A rough site plan for the athletic fields from Brookhaven city documents.

After two deferrals, the Brookhaven City Council has unanimously approved a rezoning application that would allow St. Martin’s Episcopal School to build new athletic facilities. 

This is the third time the matter has been on the council’s agenda, following a 3-2 vote recommending approval on the application at an Oct. 5 Brookhaven Planning Commission meeting.

During the Nov. 29 meeting, multiple residents spoke in public comment both for and against the rezoning, which has involved contentious discussions regarding noise levels, public disturbance, public benefit, traffic, and property values. In early November, a petition began circulating against the rezoning. As of the time of this publication, that petition has 838 signatures.

“Everybody is saying that St. Martin’s is so great, and that’s not the issue here,” said resident Jaquelin Crew. “Sure, they’re great, but they’re not a good member of the community if they’re going to come in and totally disrupt our lives and our homes.”

Crew, in addition to other residents who spoke, made the comment that the field would only benefit the St. Martin’s community. Others said they believed the facility would benefit the whole community.

“This is a neighborhood school. It’s been embedded in the neighborhood, it’s been successful in the neighborhood,” said resident and St. Martin’s parent Benton Stark, speaking in support of the application. “This is a unique opportunity to give the neighborhood an additional expansion where the school can continue to thrive and support the whole neighborhood and the homes around it.” 

The application involves a roughly 7.2-acre tract of land along Osborne Road, historically known as Morrison Farms. According to city documents, the rezoning would allow for a recreational facility including a 60-yard by 120-yard synthetic turf sports field, a 23,000 square foot multi-purpose building not to exceed two stories, 87 parking spaces, and a half-acre publicly-accessible pocket park.

After a roughly hour long public comment section, council members gave comments on why they were in favor of the rezoning. Councilmember Linley Jones said she thought the project would be a public benefit not only to St. Martin’s students, but also to the greater community. While St. Martin’s cannot lease or rent out the field, they could allow community groups to use it for free. The leasing condition would not apply to the gym. 

“This has been a very very difficult and challenging issue for all involved,” Jones said. “I believe that there is a great public benefit here for Brookhaven.”

Councilmember Madeleine Simmons said she was initially against the rezoning, citing noise and stormwater issues, but thought staff recommendations to mitigate those issues were helpful.

According to staff recommendations, the project will require a vegetation greenspace buffer along property boundaries, and there will be an eight-foot tall opaque fence along boundaries with residential lots. During the vote, Simmons made an amendment, adding that the fence should have sound blockage screening on the interior side. 

While some neighbors in public comment still had issues regarding St. Martin’s attempts to mitigate sound and other disruption to the neighborhood, Councilmember John Park said that he was satisfied and saw the athletic fields as a need for the school. 

“I fully expect any developer … to provide a benefit to the community and also to make concessions,” Park said. “Do they have to make every single concession that is asked of [them]? I think that would be unreasonable. They have made, in my view, a good faith effort to make some of the concessions that were asked for by the neighbors.”

According to a St. Martin’s spokesperson, the school has not yet closed on the property. They said they do not have an update on when the closing might be finalized.

“The SMES community is very excited that the City of Brookhaven’s City Council voted unanimously last night to rezone the property, allowing for the potential of future SMES program enhancements such as an athletic field, a multi-purpose building and green space,” said St. Martin’s Episcopal School Board of Trustees Chair Shara Sanders in an emailed statement. “This is an important step, and we’re excited for the process to move forward.”

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.