By John Schaffner

Concern for the preservation of one of the oldest surviving structures in Sandy Springs, along with replacing seven home sites with 28, has focused a variety of attention on plans for a new development along the west side of Glenridge between Hammond Drive and Johnson Ferry Road.

Jason Yowell, president of Metropolitan Design & Construction, Inc., says he has the seven single-family homes under contract as part of an assemblage of 7.28 acres to be developed as Austin Place. His site plan calls for 28 lots on the site to be developed with single-family detached homes in the $900,000 price range.

He is seeking rezoning of the property within the Urban District of the Sandy Springs Overlay District from R-2 to R-5 single family dwelling district.

During consideration by the city’s Design Commission last month, some public comments focused on preserving the Wagon Stop House, which was built in 1835 and hosted travelers in the 1800s and served as the community’s first courtroom. It sits on one of the seven lots.

Today, it serves as the dining room of a two story home on the corner of Glenridge Drive and Johnson Ferry Road. The original structure is virtually hidden under several newer additions and facades that make up the present house. But portions of its original 14-inch hewn logs remain.

Others spoke against the development claiming it would destroy much of the mature forestation that is abundant in this urban neighborhood of largely ranch-style homes on big lots. And still others claimed it would disturb the natural watershed in the neighborhood.

And there were those who just objected to the density of the proposed new development—3.85 units per acre in an area where city council had expressed a desire for a maximum of 3 units per acre.

In an interview with the Sandy Springs Reporter, Yowell, who has applied for the rezoning under the business name of Metropolis Homes, discussed his planned new development, other parcels he is developing in that area of the city and how his planned development fits with emerging streetscape along Glenridge and Johnson Ferry in that area.

First, Yowell says he has offered to preserve the Wagon Stop House. He proposes to create a conservation easement and make a private park out of it.

“From what I understand talking to people like Joey Mayson, chair of the Sandy Springs Conservancy, that might be better than giving it to the city,” Yowell explained. “Mayson’s concern is that the city does not have the funds to maintain it properly. So we would maintain it privately and it would be a functional amenity.”

Yowell said the non-historic additions to the building would be removed down to the core “so that what we have is worth saving. The historic part is the size of a single room. It has been combined with another element and those two elements we would save,” he explained. “Because, if you cut out that other element, you have just a ridiculous little room. When you stand in it you realize this is an old room” and he said the original stone fireplace is still intact.

Maintaining it as a conservation easement means the developer and homeowner association would maintain it in perpetuity. “It would become a function of the common areas that the homeowners’ association would be responsible for,” said the developer. “We would likely have some language (in an agreement) that would make it accessible to historians, scholars and people from the city who wanted to see it.”

Richard Farmer, who lives in one of the seven homes at 6080 Glenridge Drive, disputes that all seven properties are under contract, but Yowell dismisses Farmer’s claim.

“Mr. Farmer doesn’t know what he is talking about,” said Yowell. “He doesn’t own the house he lives in. He is a renter and has been a renter for some years.

Farmer told the Reporter he would like to see the present properties turned into estate homes along Glenridge.

Farmer, who is a member of the watershed district board, claims the development will destroy the natural forest behind the property and will disturb the natural flow of water, leading to drainage problems in the neighborhood behind it. He is joined in his opinions by Patty Berkowitz, who chairs the watershed board.

What Farmer proposes is that the city find ways to provide incentives to the owners of the present properties to improve and enlarge the homes and turn the seven properties into one-acre urban estates. He says these homes and the neighborhood behind them are some of the last remaining remnants of the original Sandy Springs neighborhoods.

On the other hand, Mayson, a founding member of Heritage Sandy Springs, believes the location of these seven properties, along the high-traffic Glenridge Road corridor, makes them ideally suited for high-density development—possibly even higher density than the approximately 3.85 units per acre being requested by Yowell.

His primary interest in this development plan is in the preservation of the Wagon Stop House, which he said would be a big loss to the community. He pointed out that the city has no historic preservation plan. “I’d like Sandy Springs to have a historic preservation plan and design it so that everyone wins—the community, the developer and the owner.”

But along with that, Mayson believes high-traffic urban corridors, such as Glenridge in this area, are ideal spots for high-density residential development.

Refering to the forest areas at the back of the seven properties and in the neighborhood behind them, Yowell said, “we will leave everything we can.” He said they will leave “more than you see in the building footprint and as the houses develop we will see what we can do to accommodate the trees on a case-by-case basis.”

He said a lot of the forestation abutting the seven properties is due to one lot that comes off of Hammond Drive. He said he tried to buy that lot or at least the back part of it, “but it is tied up in an estate that has tax problems that don’t allow them to do anything with it.”

What he thinks will happen when Hammond Drive is widened is “they will have to condemn all these houses along there and create a greenway as well as a widened Hammond. When they do that, the backs of these properties will become functional green space. We will have quite a green space buffer at the end of the day,” he added.

The white house on the corner of Glenridge and Hammond drives is not included in the assemblage “because there is just too much unknown” with what is going to happen to Hammond Drive.

Yowell has a contract with a homeowner behind the property to obtain a sewer/water easement so, he claims, that homeowner is fine with the development.

“There is a main detention facility on the property that will release into a drainage swale that leads to a headwall through that person’s property,” he explained. “We are just going to continue putting the water where it is already going.”

“The last developer that made a run at this only had five properties and he had a higher density than I am asking for,” Yowell said. “It failed for a few reasons. He was not an experienced developer and he didn’t know how to sell it. He didn’t know how to get it designed properly and he didn’t have any sensitivity to what it takes to do business in Sandy Springs.”

Yowell also is doing the development at the northwest corner of Johnson Ferry and Glenridge. He said the development is done and the builders are just beginning to put the houses in the ground. That development is five units to the acre. He had support for that density from the surrounding neighborhoods. “Now one of the neighborhoods doesn’t want any development, even on the periphery of the neighborhood with the high-traffic corridor,” he stated.

The Glenridge-Hammond Civic Association, which opposes the development, “is an artificial construct of several legal subdivisions,” Yowell claimed. “They have maybe 30 paying members and claim to represent 500 homeowners.”

He also is developing five lots on Johnson Ferry road where he plans to build five outward facing houses. “My feeling is that you need to get into the fabric of the community rather than put up a wall and turn your back on it. That concept has been celebrated by the city of Sandy Springs and now they almost require it on every residential development,” he said.

The 28 planned homes in his development will have both outward facing elevations and backward facing elevations so that they will also relate to the houses on the interior private road. The driveways are all back-loaded from the private road. There will be wood gates and stone piers for sidewalks that come directly out to the public sidewalks. The plan calls for gas lamps on the stone piers and wrought iron fencing between the entrances. “It facilitates pedestrian movement in the neighborhood and makes it a much more pedestrian friendly environment,” he said.

Yowell said he is paying over $600,000 per acre for the assemblage. The market value for the present homes without the assemblage he estimated would be in the $300,000 range.

If he gets zoning in October, they will immediately start the land disturbance permit process, which takes anywhere from 3 to six months. “As soon as we get that permit, we’re in the ground,” he stated.

It goes before the zoning commission on July 19 and the City Council in August.