By Gerhard Schneibel

A project to install sidewalks serving Lake Forest Elementary School is on hold after the Sandy Springs Board of Zoning Appeals voted 6-1 Feb. 10 to defer for up to 90 days a decision about a stream buffer variance.

The city’s Public Works Department needs the variance to install a half-mile of sidewalks along Lake Forrest Drive. The sidewalks are planned for the west side of the road; the new elementary school is on the east side. The board asked the Public Works Department to study alternative plans.

Board member Lane Frostbaum voted against the motion.

The City Council responded Feb. 17 with a 5-1 vote for a resolution stating a desire for the sidewalks to be on the west side of Lake Forrest Drive. Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny voted against the motion, which marks the first time the council has deviated from its policy of not interfering with the Public Works Department’s judgment.

McEnerny joined a unanimous motion adopting a resolution asking the Board of Zoning Appeals to reconsider within 30 days.

The city has spent “in excess of $100,000” designing the sidewalks, Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul said. “We’ve got a flaw in our process in that we’ve got an appointed board that can override a decision of the City Council.”

Susan Yeosock of the Lake Forrest Summit Community Association told the Board of Zoning Appeals that, under the planned sidewalks, some children walking to school would cross both Allen Road and Cliffwood Drive. “We see that as dangerous, and we are opposed to this for that very reason,” she said.

The east side of Lake Forrest Drive is adjacent to a steep hill, a stream and many houses.

Debra Sharker, whose Forrest Place home could be affected, said: “To try to put a sidewalk on that east side … is scary as all to us. What will happen to our homes?”

Mark Moore, a Sandy Springs transportation planner, said the city would probably have to seize more than one property for grading work to put sidewalks on the east side.

McEnerny, who represents the neighborhood, said she attended the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting by invitation. Fulton County Board of Education member Gail Dean wrote McEnerny a letter urging the city to consider sidewalks on Allen Road instead of Lake Forrest Drive.

“I’m here because of a safety issue, and I do think a less intrusive crossing could occur on the south side of Allen Road using the sidewalk there,” McEnerny said.

Some council members criticized her for appearing at the zoning meeting.

Paul said members have “an obligation to abide by the final decision of this council.” He said he was “extremely disappointed” McEnerny would “try to undermine this.”

The council had never voted on which side of Lake Forrest Drive to put the sidewalks, but Mayor Eva Galambos said “implicitly, the council did give its approval” for the west side.

Ron Carpinella, the vice chairman of the Board of Zoning Appeals, said Feb. 10 the board may have overstepped its bounds. “We’re not reviewing what side of the road this goes on. We’re reviewing a variance for a stream buffer. And I think we got off topic.”

But board member Oz Hill said during the same meeting: “I hear the community loud and clear, and they don’t want it.”