By Ben Smith

DeKalb County’s commissioners have cleared the way for The Marist School to redevelop its campus.

The school wants to renovate and raise the height of existing buildings, and add parking lots and recreational facilities. School officials hope to begin construction in 2011.

Some residents say they don’t object to most of Marist’s approved expansion, but they oppose the school’s plan to cut down trees in a flood plain to build a ball field and a parking lot on the north side of Nancy Creek, which flows through the campus.

DeKalb commissioners approved the school’s expansion plan, including the controversial tree cutting, on May 16. Opponents had hoped they could get the commissioners to reverse themselves on March 23, when the board was scheduled to vote on a “hardship waiver” requested by Marist to exempt the school from the county’s tree ordinance. But the waiver request did not come up Tuesday, Commissioner Jeff Rader said. County officials decided the waiver wasn’t needed, Marist representatives said.

The board’s March 16 vote went 4 to 2 in favor of Marist after a failed attempt by Commissioner Kathie Gannon to persuade her colleagues to postpone the vote.

Gannon, a super-district commissioner who represents the Marist area, voted with Commissioner Jeff Rader against allowing the Marist campus to expand into the floodplain area.

Commissioner Elaine Boyer, who also represents the area, voted for it. Commissioner Connie Stokes was absent.

“I’m just trying to use common sense,” Boyer said.

Boyer pointed out that in 2000, the board voted to let Marist build on in the same flood plain. That plan, which was never carried out, included construction of 20,000-square-foot stadium and a 12,000-square-foot cafeteria and a parking lot.

“This is a better project,” Boyer said.

But Gannon warned that by allowing Marist to build in flood plain the board is ignoring the effects of wetland developments it approved in the past.

Gannon noted that it had cost the county millions of dollars to buy flood-damaged homes made prone to flooding because of wetland development.

The board vote didn’t settle the debate. Heated arguments broke out among supporters and opponents as they left the commission meeting room.

“I am beyond disappointed. I’m appalled,” said Jeff Turnage, who lives in the Marist area.

“Jeff you’re fighting at windmills,” exclaimed Bob Lundsten, a DeKalb planning commissioner who supported the Marist permit.

Marist officials didn’t get everything they wanted. The school had hoped to build two new ballfields, one for soccer and another for lacrosse.

But they had to settle for one practice field because of a restriction imposed by the DeKalb commissioners that prohibits the school from building within 100 feet of Nancy Creek.