Alpharetta Planning Commission Fails to Agree on Amana Academy Location

Windward residents oppose changing the planned community's master plan for a school.

The Alpharetta Planning Commission couldn't agree on what should be done about 's request to allow the charter school to move into a commercial office building on Edison Drive.

The Planning Commission split its vote 3-3 on the request to change the Windward Master Plan to allow the school on a tie that has been vacant for four years.

Amana Academy is a charter school in the Fulton County School system that serves students in grades K-8. It is limited to 750 students and those grades by its charter. Currently it holds classes in a shopping center on South Main Street in Alpharetta.

The Windward Business Center Association approved the plan, but Windward residents and at least one neighboring property owner were opposed.

Paul Oswald of Windward Homeowners Inc. spoke against changing the master plan. He acknowledged this is a school and an extensive amount of passion surrounds it.

"But the topic for today is not the passion for the school but it's actually the zoning," Oswald said.

One reason homeowners bought residences in Windward was because it is a master planned community, he said.

A compelling reason doesn't exist to change the master plan, Oswald said. He said the city has alternate sites that would not require a conditional use permit as this Windward site would. And he said approving the change could set a precedent for allowing other things that would devalue property in the business area.

Art White said he moved to Windward because he likes the neighborhood and how it taken care of.

"With the economy the way it is right now, we don't need to be making a whole bunch of changes," White said.

Windward resident Tom Miller agreed with other speakers opposing the changes. He bought in a master planned community for the protections it provided. Miller also said he was concerned where the business park is headed if this school is approved.

Bearing out that concern, Leah Crawford of Jackson, Oakes, Shaw, owners of the Windward Oaks office building on the corner of Windward Parkway and Edison Drive, spoke against the school site.

"We just oppose this precise location because it's going to possibly negatively affect our business," she said.

The current and future tenant base could be affected. The Metropolitan Club could have an issue renewing its liquor license, something it needs as an event facility, Crawford said.

A tenant will vacate one entire building, she said, and the school could cause problems.

"It could pose a big potential problem re-leasing it if there is a school there. It may bring the overall business and professional image of the area down slightly. I think some prospective tenants could walk away and not be interested in the buildings because there is a school right there," she said.

Traffic will negatively affect the businesses as well, she said.

A traffic engineer hired by the applicant and the city's own traffic engineer, Eric Graves, weren't too concerned with the traffic because the peak morning time for the school ends before the peak morning rush hour in that area. And the afternoon school dismissal is well before the afternoon rush hour.

Local residents including Art White didn't think the traffic studies were wide enough. With the widening of McGinnis Ferry even more traffic will be coming to Windward, he said.

Jack Flowers of Milton was among the people speaking in support of the school. He said his daughter will start at the school this year.

"Her mother and I made an exhaustive search for the right atmosphere for our daughter," he said.

Amana is an asset to the community and it would be a shame to not allow it on this site, he said.

It took two motions–one recommending rejection and another approval–ending in 3-3 votes before the Planning Commission had to send the application to City Council with no recommendation.

Alpharetta City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Amana Academy's request at its Aug. 22 meeting.



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