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Buckhead group deliberates 'big box' center, charter school
by Caroline Young
March 14, 2013 09:31 PM | 2714 views | 1 1 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Concerned residents from the Buckhead Forest neighborhood are fighting back about a controversial “big-box” youth center plan, proposed by Peachtree Road Methodist Church.

“Our neighborhood is impacted by two very large churches. We support those churches and want to see them grow, thrive and prosper,” Buckhead Forest representative Amy Hilman said Thursday at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhood’s monthly meeting at Peachtree Presbyterian Church. “But we want to see that happen responsibly.”

Most of the church property is located on commercially zoned property with SPI-9 regulations, she said.

However, Hilman said the project proposes to bulldoze two R-4 (single-family residential district) “arms,” to build the 60,000-square-foot youth center, which she said would be four stories high and 20 feet from the closest residential home.

“The church was very candid with us,” she said. “The reason they were looking to do this in an R-4 is because it would be less expensive than doing a SPU [special-use permit] in SPI-9.”

The center will be open 13 hours a day, seven days a week, plus special events, Hilman said.

“It’s a shame, coming at a time when a lot of new investment is coming into the neighborhood and new development,” she said.

Hilman said there is already existing water damage from unfiltered water coming from one of the church’s water pipes.

“They have an open pipe where they funnel water into people’s back yards and they are expecting to connect the development up to that pipe and keep on going,” she said.

But Sally Silver, who was representing District 7 Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook, said the church is “kidding themselves” if they think they will get away with that.

However, other concerned neighbors said they are worried because neither the city nor the church said it would claim responsibility for the pipe.

Additionally, Hilman said, the neighborhood group is concerned about the youth center being separate from the church’s master site plan, which prevents them from knowing about factors like traffic impact and watershed issues.

She said Atlanta’s Zoning Review Board gave the neighborhood a recommendation to defer the proposal for 30 days, and she plans on giving info to Neighborhood Planning Units and raising awareness about the issue.

“It sounds like there’s a lot of work that needs to be done about moving pieces around,” said council chair Jim King.

He said the council will revisit the issue after the 30 days, and in the meantime, hopefully the church and neighborhood can be mediated by Shook “to make it work hopefully in a way that it’s a win-win situation."

In other news, Atlanta Public Schools could be adding another charter school to its system by 2014.

“We have a vision for our city such that it could one day be known for having outstanding education,” said Matthew Kirby, Atlanta Classical Academy's chair. “The basic premise is that the operators – the board – has opportunity to have freedom from many rules but are held accountable to higher standards of results.”

He said the first major benefit of adding the “classical liberal arts” charter school is adding capacity to Atlanta public schools in the Buckhead area.

“We have very large schools, and very full. If Atlanta continues to be a growing, vibrant community, we need additional capacity,” Kirby said.

Founding board member Mark Riley added, “All charter schools are basically on the Southside and near the northwest and northeast side [of Atlanta].”

When asked why the district needs another public school since North Atlanta High School is opening a new, larger campus, Kirby said it would still be a positive alternative for parents.

“They may actually have a capacity problem. … Not every parent is thrilled about sending their kids to school with 2,400 kids [at North Atlanta],” Kirby said.

The academy would have 54 students in each grade and is modeled after Ridgeview Classical Schools – a public charter school in Fort Collins, Colo.

The second benefit is the idea of giving parents the freedom to choose the best option for their children “within the public school sector,” he said, instead of the existing “one-size-fits all model.”

Finally, he said a major benefit is the idea of “good, old-fashioned leadership,” with the major change in government structure, which comes with charter schools.

“Now we have a board of education with nine folks … who oversee 47,000 students on a $600 million budget. That’s a tough task,” Kirby said.

A charter school requires the legal agreement between three parties, Kirby said, including the state board, local board and local school boards of education.

“We envision a K-12 school to open in the fall of 2014,” he said.

The academy board will submit a business plan to the district in April, and the school board will review and ultimately vote in June or July. If approved, the state will vote in August or September. Kirby said the school hopes for approval by early fall of this year but are not ready to reveal the academy's future location yet.

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