A gigantic, grocery-anchored development proposed at Roswell and Pitts roads in Sandy Springs would demolish hundreds of existing apartments, clear a 19-acre woodland and possibly displace a historic cemetery where members of one of the city’s founding families were laid to rest. One descendent of that historic Power family is fighting the concept and calling for the woodland to become a city park.

The redevelopment concept posted on the website of Heritage Capitol Partners, with Roswell Road at the top and Pitts Road to the right.

Sandy Springs-based developer Heritage Capitol Partners is now pulling back from its concept and says there never was an offer to relocate the cemetery.

The conceptual plan of the massive project –covering roughly 40 acres with 600 apartments, 150 townhomes, and Kroger as a suggested anchor store — was posted on the company’s website.

“I’m taking the concept off the website,” said Joseph Ashkouti, principal at Heritage Capitol Partners, citing Kroger’s displeasure at being named publicly during talks before any deal had been signed, which he called “a mishap on our part.”

Kroger and the other property owners have not responded to comment requests.

The Powers buried in the private cemetery are part of the same family whose Civil War-era business was immortalized in the name of Powers Ferry Road. The conceptual plan shows most of the woodland being developed, while avoiding the cemetery, which dates back at least to the 1880s. But according to Power family descendants, Heritage Capitol Partners is requesting the relocation of the cemetery as part of the redevelopment proposal.

“I don’t think it’s like a piece of furniture,” said Taylor Morgan of Roswell in opposition to moving the cemetery, where his family members are still sometimes buried, as recently as 2013. He is a descendant of the Powers and another famous local family, the Morgans.

Morgan and other family members are organizing political opposition and calling for preserving the cemetery and the woodland around it. Morgan, an architecture student at Kennesaw State University, said such preservation could help a smaller, denser version of the redevelopment concept.

“Ask these big-name companies if they want to be attached to a project that is destructive to history and the environment,” said Morgan. “My pitch is, keeping this is an asset to that [redevelopment].”

Marie Power Frazier, another descendant who serves as the family contact for arranging burials in the cemetery, said a representative of the developer contacted her about two months ago with an offer of money in exchange for letting the bodies be exhumed and moved elsewhere.

“He said he would move them to a nice place and ya-di-da,” Frazier recalled. “I said, ‘It’s been there over a hundred years and I don’t want to move it.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you build a nice fence around it?’”

However, Ashkouti said that Heritage did not make such an offer and that, while other developers regularly make offers for the entire woodland property, he does not believe anyone else would make a cemetery-moving offer, either. A limited liability company controlled by Heritage owns the entire property, including the cemetery, according to Fulton County property records.

“We have never made an offer to buy the cemetery,” Ashkouti said, referring to the relocation concern. “We’ve never even considered that… We certainly would never buy that cemetery and try to move it. We don’t need that piece of land to make our deal work.”

Taylor Morgan poses with the 1885 headstone of his ancestor William Power in the historic family cemetery off Roswell Road. (John Ruch)

The redevelopment concept could put two major city planning efforts into conflict. Morgan advocated for his preservation concept at an April 18 City Hall meeting for public input on a revised city parks master plan, where creating new green space is among the goals. But the city also has a new North End Revitalization Task Force looking at ways to spur redevelopment along that stretch of northern Roswell Road, and the conceptual plan meets many of the general ideas discussed so far.

The redevelopment concept

The redevelopment concept, dubbed “Heritage on Roswell” on the website, appears to cover three existing properties: the Dunwoody Pointe apartments at 7901 Roswell; the Stockholders Place office complex at 8097 Roswell; and the wooded area with the cemetery, which runs alongside the Addison apartments at 7889 Roswell.

A Google Earth map of the area showing the general area of the redevelopment concept in red and the general location of the Power cemetery in yellow.

The concept includes a Kroger store of about 125,000 square feet; a roughly 600-unit apartment building; 150 townhomes; nearly 44,000 square feet of retail space in four buildings fronting on Roswell Road; a 7,500-square-foot restaurant; and a large surface parking lot.

Kroger did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Texas-based Westdale Asset Management, the owner of Dunwoody Pointe, or Buckhead-based Cornerstone Investment Partners, the owners of the office complex.

Ashkouti said the company’s intent with the concept was bringing back a Kroger after last year’s sudden closure of the Northridge Shopping Center Kroger less than a mile away. Another motivation was the city’s urge to see redevelopment of older apartment complexes, Ashkouti said, describing the concept as helping an area that “needs a jump-start.”

Ashkouti said that Heritage would still like to see the concept move forward, but “if it happens, it’s a long shot.” He said the company is now focusing on the woodland property it already owns, which he described as “18 acres” – leaving out the roughly 1-acre cemetery.

Saving a cemetery

The Power cemetery is about as remote as a site gets in modern Sandy Springs. It’s within a woodland only about 350 feet wide, but running nearly a third of a mile deep from Roswell Road. The cemetery is at the very rear, accessible only from one of the adjacent apartment complexes.

The Power cemetery is heavily vandalized. (John Ruch)

Frazier said the cemetery dates to 1883 and is the only remaining parcel from a 200-acre estate owned by her grandfather, who lived at Pitts Road and Spalding Drive. Morgan calls it the William and Sarah Power Historic Site after the earliest graves he could find, with William’s headstone dating to 1885.

Frazier said that among those buried there are her parents, two sisters, a brother and a sister-in-law.

“Most of the family has passed away,” said Frazier, and no one currently has caretaking responsibility. She lives in Mableton and has not visited in some time.

The cemetery is in rough shape from vandalism. It was last in the news in 2016 for a macabre incident where someone dug up the coffin of William Hill Power, who died in 1942. Sandy Springs Police officers reburied it.

Taylor Morgan looks up at one of the tall, mature trees in the cemetery and woodland. (John Ruch)

Morgan led the Reporter on a recent tour of the cemetery, pointing out the dozens of Power and Morgan graves with toppled or broken headstones. Some were spray-painted by vandals. “Gone but not forgotten,” read a broken stone used to prop up that original headstone of William Power, who Morgan said was a brother of historic ferry-operator James.

Some graves were outlined with cement blocks. The headstone of William Morgan Jr., who died in 2002, identifies him as a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam war, but his grave bears no flag as often appears in other cemeteries.

Taylor Morgan and Frazier said the family has some mixed feelings about the cemetery. Morgan said his parents want to be buried there, while one uncle had his son exhumed and moved elsewhere due to the vandalism. Frazier said she has no desire to be buried there herself. But both agree it could be preserved, and Morgan thinks it would be easier in the context of a nice park capitalizing on the mature trees and greenery of the surrounding woodland. He said such a park could have trails connecting it to a nearby Georgia Power Co. high-tension line right of way and the Big Trees Forest Preserve.

“If you see a rusty can in the road, you kick it. If you see a glass vase with flowers, you’re not as likely to kick it,” Morgan said. “I want to make this into a glass vase.”

Morgan proposes a park that could be named for even earlier residents, the Cherokee Indians, maybe featuring a “small, tasteful monument” to them. He points to an open area surrounded by large trees as a potential lawn and dog park.

Frazier and Morgan agree that moving their family’s bodies for redevelopment is not acceptable.

“I do not want it moved,” Frazier said, adding that the developer offered her an amount in the “thousands” to agree. “I wouldn’t feel right taking any amount of money for that.”

Thick woods cover most of the 19-acre undeveloped property around the cemetery. (John Ruch)

But as a student of architecture, Morgan also fears what could happen if the cemetery is surrounded by redevelopment. He pointed to the infamous example at Decatur’s Avondale Mall, where a similar family cemetery ended up stranded atop a 12-foot-high island in the bulldozed landscape of the parking lot.

Taylor Morgan gestures to an area of the woodland he believes could be a lawn and dog play area in a new city park. (John Ruch)

There are several local examples of preserving similar small cemeteries in unusual locations, often in collaboration with historical societies. In Dunwoody, the Stephen Martin Cemetery has been saved in the shadow of Perimeter Center’s skyscrapers thanks to the Dunwoody Preservation Trust and others. Along PATH400 in Buckhead, the Lowery-Stephens Cemetery is being preserved as park space with help from the Atlanta History Center and the Buckhead Heritage Society.

A carved lamb sits atop the headstone of a Morgan family infant who died in 1924. (John Ruch)

For now, Morgan is reaching out to city officials and is in the early stages of rousing public support. He has an online fundraiser for legal help and an online petition for the general public. He said he figures that saving the woods as a park is the best way to save the cemetery, too.

When told that the city has that north end task force working on just this kind of redevelopment, Morgan gave a little lesson on the meaning of the word “revitalization” and suggested that green space fits right in with new development.

“‘Vitus’ means ‘life’ in Latin,” he said. “Keep the soul of it.”

Ashkouti said that Heritage has some redevelopment ideas in mind for the woodland, but is also open Morgan’s idea of acquiring it for a new city park.

“Of course,” Ashkouti said. “Everything’s for sale at the right price.”

Update: This story has been updated with comments from Joseph Ashkouti of Heritage Capitol Partners.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.