Alpharetta City Council denied Amana Academy's plan to move into the Windward Business Park, saying it wasn't the proper use of the land.
The public charter school's governing board wanted to buy the 75,000-square-foot building on a site at Windward Parkway and Edison Drive that has been vacant for the past four years. The last occupant was a health center. The three stories of offices would be converted into classrooms, and the section of the building that has a 24-foot high ceiling would be used as the school's gym, Executive Director Ehab Jaleel said.
"This building is perfectly suited for Amana Academy's award-wining program," Jaleel said in presenting the school's case for the change to the Windward Master Plan.
During three hours of public comment, City Council heard from Windward homeowners and business people, owners of adjacent properties, parents and leaders at Amana Academy–and even a handful of students who attend the school.
Opponents of the conditional use permit application said the public charter school's request didn't fit the business district of the Windward master plan. They also claimed traffic would get much worse.
"I would say to Amana school that this is not a hearing about the quality of their school," said Spinnaker Drive resident Paul Barrow. "This is a land use issue."
Proponents of the school said having an award-winning school in Windward would raise property values, not lower them as many residents were saying would happen.
Sixth grade Amana student Asia Brooks asked City Council to approve the school's request.
"Alpharetta needs to support Amana Academy moving to Windward because we are so much more than a traditional school," she said.
The Windward building has open spaces around it while the current location doesn't even have windows in its classrooms.
Angelika Otte, president of Amana's parent organization, said like most parents she shuttles her kids to school. While in Alpharetta she shops at local stores.
Those Amana families who do not live in Alpharetta benefit the city, Otte said, and not just by sending kids there.
"But we also bring business to Alpharetta as parents because we spend there," she said.
Steve Rothman, spoke for the owners of Windward Oaks, the office buildings across Edison Drive from the proposed school site. He said it would hurt the value of their property and make it difficult to fill vacancies. The owners invested millions of dollars on their property based on the master plan and the character of the business district.
He said that while the Metropolitan Club might keep its liquor license by being grandfathered in, the school was too close to their two office buildings to allow any other business to get a liquor license.
Attorney Art Leach, whose business and home are both in Windward, said homeowners would risk losing value on their biggest investment–their homes–when he asked City Council to deny Amana Academy's request.
Council members including D.C. Aiken said they could not find a compelling reason to change the Windward Master Plan and voted unanimously to deny the conditional use permit request.
After the vote, the school's executive director said for now Amana Academy would plan to stay put in the former grocery store on South Main Street.