you are naive to act as if the church is the only property owner with rights. Their collective lost property value is far greater than whatever money the mortgage holder stands to lose by selling the property as it was already zoned when the current owner decided to purchase it.

    Also … RuRu– does that stand for Rusty Rusty? Or are you the bond holder of the $M million in church mortgage debt who is salty that the law is being enforced?

  4. No, I’m not Rusty Rusty. You need to re-read my post. The irony of this zoning situation is that the same things were said and implied about the MB/Ashton debacle. That’s all I’m saying. It doesn’t matter where the zoning location is. The City of Sandy Springs talks out of both sides of their mouths. The talk about preservation of neighborhoods on one hand and sellers rights on the other. The bottom line is the City has granted zoning to connected developers and the neighborhoods don’t stand a chance. None of the current members of the City Council or the Mayor will get reelected because they have done nothing for the neighborhoods and the citizens. Talk, talk talk.

  5. Oh Mr. Paul what leadership. I mean no leadership. The residents of Sandy Springs can only hope you don’t fail us again and somehow approve this.
    Mr. Paul, the future of possible public transport, possible bike lanes, possible road widening to combat all the over development as much a pipe dream as your being a leader.

    The reason the Very Small City of SandySprings continually caves in to developers is the same reason it should have never happened in the first place. The City has no money to fight developers when even a good portion of it’s residents have annual income greater than the $103 million dollar annual budget and that is a fight The City can’t win ever unless the city going bankrupt is what you’re after.

    Now, stop this development and tell us all which roads are going to be widened to accommodate all the development here and in East Cobb? Currently, Powers Ferry, Mt. Paran, Long Island and all the East Cobb cut thru routes to get to the Lennox/Phipps/Buckhead part of town are cars parked at stop signs that can take 15 minutes to get thru. We used to be able to cover the entire route in less time.

  6. Sandy Springs is suburban, not urban nor exurban. It has pockets of commercial development buy it is not urban and everyone should fight to keep it. Developers are always going to propose density everywhere in the US since that’s what they do – build. Doesn’t mean that proposals need to be approved – ever. unbelivanle that apts with parking decks are being built in SS as they are not needed. I will never understand those who think there is an inevitable march towards density as a natural progression. As if SS needs to turn into Buckhead and then Brooklyn and then Honk Kong for density. It can and should remain suburban. There is nothing alluring for SS to have a bunch of parking decks on Roswell Rd fronted by high rise apts at street edge. This proposal- comparing density to concourse is silly as that has olenty of acreage around it. The office ork next door is low rise, unconnected, small buildings. No comparison

  7. The sellers are within their rights to sell, but the buyer should be restricted to avoid devaluing the adjacent homes. This is just a thinly veiled attempt to allow more apartment development into residential neighborhoods. This is not a Mercedes type opportunity for Sandy Springs. It will not bring jobs or prestige to the area. It will not serve the greater good to replace a neighborhood church with apartments. The Glenridge corridor from Hammond to the Mormom Temple should remain as-is: a neighborhood of single family homes and townhomes.

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