The Cobb Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a zoning change that allows St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church Day School in Smyrna to expand.
During the same meeting, at the recommendation of Commissioner Lisa Cupid, the board denied a special land-use permit for a proposed 300-student, pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade private school that would have been located close to where Interstate 285 crosses the Chattahoochee River.
The prekindergarten to eighth-grade school, to be called The SAE School, is headed by Jimmy Arispe of Smyrna, a former assistant principal of Campbell Middle School. Arispe said after the meeting his goal is to find an alternative site for the school that he hopes to announce next week. He still plans on opening the SAE School this fall.
“We are very disappointed,” Arispe said, after the board turned down the permit in a 5-0 vote. “We have a lot of families and a lot of volunteers who have been committed to our school for a very long time. We, however, will not let this deter us in creating the most exceptionally safe, innovative and rigorous school environment for our kids.”
In arguing against the request, Cupid said the property abuts industrially zoned properties. She also questioned the commitment of the SAE’s leaders.
“I have not seen enough information to show permanent commitment to being there,” Cupid said. “In fact, when I spoke to the headmaster for the school back in March or April the desire was to be here temporarily and then to move to the city of Smyrna.”
The school’s leaders had asked to lease 7.9 acres of the 82-acre Jamestown development for 36 months while finding a permanent site for the school.
Cupid said it would be easier to have approved the school on the site if the Jamestown development had already been built.
“I have yet to see commitment to putting the development that we all want to see there,” Cupid said. “If the community had seen that, if I had seen that, this would be a much different conversation today. But it’s very difficult to put in a school in that type of environment first before seeing the promise of the other types of development.”
Marietta attorney Garvis Sams, who represents the school and the Jamestown development, said Jamestown had already spent $16 million acquiring the 82-acre assemblage, and another $1.6 million in installing infrastructure to prepare the land for construction. The goal is to build a $300 million development consisting of 2.3 million square feet of single-family homes, town homes, apartments, condos, retail and office space. Construction is expected to begin within the next year and will likely be done in phases with a 10-year build out.
St. Benedict’s gets OK
St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church Day School fared better with the board approving its zoning request in a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Helen Goreham opposed.
The church already operates a 264-student elementary school located between Cooper Lake and Atlanta roads in Smyrna.
The zoning change allows the church to open a middle school on the nearby 2-acre tract on the northwest side of Cooper Lake Road east of Weaver Street. The church plans to renovate an 11,100-square-foot building now used as a warehouse on the site to be used for the satellite campus, which will ultimately have 200 students, maxing out both sites at 480 students, said St. Benedict’s Rev. Brian Sullivan.
“We are very excited,” Sullivan said. “The middle school has been talked about since the beginning of the school (in 2009), and we have spent a year studying it, and it feels like a year in zoning, but only a few months in zoning, and we can finally really begin to dream about what the future has in store for St. Benedict’s School with a middle school attached.”
Goreham explained after the meeting why she voted against the school.
“I had concerns that it was too intensive a use for that very small area over there, I was concerned about the traffic issues, and that was my rational for that denial,” Goreham said.