Amana Academy's leaders got a little schooling themselves when they tried to get the Windward master plan changed so they could move the Fulton County charter school into an office building off Edison Drive.
The charter school's board of directors and its attorney contacted the Windward Business Association and got its backing. Since the site is within the business section of Windward, they didn't think talking to homeowners or their associations was necessary. They learned differently at the Alpharetta Planning Commission on July 7, as that board taught them you don't ignore the 2,400-home Windward community or its mandatory and voluntary homeowners' associations, the Windward Community Services Association (WCSA) and the Windward Homeowners Inc. (WHI).
The Planning Commission voted to table the request until its August meeting.
Georgia Barrows, a member of the WCSA board, told the Planning Commission the first they heard of the charter school's plans was with a phone call to board President Bill Johnson this week.
Amana's attorney, Ted Sandler, confirmed that he hadn't tried to reach Johnson until this week.
Barrows asked for more time so the WCSA could learn about Amana Academy's plans.
"We are part of the Windward Master Plan that you are addressing tonight," she said.
The board has a meeting scheduled with Amana Academy officials on July 19.
"But we haven't had an opportunity to even hear the information or have it presented," she said. "We'd like to respectfully request that you table this until your next meeting."
Tom Miller, another Windward resident and member of the WHI board, said he supported what WCSA board member Barrows said.
"Personally, I don't know if I'm in favor or opposed. I'm leaning against it. All I know is what I've read," he said.
He asked that the boards and homeowners be given the consideration of time to meet with Amana Academy before the Planning Commission makes its decision.
Planning Commissioner Rob Partee questioned what the homeowners' groups could possibly do or say about the school use. He said he is big on citizen participation and that Amana Academy representatives should probably meet with the homeowners' groups.
"Any business that was on that side of Windward has a very small impact on the homeowners," said Partee, a Windward resident himself.
The only difference between this than any other school is that they speak a different language, Arabic. School officials said part of the charter requires all students to learn Arabic.
After the hearing ended, Amana Academy board Chairman Maher Budeir said the charter school wants to meet with the community and keep everything open.
The school has been operating in leased space in the Alpharetta Square Shopping Center, the same strip center in which the Community Development Department has its offices. It is rapidly outgrowing that space and can't grow to its maximum 721 students allowed under its charter with the Fulton County School System and the GA Department of Education.
The building off Edison Drive has been vacant for four years. It originally housed Health Imaging, which used the three stories of offices and 25,000 square feet of warehouse space. A later tenant converted the warehouse area into space for a health facility, which Sandler said was perfect for the school, which wants to use that area for a gym and special purpose use. The office area would be renovated into classrooms, a media center and staff offices.
Approximately half the parking spaces and most of the pavement around the warehouse area would be eliminated as they aren't required or needed by the K-8 school, Sandler said. Those areas would be used for a playground, garden and recreation field, all additional greenspace.
The school would generate less traffic than its full use as an office building would have, he said. And the final students are released for the day by 3:15 p.m., clearing the school of traffic by 3:30 p.m., well ahead of the afternoon rush "hour."
Sandler said he's heard two concerns about the school, that it's a Muslim school and about traffic.
The school is non-secular and is a public facility. The only requirements for enrollment are that a student live in Fulton County, but outside the city of Atlanta. Tuition is free for those students.
"It is totally supported by the Fulton County Board of Education," Sandler said. "Our tax dollars, my tax dollars go to operations of this school."
Planning Commissioner Kyle Caswell didn't directly address the complaints, but he said he was willing to hear what anyone had to say about the applicant, as long as it was approriate.
If the Fulton County School System was buying the property it wouldn't even come before the city's Planning Commission, as it did Thursday night. And City Council wouldn't get the chance to make a zoning decision, either.
Community Development Director Diana Wheeler said after the July 7 Planning Commission public hearing for the charter school that the first the city heard of Alpharetta High School building plans was when contractors began work at the site. School systems are exempt from the zoning process.
But Amana Academy is a non-profit organization that is buying the property at Edison Drive and Windward Parkway. Funds to pay for the building eventually will be paid by the school system in the school's operating budget, but for now it isn't a school system property.