By Gerhard Schneibel

The Epstein School faces a list of more than 20 city-staff-recommended conditions in its effort to secure a withdrawal of its expansion proposal rather than an outright denial.

The school announced its intention to withdraw its application for a special use permit Dec. 4, and the Sandy Springs Planning Commission voted 3-1 Dec. 19 to recommend that the City Council approve the withdrawal.

The conditions recommended by the city planning staff include that all carpool lines must be contained within the school property, that the gate to the school must be opened 45 minutes before the pickup or dropoff time, that a shuttle service must be instituted for employees by March, that student release times must be staggered, and that the school must participate in monthly meetings with city and neighborhood representatives for two years. The planning staff suggested even more stringent conditions if the city were to decide to approve the Epstein expansion from 650 to 850 students.

The school has no intention of resubmitting its application in the next 12 months, Epstein School President Robert Franco said. The school blamed a tough fundraising environment, not neighborhood opposition, for its decision not to proceed with the plan.

Neighbors, meanwhile, continued to push for the plan to be denied.

Pete Hendricks, a lawyer representing the school, said the economy stopped the expansion plan. “There is no possible way we could be successful in raising the money,” he said. “We all have been subject to the vagaries of what has been happening in our economy, and all facets of this thing have been absolutely turned upside down.”

The school has yet to institute a busing plan because it would cost $250,000 annually, he said.

Planning Commissioner Donald Boyken said the cost argument wasn’t compelling. “That’s $400 per student per year. … That’s $2 per day for every school day. Your parents are spending more than that in gas every day that their children are in school.”

Cliff Steele, a school neighbor, said: “The message they need to have is a denial. The current plan that they have just won’t work, and they need to come back with something reasonable.”

Franco said the school is “committed to engaging in a dialogue with our neighbors.”

“We are sincere in our efforts to make progress on those issues that divide us from the neighbors,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Wayne Thatcher said the school wasted city time and taxpayer money with its expansion plans. “I think it’s just horrendous that you would bring forth this kind of an issue, spend this kind of taxpayer money and then say, ‘Well, we just withdraw.’ I just can’t buy that. And then to blame it on the national economy just stinks.”

Planning Commission Chairman Lee Duncan said regardless of the decision made Jan. 20 by the City Council, “it’s not going to be one of these deals, in my mind, where everybody is going to walk out of here totally happy. I can tell you this Planning Commission is not totally happy.”

Planning Commissioner Roger Rupnow voted against the withdrawal. Commissioners Susan Maziar and David Rubenstein recused themselves from discussing and voting on the issue.