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Windward, Planning Commission Teach Amana Academy a Lesson

The 2,400 homeowners and their HOAs aren't to be ignored if you want to make changes to the community.

'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.

JT August 26, 2011 at 05:23 PM
The most basic fundamental foundations for the principals of the American Constitution and Islamic ideology are as opposite as can be imagined. They are mutually exclusive polar opposites. One modern approach to spreading the principals of Islam is though the 'soft' approach through dialogue and charitable initiatives like education and hospitals. The initial adherence to Islam is secondary. When you can see that even though a person is wearing religious clothing and adhering to opposite principals they just seem so nice and likeable. It is a desensitizing tactic in the efforts of stealth jihad. Direct and overt religious teachings or not, they are trying to make a statement and impression in favor of Islamic ideology. Slow and patient sedition.
Sarah S. August 30, 2011 at 07:45 PM
The school doesn't teach Islam; it teaches Arabic. (Who knows--those middle school students may become federal agents using their Arabic to serve their country.) In schools that teach Spanish, Catholicism isn't taught. In schools that teach Chinese, they don't teach Buddhism.
S Jennings September 12, 2011 at 09:54 PM
We purchased our home in Windward because of Windward's magnificent master plan. We do not care what type of school it is, we do not want the master plan altered. Don't the Windward homeowners get a vote?
Milton Citizen November 28, 2011 at 06:39 PM
The opposition to the Amana Academy relocation to a Windward business area smacks of "Islamafobic" prejudice and the "not in my backyard" syndrome of Windward bigots. The opposition is a sad embarrassment to the otherwise productive, intelligent and enlightened citizens of North Fulton. As a state of Georgia and Fulton county sanctioned charter school, Amana Academy has the privilege of requiring studies in certain subjects including foreign languages such as Arabic. The U.S. department of defense has declared that the Arabic language is one of several languages (Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Russian, etc.) that are of strategic importance to our military, FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, State Department and other national agencies. North Georgia College and State University (just one hour north in Dahlonega, Georgia) is in many respects the highest ranked ROTC senior military college in the country. The college instructs its military and civilian students in Arabic and other strategic language studies. Like North Georgia, top military, business and community leaders will come forth from Amana Academy.
Milton Citizen November 28, 2011 at 06:41 PM
Charter schools like Amana Academy must also jump through academic and business oversight hoops that are imposed at the state and county level and that far exceed what the average citizen might expect. If you are a fiscal conservative, and feel that our tax dollars should follow the student (not the government-mandated institution) then charter schools are currently your only option for that. Amana is a very attractive alternative to the good public schools in North Fulton. Students (and their parents) attend charter schools because they have a choice to do so. Folks go there because they find something "better" about the school. There are other similarly outstanding charter schools in North Fulton. In many respects, they are one of our best-kept secrets. Look around anywhere you go in the metro-Atlanta area, including North Fulton and the Windward corridor. You will notice that we are racially and culturally diverse communities. This makes us richer in many positive ways. We still are and will always be Americans. Not too long ago blacks were the second-class citizens in many communities. It seems that some Windward folks still have problems with diversity. Purported arguments about potential traffic problems and incompatible business use just do not hold water. Again, what a sad embarrassment.

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