JANUARY 2020 - Sandy Springs Reporter

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JANUARY 2020 • VOL. 14 — NO. 1


Dunw oody

Local newsmakers take a look at what’s ahead

Brookh aven

Section Two

Buckh ead

In our annual 20 Under 20 section, meet local students who are making a difference








BY HANNAH GRECO hannah@reporternewspapers.net



A rendering of the new fire station to replace the one at 135 Johnson Ferry Road.


North End brainstorming begins amid questions BY HANNAH GRECO

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City to pay $1.2M for temporary fire station site while building a new one



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Writing fiction as part of a team: Q+A with author Karen White



Sandy Springs Reporter COMMENTARY

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Sandy Spring s


Two years after setting North End redevelopment as a priority, the city government is heading into 2020 with a $300,000 order for conceptual designs and talk of a “Revitalization Zone” whose purpose is unclear. It remains to be seen whether 2020 will be the year that the brainstorming plays out as a redevelopment plan – and whether the city will play a financial role, as officials have long said it likely will. Meanwhile, an

advocacy group is keeping the pressure on for any redevelopment to preserve affordable housing. At a Dec. 3 meeting, the City Council awarded a $307,260 contract to architect firm TSW for the designs of four shopping centers in the North End to push for the redevelopment of the area. At the meeting, Mayor Rusty Paul made it a point to clarify that the designs will not be set in stone and the four projected sites are not necessarily the ones to be developed. See NORTH on page 22

The city will pay $1.2 million for a vacant rental-car business on Roswell Road as a temporary site for a Johnson Ferry Road fire station that will be demolished and replaced. Fire Station Two at 135 Johnson Ferry is 50 years old and needs to be replaced, the city said. The temporary site, a former Enterprise car rental lot at 6189 Roswell Road at the Mount Vernon Highway intersection, is riddled with complexities for getting fire trucks in and out of traffic. The proposed solution depends on the outcome of a lawsuit regarding the city’s attempt to evict three billboards from a lot across the street. Some council members are also concerned with the cost of the temporary station. The city hopes to open the temporary station by March 2020 and to complete the replacement by spring 2021. The city has requested a demolition permit for the current station, but first the temporary site and its issues have to be resolved. At a Dec. 17 meeting, the council agreed to purchase the 0.317 acre lot at 6189 Roswell Road from Enterprise Leasing Company of Georgia, LLC., for $1.2 million. City Attorney Dan Lee said the city is not only buying the property for a temporary fire station, but also for a pending reconstruction of the Mount Vernon/Johnson Ferry intersection. That controversial road project is waiting on the architect firm to deliver two designs, one with the controversial cutthrough road that would need the taking of a home, and one without. It is unknown to the city when the property could become available and when the connector road could be built. In addition to the purchase price, it will See CITY on page 23

Don’t settle for Ordinary jewelry this year ORDINARY ( See Page 8 )


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An affordable housing agreement between the city and a luxury apartment complex in the Pill Hill area will stay in place following the recent sale and rebranding of the building, the city and purchaser confirmed. The 287-unit complex, The Hill, previously owned by North American Properties, was recently bought by Cortland, a multifamily real estate investment company headquartered in Atlanta. Cortland said it could not disclose the purchasing price. The apartment complex, located at 1160 Johnson Ferry Road, is within walking distance of the medical center, which includes three hospitals — Northside; Emory Saint Joseph’s and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite — as well as many medical offices. NAP had a 10-year workforce agreement with the city at the Hill apartment complex, offering 30 units exclusively to workforce employees at discounted rates. Cortland and the city both said the

workforce housing agreement is not affected by the purchase and will stay in place. NAP did not respond to a request for comment. The agreement, part of the 2016 zoning approving the units, stipulates the workforce units are to be made available to households with incomes less than 120% of area median income and that rent cannot exceed 35% of the residents’ income. The complex must also show marketing efforts to hospital employees. As of June 30, 29 of the 30 units were leased at The Hill, with the workforce housing rents ranging from $1,295 to $1,370.


Following a lawsuit that was drawn out for over a year, a judge has issued an order that allows the city to take down the billboards across from City Springs. The company that owns the billboards, OutFront Media, has filed an appeal against the order. “Subsequent to our last meeting, the

judge ruled on our motions and willed in our favor on all counts,” Mayor Rusty Paul said at a Dec. 3 City Council meeting. The city received the ruling on Nov. 27, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said. According to the Fulton County court records, OutFront Media filed a notice of appeal on Dec. 3 for both rulings. The property is a triangle of concrete and gravel across the street from City Springs, the city’s civic and art complex, that has remained untouched since commercial buildings were torn down by the city in August 2018. The city has long had plans to create a mini park, called Triangle Park, that would face City Springs, as well as project estimated around $30 million to reconstruct the Johnson Ferry/Mount Vernon Highway intersection into dual roundabouts to decrease traffic and increase walkability in the downtown area. The issue with the property dates back years. In 2016, the city sought to purchase the property via eminent domain. The city and the former owner reached a purchase agreement for about $4.8 million and the condemnation was dismissed. According to City Attorney Dan Lee,

prior to the purchase, the former owner extended the lease with the lessees that rented the three billboards on the property. The amendment to extend the lease held a clause that said if the property was sold to an entity that could condemn it, the lease would cease to exist, Lee said. After learning of the clause, the city sued for an eviction warrant, and the case was heard in Fulton County Superior Court in December 2018, according to Lee. Simultaneously, OutFront sought attorney’s fees, saying if a city files a condemnation and then dismisses it, the condemnee is entitled if they have an interest in the property. According to the notice, OutFront has appealed the judge’s ruling on the billboards having to come down and on the ruling for the company not being entitled to attorney’s fees.


The City Council approved on Dec. 17 a $465,000 purchase for a property needed to complete a streetscape project. The city originally offered the owner, W.A.G. Sandy Springs Properties, LLC., $280,400 for the property located at 6025 Sandy Springs Circle. The property is needed to complete the Sandy Springs Circle streetscape project. The Sandy Springs Circle streetscape project is a $7 million redesign of Sandy Springs Circle between Hammond Drive and Mount Vernon Highway. It will convert four travel lanes to two, plus a turn lane and on-street parking, and add sidewalks and a multiuse path. The city has a pending condemnation action against the property scheduled to be heard by a jury trial in January 2020 that will now be dropped.


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The city will work with MARTA on a $7.8 million project that will provide walk-up access to transit along Roswell Road from the city of Atlanta to I-285. The City Council approved at a Dec. 3 meeting a memorandum of understanding that says MARTA will provide project oversight and Sandy Springs will execute the project. The project is estimated to cost $7,804,719. Per the MOU, MARTA will provide $6,243,775 from Federal Transit Administration funds. The city will be responsible for a 20% match of the federal funding, which is $1,560,944.



Community | 3


Sandy Spring says new shop is no longer an illegal adult bookstore BY HANNAH GRECO hannah@reporternewspapers.net

A controversial new shop in Sandy Springs is no longer classified as an adult bookstore that would have been illegal under zoning, city officials say. The Tokyo Valentino store’s property at 6074 Roswell Road is not zoned for an adult bookstore, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said, and the shop had until Dec. 20 to reduce its sex-related merchandise displays and meet the code. “The business has come into compliance with city code,” Kraun said in a Dec. 23 email. Owner Michael Morrison did not respond to a request for comment. Cary Wiggins, Morrison’s attorney, declined to comment. Tokyo Valentino is an Atlanta-based chain of self-described “erotiques” or “erotic boutiques,” which sells adult costumes, sex toys and videos. The Sandy Springs location opened the week of Dec. 1. According to Kraun, a recent inspection of the store found that more than 25% of the floor area, or the visible part of the store, was devoted to merchandise that has an “emphasis upon the display of specified sexual activities.” She said that meant the store met the code’s legal definition of an adult bookstore. The shop is about two blocks away from the new arts and civic complex City Springs. It falls within the City Springs zoning district, which permits “adult establishments,” including bookstores, according to the zoning’s allowed use table. But the zoning also bars adult establishments within 300 feet of a residential property, which City Attorney Dan Lee said is what made the store illegal. The nature of the business has been a source of curiosity and controversy for months. Previously, Morrison said the store would not be a branch of the Tokyo Valentino chain and would instead be a new venture called Dancer’s Elite Wear, which would sell clothing, shoes and other accessories. But shortly before opening, Morrison amended the license to change the business’s name to Tokyo Valentino and modify the products and goods sold to include “smoking accessories, lingerie and a minimal percentage of adult goods.” On Dec. 21, the store hosted a live DJ, according to its Twitter page. Morrison owns Tokyo Valentino locations on Cheshire Bridge Road and Northside Drive in Atlanta, Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth and Cobb Parkway in Marietta. Morrison also runs a smaller store called Stardust on Buford Highway in Brookhaven. Morri-

son is currently involved in legal battles with the cities of Atlanta and Brookhaven over the local stores. According to reports from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Morrison recently won an appeal against the city of Atlanta which was trying to shut down the Cheshire Bridge store. The city has been trying to close the shop for years, but in June, a federal appeals court said Morrison can challenge the constitutionality of Atlanta’s adult entertainment ordinance. Morrison has been in a legal battle over the Stardust store in Brookhaven as well. In February, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that Stardust was in contempt for going against a lower court’s ruling to stop operations because it violates a Brookhaven ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses, but the shop remains open. The city of Sandy Springs recently finished a 12-year fight against sex shops and strip clubs, leaving only one store other than Tokyo Valentino selling adult entertainment items within city limits. Love Shack, located at 5674 Roswell Road., remains open. No strip clubs are still open within city limits.

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New city manager takes the helm BY HANNAH GRECO hannah@reporternewspapers.net

Andrea Surratt has been named the new city manager following an appointment approval by the City Council at a Dec. 3 meeting. Mayor Rusty Paul recommended appointing Surratt at the meeting. “It is my sincere delight to recommend the approval of Andrea Surratt,” Paul said. “This was a very thorough and inclusive process,” District 6 City Councilmember Andy Bauman said. “I think she will be an extraordinary leader and mentor in this community.” “One of the things I was very concerned about when we started this process was the caliber of the candidates,” District 1 City Councilmember John Paulson said. “The concern I had is out of my mind...I am sure she will SPECIAL do a great job.” Andrea Surratt has been named “She is an exceptionally strong canthe new city manager. didate,” District 5 Tibby DeJulio said of Surratt. “Her tenure here will really be of benefit to the city.” Surratt will replace Peggy Merriss, who was appointed as interim city manager in July as a temporary replacement for Sandy Springs’ founding city manager, John McDonough. Sandy Springs has said it aims to hire a permanent replacement by early next year. “It has been a privilege and an honor to serve as the interim city manager for the city of Sandy Springs,” Merriss said in an email. “Working together with the mayor and council and great city staff, we’ve moved critical projects forward and continued to achieve the city’s priorities. It has been a great experience for me that I have thoroughly enjoyed.” The city utilized an executive search firm to conduct a national search for its new manager after McDonough’s departure. “We had over 500 applicants,” Paul said at the Dec. 3 meeting. Surratt’s annual salary will be $222,000, according to a city document. Surratt will begin the position on Jan. 6, Paul said at the meeting. “Cities are strengthened by meaningful community discussions about growth, neighborhood preservation, revitalization, and inclusive community identity,” Surratt said in a press release. “I look forward to working with the Sandy Springs City Council, citizens, and staff to shape this young city, originally envisioned by Eva Galambos, into an uncommon and timeless community.” Surratt has over 28 years of city management under her belt, according to her resume. Surratt resigned from her city manager job in Bozeman, Mont. on Dec. 3 in the wake of her new position in Sandy Springs, according to a press release. She has held the position since 2017 and served as interim city manager before being appointed permanently. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve the city of Bozeman for the last two years,” Surratt said in the release. “Bozeman is an amazing community with a great future ahead.” Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus said Surratt helped the city complete and start work on its first strategic plan. “We will miss her calm and thoughtful approach to leadership,” Andrus said in the release. “Despite this change, I have confidence in the groundwork that she and staff have developed.” Surratt is a native of North Carolina and served as the planning and development manager for the city of Wilmington, N.C., and the town manager for Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Surratt was also the assistant city manager for the city of Hickory, N.C., for 10 years. Surratt returns to the South to be closer to her family, who reside in North Carolina, according to the release. “Sandy Springs is an opportunity for advancement in a larger community in a major metropolitan area,” Surratt said. “Its location brings me closer to my family which is important as I look toward my future.” Surratt earned a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Clemson University in 1991 and an undergraduate degree in political science from Guilford College in 1989. SS


Community | 5


GDOT to hold local input meetings for top end I-285 toll lanes projects BY JOHN RUCH johnruch@reporternewspapers.net

The Georgia Department of Transportation has announced a series of January open houses to discuss its top-end I-285 toll lanes. The series of meetings includes locations in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs and near the borders of Brookhaven and Buckhead. In October, GDOT said it is delaying the construction timeline for the controversial toll lanes by years, with the earliest start date sometime in 2023, to get more competitive bids from contractors. But the agency said the public input process would remain on track and that some free lanes would be built sooner. Those free lanes will be part of the presentation in the open houses. The open houses will not have a formal presentation, but will have information and officials available to answer questions, according to GDOT. Also still ongoing is property acquisition for right of way, one of the biggest controversies of the toll lanes proposal. GDOT previously said the Ga. 400 project alone will take more than 40 houses and other buildings in Sandy Springs, and more than 300 properties could be “affected” by the I-285 toll lanes. Among the areas already known to be impacted are residential areas of Sandy Springs and Doraville’s Assembly site, and residents of the Georgetown neighborhood of Dunwoody fear their area could be on the list. The open house schedule includes: Jan. 21, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Chamblee First United Methodist Church, 4147 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Chamblee. Jan. 23, noon-2 p.m. and 4:30-7:30 p.m., City Springs, 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. Jan. 28, noon-2 p.m. and 4:30-7:30 p.m., St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church, 1978 Mount Vernon Road, Dunwoody. Jan. 30, noon-2 p.m. and 4:30-7:30 p.m., The Gallery at Cobb Galleria, 1 Galleria Parkway Southeast in Cobb County. GDOT is planning to add toll lanes on Ga. 400 and I-285 as part of a proposed metrowide system that already includes parts of I-75, I-85, I-575 and I-675. The new section running through the Perimeter Center and Buckhead areas would run on roughly the northern half of I-285 above I-20, and on Ga. 400 roughly between I-285 and Alpharetta.

Part of the Ga. 400 toll lanes would carry MARTA buses, and a similar system has been proposed for the I-285 lanes. The toll lanes project is separate from the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction project that is currently under construction. That project, known as “Transform 285/400,” began in 2017 and is expected to wrap up in late 2020. However, the toll lanes would run through the interchange area and connect with it. In the revised timeline, the Ga. 400 lanes north of the North Springs MARTA Station are to start construction in early 2022 and open in 2027. The I-285 project was split into two sections with different construction timelines. The “East Metro” section — between Ga. 400 and Henderson Road, and including Ga. 400 south of North Springs Station – would start in 2023 and open in 2029. The “West Metro” section, between Ga. 400 and Paces Ferry Road, would start in 2026 and open in 2032. While the overall toll lanes projects are delayed, GDOT said it will build certain parts of their proposed systems sooner to get ahead of the game and offer some traffic improvements. Those projects include: I-285 westbound collector-distributor lanes: The dedicated lanes for interchange-users would run from Chamblee-Dunwoody Road to Ashford-Dunwoody Road in Dunwoody. They would be extensions of similar lanes being built now for the Transform 285/400 project. Construction would start in 2022 and open to traffic in 2024. I-285/Peachtree Industrial Boulevard interchange: Improvements to the interchange near eastern Dunwoody include adding collector-distributor lanes. Construction would start in late 2021 and finish in late 2023 or early 2024. I-285 westbound extra lane: The new lane would come from widening I-285 in Sandy Springs between Roswell Road and Riverside Drive. It is intended to serve drivers going between interchanges so they don’t have to weave through traffic, but anyone will be able to use it. The project also includes replacing the Mount Vernon Highway bridge over I-285. Construction would start in mid-2022 and finish in late 2024. GDOT’s overview of the toll lanes and related projects is available at majormobilityga.com.

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Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant who lives on the Dunwoody-Sandy Springs line and writes about people whose lives inspire others. Contact her at worthknowingnow@gmail.com.

Exercise pro takes her fitness students to the water Doon you ever wonder why some peoCarol Niemi is a marketing consultant who lives the DunwoodySandy Springs line and writes about people whose lives inspire ple seem naturally impervious to agothers. Contact her at worthknowingnow@gmail.com.

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ing? To find out, I recently spent time with Marlene Colon, a seemingly ageless local fitness instructor. If you’ve taken an aerobics or dance-based fitness class at any of the top fitness clubs in Dunwoody or Sandy Springs during the past 30 years, you’ve probably encountered her. Certified in Zumba and LaBlast, both dance-based high-impact forms of exercise, Colon was trained by “Dancing with the Stars” fan favorite and fitness expert Louis van Amstel. She also studied adaptive physical education at Georgia State University and has worked as a choreographer and performer in local dance productions. For years, Colon seemed to be evMarlene Colon. erywhere, teaching classes and leading demonstrations at local festivals with students of all ages, including one who at age 104 took her chair-based fitness class at an assisted living facility. But years of jumping up and down can take their toll. In 2002, Colon had surgery to replace both hips. She could have legitimately quit the fitness gig right then. But instead she took to the water and got certified in Aqua Zumba. “If I didn’t do water, I wouldn’t be walking,” she said. “I won’t say I have no pain, but I keep moving. They call me the Energizer Bunny.” The next year, her leg muscles had become so strong she was able to cancel planned knee replacement surgery. Now she teaches at a variety of health clubs in the area, including the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, the Concourse Athletic Club and a host of other smaller clubs. Still, as a lifelong swimmer and gym rat who regularly works out with weights, I doubted Aqua Zumba could be much of a workout. So, Colon invited me to take her class at the MJCCA to prove me wrong. Her class of 19 ranged in age from 60-ish to 93. Her deaf student was absent that day, but her student with dementia was there. Her energy and high-powered music quickly got everyone moving according to the best of their ability. You can’t imagine how many ways you can use water resistance to work your muscles. Because she adds special touches to the Aqua Zumba routine, she calls her class Aqua Fusion. In one of her modifications, which she calls Aqua Beat, students use drumsticks to beat on and through the water to hyper tunes such as Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” “The men love it,” she said. She discovered the drumsticks at one of the many fitness conferences she attends and wanted to incorporate them into her class immediately. But fearing the price of $50 a pair would be cost prohibitive for retirees who take the class for free through Silver Sneakers, she decided to make them herself. “I wasn’t going home without stopping at Home Depot to find something I could


The December “Worth Knowing” column incorrectly reported the employment of “Georgia Gang” panelist Janelle King. She is vice president of external affairs at Osprey Management and is a contracted government relations officer for MARTA.


Commentary | 7


make drumsticks out of,” she said. “I had a vision, but didn’t know till I went to the store what was available.” In the plumbing department, she bought 20-foot lengths of white plumber’s pipe, 160 plastic caps in packages of two, and tubes of glue. She had the store cut the pipe into 14-inch pieces. The next day, she and her young granddaughter sat in her yard and glued the caps on the sticks to make 80 watertight drumsticks for her students. Her goal is always to make her classes so much fun her students will keep coming back, something she learned early in her fitness career when she trained with the charismatic 1970s fitness guru Richard Simmons. Based on what her students told me that day, she has succeeded. “I’m 77, but feel like I’m 37,” said Galima, from Russia, who recovered from a pinched nerve in weeks thanks to Colon’s class. “It was 100% a miracle.” “I’ve taken water Zumba for 30 years. She’s the best teacher I’ve ever had,” said Louise. “Before this class, I walked with a cane,” said Jayshree. “Now I can sometimes walk without it.” Like some of the other students, Jayshree can’t swim. By email, student Susan, who has been “profoundly deaf” since birth, told me she has no problem not hearing the

music because she follows the movements, which Colon enthusiastically makes very obvious. “She’s very warm and friendly and wants us to follow through,” said Susan. “I love that about her.”

“People live to take her class,” said student Sarah. As for me, the gym rat, my muscles were sore the next day.


Marlene Colon, seen in the second row, second from the left, leads an Aqua Fusion class with drumsticks.


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Contest entrants imagine I-285’s future with a monorail, forests and more BY JOHN RUCH

Some of the idea were improbable fun, like turning the highway into a “lazy river” ride or a 64-mile Porsche test track. Others were within the realm of the possible, such as a monorail line similar to A ring of urban forest. A 64-mile-long river. The world’s versions proposed over the years by such officials as Sandy Springs longest zip line or biggest skate park. Monorails and bus Mayor Rusty Paul. The Stuckey’s store company weighed in with a lanes. concept for Georgia-grown produce sold in its stores at every exit. Those were just a few of the 50 ideas for the future of The contest comes as the Georgia Department of Transportation I-285 displayed Dec. 6 in a contest operated by Atlanta Beltis planning its own major change to I-285: adding “express lanes,” or Line founder Ryan Gravel. The contest was intended to be toll lanes, over the next 15 years, which could carry both private veplayful and far-out, Gravel said, but also a way of “trainhicles and mass transit buses. Gravel previously said the toll lanes ing people to think differently” about the massive Perimewere not an inspiration for the contest, but that he would prefer a ter highway’s social and cultural possibilities. After all, he “serious” transit plan. Regarding the content, GDOT spokesperson noted, the idea of a park/transit/trail loop on old Atlanta Scott Higley said, “GDOT welcomes all forms of public input and railroad beds was once pretty wacky, too. encourages community engagement,” but also thinks its toll lanes The submissions were displayed at Generator, Gravel’s plan is a good one. urban-planning nonprofit in Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland “The benefits of express lanes are proven – and not just for usneighborhood. He gathered a panel of influential locals to ers of the express lanes,” Higley said. “Motorists and transit riders serve as judges, including Atlanta BeltLine Inc. CEO Clyde on I-75 and I-575 have been experiencing the very real benefits of Higgs; City Planning Commissioner Tim Keane; Marian the Northwest Corridor Express Lanes for well over a year, enjoyLiou, founder of Brookhaven’s We Love BuHi and now an ing greatly reduced travel times and speed limits during rush hour Atlanta Regional Commission analyst; Rose Scott of WABE up by an average of 20 mph even in the general purpose lanes. ExNews; Thomas Wheatley of Atlanta Magazine; Bem Joiner press bus transit is currently in use in those and all express lanes as SPECIAL of the creative agency Atlanta Influences Everything; Tim A monorail was among the concept in the I-285 contest. it will be on the I-285 Express Lanes.” Schrager of Perennial Properties; and Bithia Ratnasamy, a Transit was a common theme of the contest, with gondolas and city project manager on affordable housing policy. dedicated bus lanes among the options. Liou later said her top pick was 8-year-old Scarlett Partrain’s “The Zipline” – winner in One proposal called for tolling all exit ramps and using the money to fund MARTA. “Is it the contest’s “Best Utopia” category – and its depiction of a giant version of the ride where legal? Maybe. It is contentious? Certainly,” mused that proposal. people slide down a cable. “Atlanta’s Forest Ring” envisioned the Perimeter’s lanes – narrowed thanks to the as“My favorite was the ‘Zipline,’ because I love seeing children rethinking infrastructure sumed precision driving of future autonomous vehicles — separated by grass and trees. and our built environment with joy and fun in mind. We need more of that,” Liou said. The “HydroLoop ATL” would place a multilane waterway along the Perimeter, including Gravel said he received 47 public submissions for the contest, and tossed in another that lazy river, speedboat lanes and a “recycling chute”; it also proposes a riverfront hotel in three himself to make an even 50. That matched one inspiration for the contest: 2019 is both Dunwoody and a year-round version of Sandy Springs’ Artsapalooza festival. the 20th anniversary of his Georgia Tech thesis paper that proposed the BeltLine and the 50th anniversary of I-285’s completion. johnruch@reporternewspapers.net

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Community | 9


Walking trail coming to Crooked Creek Park in Sandy Springs BY HANNAH GRECO hannah@reporternewspapers.net

Crooked Creek Park will soon have a pedestrian trail after the Sandy Springs City Council awarded a $157,247 contract to Steele & Associates Inc. for the project at a Dec. 17 meeting. The trail is planned to run approximately one mile between the city park, behind The Retreat at River Park, an apartment complex at 3100 River Exchange Drive, and the Holcomb Bridge section of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area. The national park runs along nearly 50 miles of the river on such scattered, separate parcels. The Holcomb Bridge site is more than 40 acres of woodland lacking a public entrance. The project will also provide site grading for the parking lot and construct a small wooden bridge, as well as remove some dead trees and overgrowth to make room for the trail. In Aug. 2018, the Sandy Springs City Council approved a $54,500 purchase of nearly 2 acres of undeveloped land behind The Retreat to be used to build the trail. District 1 City Councilmember John Paulson, who has advocated for the trail for years, was happy to see the contract be awarded at the Dec. 17 meeting. “Seeing as I am not getting any younger, I am just delighted this is happening,” Paulson said. “Let’s get her done.” Bill Cox, the superintendent of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area, said in an email that he believes the project is a great example of the partnership that exists between the city and the National Park Service. Cox also said the trail will give people a chance to better connect with nature in the area. “By combining our efforts and the use of our green spaces, we will be providing additional opportunities for our citizens and neighbors to explore and connect with this tremendous recreational asset we have in the Chattahoochee River and the trails around it,” Cox said. According to city spokesperson Sharon Kraun, the contract will be finalized in

January and is expected to be completed by spring 2020. Kraun also said the path is a part of the North End Trail study, which was one of the initiatives in the city’s vision for revitalizing the area.


An illustration showing a trail connecting the new Crooked Creek Park, at bottom, along the creek to the Holcomb Bridge section of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, at top, and winding through its woodland.

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10 | Commentary

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Commentary / Looking into the political crystal ball for 2020 What does the new year – and new decade – have in store for local communities? We asked local leaders to dust off a crystal ball and predict the biggest local issues in 2020 and how they might play out. For more of what each had to say, see ReporterNewspapers.net.

Andy Bauman

Bob Ellis

We will continue to face many consequential local and regional issues in 2020, including the impact of countless infrastructure projects, managing growth, and, for many, rising cost of living (particularly housing and healthcare). In my view, however, the biggest challenge will be the political polarization, tribalism and incivility that permeates into our daily lives. The 2020 national and statewide elections, I fear, will only exacerbate the divisions within our society. In our own lives, whether as family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or serving in leadership roles within our community, we can practice and model civil discourse, and we can listen to opposing views with respect, courtesy and empathy. This should not be construed as a call for complacency in the face of injustice, or an abandonment of principles or vigorous political debate and advocacy. But we have a lot of issues to work on, and we will all be better off when we can work on them together.

Property taxes have long been a significant concern of Fulton County residents, and we have made great strides in reducing the tax burden on our citizens. I was very pleased that the Board of Commissioners voted to reduce the millage for the fourth year in a row, and I look forward to realizing further reductions in coming years. Residents also saw significant tax relief through a cap on property tax increases implemented in 2019, while our senior citizens realized additional tax reductions with the expansion of their homestead exemptions. Lastly, we were successful in resolving Fulton County’s property tax litigation with the state Department of Revenue in the favor of Fulton taxpayers. Our efforts will not stop there, as we are looking to identify additional opportunities for property tax relief in 2020. Among other things, the county will work with the Georgia Legislature to simplify and improve the homestead exemption and appeals process. Plans are also in place to expand educational programs to help property owners better understand the process and protect their homeowner rights.

Sandy Springs City Council

Mayor Lynn Deutsch Dunwoody

The update of the Dunwoody Village Master Plan will be completed shortly. The city has had record-breaking participation in our public input process. Our community is ready for changes to the area. I am hopeful that citizens will have confidence that the city is moving in the right direction with the Village and other commercial areas by the end of 2020. Dunwoody will take over the old Austin school property in early 2020. The old Austin site will become a park shaped by an extensive public input process. We are working with neighboring cities to connect our various trail systems to enable residents the ability to walk or bike between our communities. The biggest challenges facing our community are related to the DeKalb County School District and the I-285 managed lanes project. I have begun conversations with leaders across DeKalb about the need to work together to make improving the school system a priority. I will continue to advocate for Dunwoody with the Georgia DOT to mitigate the impacts of this massive project.

Fulton County Commission

Mayor John Ernst Brookhaven

In 2020, I’m looking forward to conversations on how to accomplish the recently adopted ATL’s Regional Transit Plan so we can move forward on increasing transit options and reduce traffic in our region. Also, as a parent of two public school students, the DeKalb County Schools redistricting will be a topic of conversation in 2020. As for local Brookhaven issues, 2020 will bring many traffic intersection improvements and park construction projects. Motorists who may be inconvenienced during construction periods will be rewarded with better commute times afterwards. Sidewalks and paths are also included in these projects so we will have more walk-bike options to get around. Park improvement projects will occur throughout Brookhaven’s park system in 2020 as we work to complete our Park Bond projects at a rapid pace. Highlights include the new pool facilities at Briarwood Park that will be completed by summer 2020 and Lynwood Park master plans will be finalized with community input.

State Rep. Betsy Holland D-Atlanta

The most pressing issue facing the state Legislature is the state budget. Our only constitutional requirement as legislators is to pass a balanced budget each year. We have to find a way to responsibly fund critical programs throughout the state, even in the face of the governor calling for deep cuts in spending. School safety counselors, foster care, correctional facilities, public health agencies and domestic violence centers are just a few of the places where these cuts could have devastating impacts. My personal priority will be talking about affordable housing – how can we reduce the burden of property taxes, manage development responsibly and help seniors stay in their homes? It’s bound to be a long, complicated path, but I’m convinced the state, county, city and school system can work together to find solutions. By forging a path to more affordable housing in our community, we can reduce traffic congestion and strengthen our local businesses.

Linley Jones

Brookhaven City Council As metro Atlanta continues to grow, I expect our biggest issue in Brookhaven will be traffic volume and congestion. Our mayor and City Council will continue to proactively address these issues by implementing the traffic studies created by traffic consultants and city staff based on broad citizen input. Much progress has already been made in improvements based on the AshfordDunwoody Corridor Study, such as intersection improvements like those at Nancy Creek Drive, and more improvements are on the way throughout the corridor The traffic challenges mount as we are surrounded by increasing density, but here in Brookhaven we are succeeding at smart growth and planning by following the feedback of the community as reflected in the character areas adopted last year. This ensures that any development is in keeping with the community’s interests to the greatest extent possible.

State Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta)

Georgia’s minimum wage is $5.15 and the federal minimum wage is $7.25. SS


A Georgia resident needs to earn approximately $18 an hour to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment (on average statewide). This gap between wages and ability to find housing continues to grow. Efforts to take millions from our public school systems persist, while our teachers remain underpaid and class sizes increase. And instead of providing healthcare to almost 500,000 of our uninsured residents, the state is pursuing a waiver so that it won’t have to comply with the protections of the Affordable Care Act, because of purely political campaign promises. These are real problems that affect so many in our community, but there are ways to battle them. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour (and allowing local governments to do more if voters want them, too), fully funding public education, and expanding Medicaid are all a start.

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick R-Marietta

I think we are going to be spending a lot of time on the budget this year. Based on disappointing tax revenue, the governor has asked agencies to cut 4% for this fiscal year and another 6% for next year. Since education and Medicaid are exempt, that leaves a significant challenge for the other programs. There will also be a significant conversation about gambling in its various forms. I have significant concerns about the impact of destination resorts on local communities, especially arts and culture, in addition to the baggage that can come with these gambling destinations as we fight an epidemic of gangs, trafficking and addiction. We made a lot of progress on healthcare and insurance last year and we will continue to work on improving healthcare delivery throughout the state and our general state of health in Georgia. We have seen some indications of more competition in the individual market that should drive down prices in combination with the waiver programs being submitted to the federal government.

Sam Massell

President, Buckhead Coalition It has been 50 years since I left office as mayor of Atlanta, yet I have to report that the main issues facing my community are pretty much the same as they were then -- and they are nationwide in major urban cities. Thus, there will be no surprise to the reader when I list crime, taxes, and traffic. This is not to say there is nothing being done to improve the conditions where we find fault, or how the eventual outcome will be. 1) People complain about crime when there are incidents in the neighborhood or where they know the parties involved -- repeated incidents that can be avoided with SS

Commentary | 11


new initiatives; 2) taxes when new assessments are delivered -- offset where political boldness of kept promises is exercised, and 3) daily increased traffic -- visibly improved by action taken on yesterday’s plans.

J.P. Matzigkeit Atlanta City Council

Restoring trust in city government is the biggest issue facing Atlanta in 2020. Trust is the foundation upon which everything rests. Citizens deserve to know that their government is honest, open and worthy of their confidence. We want to trust all public servants, but it’s essential we verify that. It’s why I’m focused on implementing an office of Inspector General for the city of Atlanta. In 2019, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and City Council put together a Task Force for Promotion of Public Trust made up of leading state and local jurists and chaired by retired Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears. Chief among its recommendations was the establishment of an Inspector General position “independently overseeing the city’s investigative operations” and working “to prevent wrongdoing before it occurs.” The Inspector General’s Office would have the jurisdiction and power to identify and investigate fraud, waste, corruption, abuse and misconduct.

Lee Morris

Fulton County Commission A major county issue facing my constituents in 2020 will, again, be property taxes. While my Sandy Springs constituents will continue to benefit from the “floating homestead” exemption for all three elements of their property tax (Fulton County, Sandy Springs and Fulton County Schools), so that any increase in value will result only in modest increases in tax, my constituents in Atlanta will not. I believe 2020 will see more conversation about this issue and, hopefully, some action. Commercial properties must be valued fairly for tax purposes. 2020 will see the General Assembly attempt to level the playing field, and the county will continue its efforts to give the Board of Assessors the resources it needs in this effort. 2019 saw growing media and public attention focused on the tools local governments use to foster development, such as tax allocation districts and property tax abatements resulting from “bonds for title.” That attention will continue in 2020, hopefully resulting in only the truly deserving developments receiving subsidies, lessening the burden on homeowners.

Mayor Rusty Paul Sandy Springs

Our biggest issue as we head into 2020 remains managing transportation as the Georgia DOT projects along Ga. 400 and I-285 will be a disruptive presence through 2032. While the end result may alleviate some of our traffic woes, getting to that end will mean some disruption that will intensify congestion over the interim. The challenge is managing through the process. Also, we still have the unanswered questions on how to fund the rapid transit components that are supposed to accompany the managed (toll) lanes being added. The recent decision by GDOT to extend the construction phase means a two-year delay in bringing a funding plan to the voters.

Jeff Rader

DeKalb County Commission The stimulative extension of the economic expansion has led to higher costs for public safety, infrastructure construction, and other expenses. At the same time, warning lights are flashing for state revenue collections and other indicators. In 2020, DeKalb must balance these pressures on meeting service delivery expectations against necessary preparation for a downturn. Housing costs have likewise been escalating, requiring a policy response that preserves and improves the condition of DeKalb’s affordable housing stock. Finally, we must maintain our partnership with immigrant communities in the face of an increasingly hostile federal climate, or public safety will be placed at risk.

State Rep. Deborah Silcox R-Sandy Springs

One of the biggest issues facing Atlanta and Sandy Springs is traffic congestion. As chairman of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Oversight Committee, I am hopeful that in spite of the governor calling for budget cuts, the General Assembly can pass a budget in 2020 that more fully funds and empowers the Atlanta -Region Transit Link Authority (also known as the “ATL”). The goals of the ATL are to oversee and promote the transit plan for the our 13-county area, to promote collaboration between current (including MARTA) and future transit partners, and to partner with regional stakeholders to plan for more mobility. We need more transit and coordination of existing transit than ever before. Additionally, I am calling for a management audit of MARTA to be completed in 2020. With payments of more than $629,000 in taxpayer dollars going to out-

side lobbying firms and excessive payments of overtime to employees totaling more than $12.5 million dollars as shown in the 2019 Annual Report to the MARTOC Committee, MARTA can and must do better.

State Rep. Mike Wilensky D-Dunwoody

Two of the most important issues for State House District 79 in 2020 will be healthcare and ethics reform. Medicaid expansion: There are two options - the governor’s plan or full Medicaid expansion. The better option is full Medicaid expansion, which covers 490,000 Georgians, would be cheaper, and provide federal government funding of a 9-to-1 match. It would be fiscally irresponsible to miss out on Georgia receiving billions of federal dollars. Opioid Crisis: Addiction to opioids is having a critical impact on our state. For years, we have heard legislators say this is a problem. It is about time we start doing something about it. That is why I pre-filed HB 744. This bill helps fight against overprescribing of Schedule II narcotics (i.e., opioids). DeKalb Ethics Legislation: I believe the people of DeKalb County, including House District 79, deserve an ethics bill with teeth to make sure DeKalb County officials are looking out for the interests of their citizens. This year I will work towards passing such a bill.

State Rep. Matthew Wilson D-Brookhaven

In DeKalb County, we’ll have to immediately address the unconstitutional appointment process to the county Board of Ethics. I have already announced a bill I will file with a clean fix to immediately get the board up and running for the first time in over a year. In Fulton County, I’ll continue to work with Atlanta and Sandy Springs to find solutions to the ongoing affordable housing shortage and property value crisis. I found it incredibly disheartening last year to see our state divided so spitefully by those in power under the Gold Dome. I fear we’ll spend this session once again locked in a culture war, perhaps over yet another proposal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. I am also wary of the tenor of our national politics, the blame for which I lay squarely at the feet of this intolerable president. It would be an understatement to say the 2020 election is the largest political moment in recent history.

12 | Commentary

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Joe Earle is editorat-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at joeearle@ reporternewspapers.net


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William Makepeace knew it was time for a change. He was in his forties, getting a divorce, and after years in the financial industry, he wanted to work with his hands. So the exMarine and father of two decided to become a sculptor. “I hit the reset button,” the 50-year-old Buckhead artist said one recent afternoon, sitting in his sculpture studio and surrounded by things he’d made since his change of direction in 2015. “I 100 percent hit the reset button.” He believed he could handle his new direction. He felt it was in his DNA. For generations, he said, members of his family had made things: food, shelter, clothing. His great-great grandfather, great-grandfather and grandfather ran millwork companies in North Carolina. When his ancestor George Makepeace moved his branch of the family south in the 1830s, he came because he knew how to JOE EARLE run a textile plant. “He was,” In his studio, William Makepeace is surrounded by artworks he’s made. Makepeace said, “the Yankee with the textile knowhow.” “I’ve always been a creative person,” Makepeace said. “Not necessarily making art, but just in everyday life, I’ve able to connect the dots. I pay attention to what’s going on around me and within me. I connect those feelings … through art.” One of the first pieces of sculpture Makepeace made was a wooden paddle. It now hangs on a wall of his studio at the ACA Sculpture Studio of SCAD, located in Midtown next to the High Museum. The paddle doesn’t really look like other pieces he’s made. Several are fabricated from metal or use everyday objects, such as Coke bottles, to make their points. But the paddle is personal. It comes with its own backstory. Makepeace made it in memory of a wooden paddle his father had ordered him to make at the family’s millwork business when he was about 7. The young boy had gotten in trouble during a family gathering. Once he finished the paddle, his dad used it to spank him. Makepeace titled his recent piece “direction.” But it has a second meaning, he said. “People say, ‘You’re up the creek without a paddle.’ I have a paddle,” he said. “It’s right there.” He joined the Marines when he was in college. He hadn’t intended to, he said. A roommate called a recruiting hotline “and volunteered me as a joke.” When a recruiter called, “we told him it was a joke, but he kept calling me.” Eventually, Makepeace signed up. “I have always been somewhat spontaneous and the more it was explained to me, the more it sounded like a good idea,” he said. “So, I just went for it.” It stuck. He served 24-and-a-half years, most of it in the reserves. He spent six years on active duty in posts scattered from Iraq to Bolivia to Europe. Many of those years, his regular job was working as a financial advisor. About a year ago, he needed a change and decided to try his hand at art. He signed up for classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design and is working on a master of fine arts degree in sculpture. A few months ago, he thought up a way to combine his background in business and the military with his new interest in making art. Starting this month, he plans to open a temporary gallery at American Legion Post 140, located at Chastain Park. He’s calling it an “art party.” He’s been a member of the post for 13 years, he said, and thought it seemed like a good place for Buckhead art fans to see new works by local artists. He’s invited other students from SCAD and from Kennesaw State to show their works at the legion house. The gallery will be open on 10 consecutive Wednesdays, starting Jan. 15 and ending March 18. Anyone who wants to show and sell their works is invited to join via his website at makeartlovepeace.com. They’re being asked to donate 10 percent of their sales to the legion post. “It is open to any artist,” he said. “It’s an open studio.” What draws an ex-Marine to making art? “To me, it’s first and foremost for pleasure,” he said. “I enjoy doing this. I enjoy the process. I enjoy making art. It’s process-driven.” Besides, he comes from a long line of people who make things. He’s settling back into what he sees as an update on a family tradition. “I just see my art as a collection of my life experiences, the different buckets you can draw from,” he said. “Anything I’ve ever done in my life, somehow, in some way, comes through in the art.” SS


Commentary | 13


Want Healthy Hearing for the New Year?

I’m optimistic that we’re all optimists I am a victim of my own optimism. That’s what I thought as I scrutinized the unlabeled, undated plastic container of frozen brown gunk that I found in the bottom drawer of our freezer. That’s what I think every time that I slide into a meeting 10 minutes late, due to the fact that I was sure that I could do just one more thing before I left and still arrive on time. That’s what I think when I’m still wide awake at 3 a.m. because I drank that after-dinner cup of coffee anyway. Optimism brings with it an unflappable faith in the self and others and, for that matter, life in general. It’s what keeps me hanging on to a small collection of unmatched socks because I am sure their mates are bound to turn up. It’s what convinces me every time that the repairman will arrive within the stated two-hour window of time. It’s that tiny voice in my head that insists that those little specks in the rice are not moving. Often, optimism starts small, like a tender sprig of lilac hopefully peeking up through the earth before it’s crushed by the heavy boot of reality. To illustrate: for years I was awakened nightly by hunRobin Conte lives with her gry infants, teething toddlers and crying preschoolers, and husband in an empty nest I stumbled through my days eagerly anticipating the point in Dunwoody. To contact when I would no longer have to drag myself out of bed in her or to buy her column the middle of the night to tend to a child. After about a decollection, “The Best of the cade, the opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep Nest,” see robinconte.com. was finally realized. But just when my kids finally started sleeping through the night, I stopped doing it. Such is the irony of optimism. In my opinion, optimism is what gets us out of bed each day, keeps us trying just one more time, allows us the generosity to give someone else a second chance. Optimism, I believe, powers the world. Witness the mother who every summer is convinced that things will calm down when school begins, and every school year can’t wait until school ends so that things will ease up in summer again. That constant cycle of optimistic energy is what keeps her going, like a self-charging hybrid. I believe, in fact, that we are all essentially optimists. To prove my point, I have made a handy list of telltale signs that you, too, are an optimist: ■ You buy orchids.

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14 | Community

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Present and future construction were major themes in Sandy Springs in 2019. Enormous controversy erupted over the state’s plans for highway toll lanes. The city celebrated the first anniversary of City Springs, while looking ahead to North End redevelopment and a new trail system. And city government changed significant, with a move away from the outsourcing of City Hall departments.


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A screenshot from an illustrated video released by the Georgia Department of Transportation shows the proposed flyover lanes atop Northridge Road as part of the Ga. 400 toll lanes project.


Residents were shocked by the revelation that the state’s plans for toll lanes on Ga. 400 could involve demolishing more than 40 houses and other buildings, and property acquisition was already underway for similar lanes on I-285. Impacts to schools and other properties were a concern, too. The city pressed for changes. In one case, GDOT changed its plans for the toll lanes project on Northridge Road and Pitts Road after the city sent a letter expressing concerns. The city also floated, then dropped, the idea of paying an additional $30 million for GDOT to move a proposed toll lane interchange to Crestline Parkway and has opted to endorse GDOT’s plan to build it on Mount Vernon Highway. The toll lane projects are now delayed by years, but property acquisitions continue and a new round of open-house meetings on the I-285 portion is planned for January.


A judge ruled in favor of the city in a year-long lawsuit to order the billboards across from City Springs to come down. Although the lawsuit was carried out over a year, the issue with the property dates back years. The property is a triangle of concrete and gravel that has remained untouched since commercial buildings were torn down by the city in August 2018. The city has long aimed to spruce up the area with a park and paths, but projects have been stalled due to the lawsuit. Now, the city must wait even longer to bring the billboards down because the company that owns the billboards has filed an appeal against the order.


The City Springs civic center and its Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center celebrated their first birthday, after a year that included adding new public art, buying an outdoor stage to host concerts and welcoming new restaurants and businesses. But operating the building has proven to not be an easy feat for the city. The Performing Arts Center still relies on a city subsidy to keep it in the black, and the organization formed to help with funding programs has had issues with leadership and has taken a ‘reset’ on its fundraising goals. The city has also sued the contractor for the civic center and was buying water from the city of Atlanta for the fountains that face Roswell Road.


The Sandy Springs City Council balked on some settlements for right of way acquisitions for city road projects, claiming the costs are too high and calling for explanation. The city is mainly acquiring strips of land for various streetscape projects, but some settlements have involved entire properties for land-banking purposes.


After nearly a decade of repairs being ordered by the state for the Lake Forrest Dam, the City Council has approved a contract for the repair design. The design could restore the lake, but the process could take as long as two-and-a-half years and involve a 12-month closure of Lake Forrest Drive. Because of the current condition of the now-drained private lake, two Lake Forrest Drive homeowners are suing the city of Sandy Springs, among other dam owners, for negligence in dealing with the lake and the dam. SS



For years, the city has planned to redevelop the North End area, with recommendations forming from a Task Force. The findings from the task were presented in December 2018 and in December 2019, the city took a big step in its plans by hiring an architect firm to create designs for four shopping centers in the area. But a lot of questions still remain about the North End, including what role the city will play in the redevelopment, and an advocacy group is continuing its push for affordable housing in the area.


The city shifted away from its “public-private partnership” system of outsourced, privatized government services this year. The move was done in a low-key fashion and presented as a mathematical cost-savings decision. The city had privatized its services since its 2005 founding and drew international attention for being a pioneer in the government model. Oliver Porter, a Sandy Springs engineer and artist who founded the privatization idea, believes the city has already deviated too much from that model and that the current shift is risky. In another big change, the city’s first full-time city manager, John McDonough, left for another job. Andrea Surratt takes over in the new year.


Major retailers, including Home Depot and Pottery Barn, were found incorrectly charging Atlanta’s higher sales tax rate within the city.


Community | 15


The problem is rooted in ZIP codes, such as Sandy Springs’ 30328, that the United States Postal Service generically labels as “Atlanta” even though they are entirely outside that city. The problems have compounded in the era of online sales, which are taxed based on the customer’s delivery address, resulting in a complicated sales tax system whose flaws raise the ire of local governments and retailers alike.


City officials and residents took very different stances on proposals for two self-storage facilities proposed this year. The City Council approved one on Northwood Drive for hitting “high points,” but denied another on Roswell Road for doing quite the opposite. The Council approved the proposal for a three-story self-storage facility at 120 Northwood Drive, whose development would involve demolishing the current building and displacing several businesses, a church and three nonprofits. But the site also would provide a new city park and bring back the current nonprofit organizations.


Designs for the city’s master trail plan were approved by the City Council, beginning a system that will eventually allow bicyclists and pedestrians to travel on 31 miles of paths. The master plan recommends a $33 million implementation plan to span 10 years. The implementation plan would complete some segments of three of the six major projects, which include trails along Roswell Road, a bridge over the Chattahoochee River at Morgan Falls and other connections.

16 | Community

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A site plan for the Mayson House Hotel, planned near the former Glenridge Hall estate in Sandy Springs.

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BY HANNAH GRECO hannah@reporternewspapers.net

A developer proposing a large hotel has withdrawn its request for more than $900,000 in city incentives as the project continues to move through a zoning variance process. Glenridge Green Partners, LLC, the developer, withdrew the incentive request prior to a Dec. 3 City Council meeting, where a vote was pending. The developer did not respond to a request for comment. The incentive request called for waiving nearly $906,000 in fees and taxes for the construction of the proposed Mayson House Hotel on the northwest corner of Abernathy Road and Glenridge Drive. The waiver included the estimated building permit fee waiver at $681,000 and the projected business occupational tax waivers during a three-year construction period in 2023 to 2025 at $225,000. The waiver was recommended for approval through the city’s Economic Development Incentive Policy. The policy was created in 2011 to provide incentives for the expansion of existing businesses and to encourage the establishment of new businesses within the city. The hotel is proposed to have over 240 rooms; a conference center; a restaurant; and a rooftop bar and pool, according to site plans. The site plans also include a small, secondary building for an outdoor tavern that the developer is calling a “Biergarten.” The planned hotel rests near land that was formerly Glenridge Hall, a mansion and heavily-wooded estate dating back 85 years in Sandy Springs. The house was demolished in 2015 and the property now holds a number of redevelopments.

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The proposal was heard at a Board of Appeals meeting on Dec. 10. The project requires a number of zoning variances, or deviations from the standards set in the city’s development code. The requested variances include on the loading dock location; on the height of the retaining walls; and on the transparency requirements, or the required visibility of the building. Because the plan only needs zoning variances and not a rezoning of the property, the project is not required to go through a process of community meetings and City Council approval. Glenridge requested a variance to allow a loading dock between the street and the hotel and to allow a retaining wall to exceed 8 feet in height. The developer also requested to reduce the transparency requirements for the first four floors of the hotel facing Glenridge Drive. City staff recommended approval for the variance on the height of the retaining walls and for the loading dock because there are extraordinary conditions due to the shape and topography of the site, according to a memo. But staff recommended denial of reducing the transparency requirements because they can easily be met by covering the stairwells and elevator shafts, the memo said. The board approved the variance on the height of the retaining walls, but deferred the decision on the variance for the loading dock and the variance on transparency. The board will make a final decision at a Jan. 14 meeting. SS


Art & Entertainment | 17


Young Sandy Springs cousins win the right to sing at Carnegie Hall BY JUDITH SCHONBAK

Sarah Serena Thompson, right, and Phoebe Rose Claeys, below, sing at Carnegie Hall.

What does it feel like for a singer to step onto the stage to perform in Carnegie Hall? Two young cousins from Sandy Springs set foot in the historic New York City venue for the first time to do just that in mid-December. AMERICAN PROTEGE INTERNATIONAL VOCAL COMPETITION/ Phoebe Rose Claeys, 8, and Sarah Serena Thompson, CARNEGIE HALL 12, were winners in the 2019 American Protégé International Vocal Competition. Winners in the competition won the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall. Claeys admitted to being a little frightened at first as she looked out at all the people in the iconic recital hall. “But once I started singing, I was into the music. It was fun,” she said. She followed advice from the girls’ longtime instructor Adriana van Rensburg not to get distracted by the three crystal chandeliers. “She knows I like sparkly things,” added Claeys. Thompson said she was pretty calm. “The emcee gave me good advice. ‘You’ve already won. Just have fun and enjoy singing in this beautiful hall,’ he said.” The performances were held in Weill Recital Hall, one of three performance spaces in the 128-year-old Carnegie Hall, a world-renowned classic music venue. Claeys, who performed on Dec. 14, chose “Matchmaker” from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” The following day, Thompson took the stage to perform “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady.” Van Rensburg accompanied both of them on the piano. The cousins had in the audience a proud contingent of family members from Atlanta supporting them and cheering them on. “With a full schedule of lessons and performances, driving has always been a family affair,” said Caroline Claeys Thompson, Serena’s mother. “We are lucky to have so much support.” She and her husband Mark share transportation duties with the cousins’ grandparents, Suzanne and Robert Claeys and Mark Thompson’s mother, Carole Parks. All were in

New York, along with Alice Sue Claeys, Phoebe Roses’s mother, for the big event. It was the cousins’ first time entering the singing competition, which is open to solo vocalists and vocal groups of all ages, nationalities and countries. Claeys captured first place in the Young Singers group, ages 5-10, and Thompson took second place in the Junior level, ages 11-14. Singers from 14 countries applied for this year’s competition: the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Russia, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Georgia, China, India, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and Australia, according to the competition’s website. Taped auditions for the competition were held in June. She taught music for 26 years in Atlanta public schools working with elementary, middle, high school and college-level students, and she also served as an adjunct professor of music at Georgia State University. She teaches in her studio in Smyrna and privately in clients’ homes. The journey to Carnegie Hall began some years ago when the girls were not yet in grade school or even kindergarten. Claeys started taking piano lessons when she was 2 years old and voice the following year. Thompson began her studies in piano and voice at age 4. They both currently study classical and Broadway voice, piano and music theory with Van Rensburg weekly. More recently, both young sopranos have taken an interest in opera singing. The girls also take ballet lessons. Over the course of the years, they have sung in a number of competitions in Atlanta and elsewhere. It is an experience that Van Rensburg said is important in learning discipline, focus and how to perform artistically. “There is so much involved in teaching youngsters,” said Van Rensburg. “Even if they have good motor skills, they do not have the emotional maturity to understand the nuances and the artistry required…. Part of my work is to inspire them not only to play well, but to see what music can be.”

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18 | Art & Entertainment

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Monday, Jan. 20, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Performances, programs, and historical simulations that highlight contributions and stories of African Americans in Atlanta. Free. Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW, Buckhead. Info: atlantahistorycenter.com.

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Monday, Jan. 20, 9 a.m. to noon Volunteers are needed to plant trees and daffodils at Brook Run Park or join other public service projects as part of the Dunwoody Parks and Recreation Department’s annual Day of Service. Volunteers are asked to preregister at http://bit.ly/dunreccatalog. Checkin for all projects will be at Brook Run Park at 4770 N. Peachtree Road beginning at 8:15 a.m.


Friday, Jan. 24 through Sunday, Feb. 16 The Stagedoor Players perform the Tennessee Williams classic about a young man, Tom, living with his controlling mother and introverted sister Laura, who lives in her own world of make-believe. Tickets: $34, $31 seniors, $24 students. Stagedoor Playhouse, 5339 Chamblee-Dunwoody Rd, Dunwoody. Info: stagedoorplayers.net. Visual Arts

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Monday, Jan. 20 1-4 p.m. The city of Sandy Springs hosts its inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day Art and Film Festival, a family-friendly event that will feature interactive art projects and showings of the Emmy-nominated animated film “Our Friend Martin” (at 1:15 and 2:45). Free. Studio Theatre at City Springs, 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. Info: sandyspringsga.gov.


Monday, Jan. 20, 5:30-7 p.m. The city of Brookhaven’s annual event and dinner. Tickets $10. Lynwood Park, 3360 Osborne Road, Brookhaven. Tickets: 404-6370542.

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Saturday, Jan. 18, 4 & 8 p.m. The Off-Broadway hit comedy based on the book by John Gray. Tickets: $60. Studio Theatre, City Springs, 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. Info: citysprings.com.

Wednesday, Jan. 8, 9:30 a.m. The Dunwoody Fine Art Association features Eric Bowles of the Georgia Nature Photographers Association presenting a collaboration where DFAA artists create paintings based on GNPA photos. Free. Dunwoody North Shallowford Annex Room 1, 4470 North Shallowford Road, Dunwoody. Info: dunwoodyfineart.org.


Friday, Jan. 10 – Sunday, March 1 30 travel photographs by Jane Robbins Kerr, a Mississippi native and Atlanta resident who has traveled the world photographing people and places. Admission $5. Oglethorpe University Museum of Art. Lowry Hall, 3rd Floor, 4484 Peachtree Rd NE, Brookhaven. Info: museum.oglethorpe.edu.


Art & Entertainment | 19



Friday, Jan. 17 through Friday, Feb. 28, 10 a.m.5 p.m. The Fulton County Arts & Culture and Dunwoody Fine Art Association present a Southeastern regional art show juried by Susannah Darrow at the Abernathy Arts Center. Opening reception Saturday, Jan. 25 and gallery talk, Saturday, Feb. 1, both 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free to view; artwork available for purchase. Abernathy Arts Center, 254 Johnson Ferry Road NW, Sandy Springs. Info: 404-613-6172.


Wednesday, Jan. 8, 7 p.m. Buckhead Heritage is launching a one-year project to find living “sentinel trees” dating to the Creek Native American Nation. Cost: $10 members, $15 non-members. The Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Street, Buckhead. Info: buckheadheritage.com.



Saturday, Jan. 18 through Tuesday, June 30 A touring exhibit explores the African American struggle for full citizenship and racial equality that unfolded in the 50 years after the Civil War, featuring historical artifacts, art, photographs and other visuals. Created by the New-York Historical Society in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and expanded with locally relevant materials from the collections of local museums. Tickets: $21.50, $18 students, $9 youths. Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Road, Buckhead. Info: atlantahistorycenter.com. Music

Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. Eve Nuemeister of the North Fulton Master Gardeners will discuss “Success with Succulents.” Free. North Shallowford Annex. 4470 North Shallowford Road, Dunwoody. Info: dunwoodygardenclub.com.


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Saturday, Jan. 11, 10:30 a.m.- 12 p.m. Join Sue VerHoef, director of oral history and genealogy at Atlanta History Center, discusses how to manage your files and organize your research as a family historian. Cost: $10 members, $15 non-members. Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW, Buckhead. Info: atlantahistorycenter.com.

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Sunday, Jan. 12, 2-3 p.m. Turn over a new leaf in 2020 and learn some simple tips on how to incorporate sustainability into your lifestyle. Bring your own container to make an Earth-friendly household cleaner. Free, RSVP required. North Woods Pavilion at the Dunwoody Nature Center, 5343 Roberts Drive, Dunwoody. Info: dunwoodynature.org.


Friday, Jan. 24, 8 p.m. Atlanta native and jazz pianist Joe Alterman and his trio, with a guest appearance by jazz vocalist Karla Harris. Tickets: $25. Studio Theatre at City Springs, 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. Info: citysprings.com.

Saturday, Jan. 18, 8-10:30 a.m. A family-friendly guided bird walk from Overlook Park to historic Morgan Falls Dam. Binoculars will be available to borrow or bring your own. Children 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Free. Morgan Falls Overlook Park, 200 Morgan Falls Road. Register: registration.sandyspringsga.gov.



Friday, Jan. 17, 7:30p.m. Screening and panel discussion about “Ali’s Comeback,” about the little-known politicians and businessmen who brought Muhammad Ali back into the boxing. Cost: $5 members, $10 non-members. Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW, Buckhead. Info: atlantahistorycenter.com/programs.

Friday, Jan. 17, 9-10:30am Enjoy a short winter hike into the forest and build a fort out of fallen tree branches. Warm up afterwards by the fire pit overlooking Bull Sluice Lake, and add a few sticks from the fort. Free. Morgan Falls Overlook Park, 200 Morgan Falls Road. Register: registration.sandyspringsga.gov.




20 | Art & Entertainment

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Q&A with Karen White Local bestselling author joins trio in historical adventure novel BY JOHN RUCH johnruch@reporternewspapers.net

Karen White is a bestselling author in her own right in the mystery and Southern women’s fiction genres. And the Milton resident is part of a trio of authors – along with Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig – who have co-written the bestselling historical adventure novels “The Glass Ocean” and “The Forgotten Room.” The novel-writing team is back together for “All the Ways We Said Goodbye,” a romantic drama about three different women’s adventures at the Ritz Paris hotel during both world wars and the 1960s. While Williams and Willig live in the Northeast, all three authors will visit White’s backyard together on Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. for a book event at the Sandy Springs Branch Library at 395 Mount Vernon Highway NE in Sandy Springs. Via email, the Reporter asked White about her inspirations and the new novel, which hits the shelves on Jan. 14. Q: Writing fiction in a trio is unusual. What is the best part of writing as a team? What is the most challenging? A: The best part of writing as a team is the

shared creativity. When perience it all over again. writing solo, only crickThat is the feeling I want ets answer when we ask to give to my readers; “what if” when stuck on an unputdownable read a plot point. But with with characters that lintwo other brains in the ger long after they turn mix, it becomes an entire that last page. well of possibilities. The Q: Do you have any famost challenging aspect vorite local bookstores is not living geographior other literary spots? cally close to each othA: We are extremely er. We’re great friends lucky here in the Atlanta as well as writing partmetro area to have some ners and it would be a really fabulous booklot more fun to meet for stores! They’ve all been SPECIAL coffee to chat plot points Karen White. such great supporters of and characters (among mine, and do a terrific other things) if we did live in the same job of recommending books and authors corner of the world. to readers, and hand-selling Q: You have mentioned the Nancy Drew mysteries as an early inspiration. How does she continue to influence your work? A: I remember how excited I would get to find a new Nancy Drew book in the library or bookstore, and how I would stay up in the wee hours of the night reading because I couldn’t put the book down. And then I would re-read the book to ex-

books. FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock is a favorite, as is Bookmiser and The Book Exchange, both in Marietta. Q: The new novel is set in the Ritz Paris hotel. What was an interesting fact you learned about the hotel in the historical research?

A: There were many! The most interesting was that the hotel was used as the headquarters for the Luftwaffe, the Nazi Germany air forces, during World War II, as well as the permanent residence of fashion designer (and suspected Nazi agent) Coco Chanel. Oh, the stories those walls could tell! Q: You’ve said that your grandmother Grace Bianca was an early influence on your interest in storytelling. What sort of stories did she tell? A: I remember spending hours beneath my grandmother’s kitchen table in Indianola, Mississippi, and listing to her, my mother, my four aunts, and an assortment of extended female members of my family talk about life, about their gardens and fruit crops, about local gossip, and also reminiscing. My favorite story is how my grandfather, who owned the first car on the street, would pile the family into the car in the middle of a hot summer day (this was before air conditioning!), and drive around town with the windows down so they could catch a breeze.

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North End brainstorming begins amid questions Continued from page 1 “These are illustrations,” Paul said at the meeting. “We are not designing specifically what we want to see on these specific sites.” A work session was scheduled at the meeting for city staff to present a “North End Revitalization Zone,” but the session was removed from the agenda on the city’s website before the meeting with no discussion and no explanation of what the term meant. City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the work session was removed because the presentation was not ready and that the zone will be explained in the presentation when it is ready. “When it’s ready, it will go before council,” Kraun said. Kraun did not clarify what the nature of the zone is. The idea of redeveloping the shopping centers follows a lengthy process and re-

port from the city-formed North End Revitalization Task Force, which sought ways to spur redevelopment as well as retain and create affordable housing. “There is a lot of opportunities up there,” District 2 City Councilmember Steve Soteres, who chaired the task force, said at the Dec. 3 meeting. “It seems like a lot of excitement starting to percolate.” The task force worked for several months in 2018 to draft a plan to bring new development to the north end, ultimately deciding on six key proposals: build a multiuse trail; incentivize new mixed-use and mixed-income developments; make Roswell Road improvements; build new streets and pedestrian connections; create new access to the Chattahoochee River; and build a community center and swimming complex. The North End is the area of Sandy Springs stretching from Dalrymple Road

in the south to the Chattahoochee River in the north, and from the Dunwoody border on the east to the west side of Roswell Road. The design includes plans for four shopping centers in the North End: the former Loehmann’s Plaza (8610 Roswell Road); the Northridge Shopping Center (8331-8371 Roswell Road); the North River Shopping Center (8765-8897 Roswell Road) and the Big Lots Center (7300 Roswell Road). At the meeting, the mayor said the designs are to be used for brainstorming purposes. Paul also said the four sites are being used as examples and the city cannot dictate what will go on them because they are privately owned. “We are not designing what we want to see on specific sites. We are just using that as an example of what could be done,” Paul said. “We are not designing what is going to be done on that private piece of property.” Every January, the mayor and City

Council hold a “retreat” – a lengthy meeting where they establish policy priorities for the year. At the 2018 retreat, where North End redevelopment was put on the priority list, then-City Manager John McDonough said that any type of plan to redevelop the area will likely involve significant public investment. It remains to be unseen what role the city will play in the redevelopment, if any. When asked if the city has generated any further details on funding, subsidies or purchasing any of the shopping centers, Kraun said the city is not assuming anything without a public input process. “We are not pre-supposing anything,” Kraun said in an email. “We are going through a deliberate, community involved planning process, with the expectation of recommendations on viable alternatives for moving forward.” At the 2019 retreat, the council reviewed

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Community | 23


the plan and Paul had said he’s asked city staff to bring back cost estimates and recommendations for what could move forward. Kraun said the 2020 retreat agenda is still in the works and will be finalized with input from the new city manager, Andrea Surratt, who will assume the position on Jan. 6, 2020. Paul emphasized at the Dec. 3 meeting that if and when the North End is redeveloped, it will still have affordable housing due to the proposals in the North End Revitalization Task Force’s final report. “Not only the creation of new affordable housing for middle-class families,” Paul said at the Dec. 3 meeting. “But also, the preservation of workforce housing in that area is one of the requirements.” The task force report is a list of priorities and concepts that are not legally enforceable. At the beginning of the task force process, the city said part of its work would be to propose a citywide affordable hous-

ing policy. But that did not happen and such a policy has yet to emerge from any other city process. Kraun did not specifically answer questions about Paul’s comments about requiring affordable housing in the North End and the status of a citywide policy. “It is a significant issue throughout the metro area,” Kraun said in an email. “There is not a simple answer, and it will take creative solution ideation and ongoing discussion to further any initiatives.” Longtime residents and philanthropist David and Melanie Couchman were cochairs of the task force but launched the affordable housing advocacy group Sandy Springs Together in January in opposition to the final report. They opposed the plan because they believe it would drive gentrification and displacement and have said the report does not do enough for housing affordability and preservation. The Couchmans sent out an email un-

der SST urging residents to encourage council members to face the challenge of welcoming redevelopment while preserving housing affordability. “The city wants to send a message to developers that the ‘North End is open for business,’” Melanie Couchman said in an email. “By taking this action, the city has sent the first signal.” Melanie Couchman said she welcomes revitalization if it allows the people currently living in the area to still comfortably live there. “These families are our workforce and our neighbors and many of them have already been priced out of the city due to rising rents and redevelopment,” Melanie Couchman said. Before serving on the North End task force, the Couchmans worked with the city for years behind the scenes for years on affordable housing policy, particularly in the North End. TSW is required to design a total of 12

plans, three for each shopping center. One design will conform to the city’s Development Code, one will potentially require variances, and the third will be “unique” and would not be bound by any code requirements, according to a city procurement document. The city is requiring that TSW hold at least two public meetings: one at the beginning of the plan to take public input; and the second at the end to display the preferred conceptual plans. At least one meeting must also be held at each of the properties. The designs will also include the estimated cost. Kraun said the sites are being used to identify what changes may be needed in the zoning of the areas to help generate change. “These sites are being used as pro forma,” Kraun said. “It is a process, not a quick-fix project. It will take time and further discussion.”

City to pay $1.2M for temporary fire station site while building a new one Continued from page 1 cost an additional $200,000 to renovate the former Enterprise building and to remove the billboards. One truck from the current station will move to the temporary location and another truck will move to Fire Station Three, also known as the Heards Ferry station, at 6025 Raider Drive.

Access issues

The temporary site sits at the intersection of Mount Vernon Highway and Roswell Road. City officials say there is too much traffic for the fire trucks to enter and exit from Roswell Road and it is too hazardous. The location also raises issues with fire trucks entering and exiting because the adjacent sections of Mount Vernon and nearby Johnson Ferry are one-way. To improve access, the city wants to build a driveway through a vacant lot it owns on the other side of Mount Vernon. “You can only go east on Mount Vernon and you can only go west on Johnson Ferry,” Lee said. “[Without the driveway], they would have to go around a big circle to get around to where they’re going.” But to make that happen, the billboards must be removed. “But that’s an intricate part, removing those billboards,” Lee said. The city recently victorious in its lawsuit to bring the billboards down, but the company has filed an appeal to the judge’s orders. Lee said the city has filed a motion with the court to allow for immediate possession based on the public safety needs, but it is unclear when the city will hear from the court or what the order will be.

Cost concerns

Some council members raised concerns that the city may be paying a higher price than what the property is worth. “Are we paying a premium because of our need for it?” District 6 City Councilmember Andy Bauman asked. “Are we shooting ourselves in the foot SS


Right, a Google maps image of the current Fire Station Two, located at 135 Johnson Ferry Road.

Below, a Google Maps image of the property at 6189 Roswell Road that will be used as a temporary station while the new station is being built.

for the rest of this project?” asked District 5 Councilmember Tibby DeJulio. “We’ve got a lot more property we’re going to be buying on that road… These prices are getting to the point where we can’t afford the city.” Mayor Rusty Paul said the real estate in the city has a higher yield and the prices will continue to rise. “It’s driving the costs up, but it’s also a reflection of the success of this facility and its impact on the surrounding areas,” Paul said. “I think it’s high but it’s not going get cheaper, not any time soon.” Sanders said there is no other property suited for the temporary fire station. “We have exhausted every alternative

we can,” Sanders said. “There is no more property.” Sanders said the next alternative would be to disperse all trucks to Fire Station Three and Fire Station Four at 4697 Wieuca Road, but that would add a twominute delay to response time for fires. “[Fire Station Two] is our busiest station and I feel we do need it,” Sanders said. The council awarded the design contract for the new station to Hussey Gay Bell & DeYoung International, Inc. for $351,700. The architect has significant experience for the project, Sanders said at the Sept. 17 meeting, with more than 35 fire station projects on its resume.

The first floor of the new building is proposed to have a kitchen and living room, and the second floor will have dorms, a laundry room, showers, a fitness room and a study room, according to site plans. The fire lieutenant and the battalion chief will also have their own offices on the second floor, an architect from Hussey said at the Dec. 17 meeting. Currently, at the fire station, the daily minimum staffing includes a three-person engine company, a three-person tower truck company, a two-person paramedic rescue company and the on-duty battalion chief, according to the city’s website.


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20 Under 20 Runners Up PAGE 36

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20 20 UNDER

Noah Daly, 17

Dunwoody High School Noah was studying late one night at a local restaurant when he saw employees loading unsold bakery items into a company truck. He went online and discovered that at the end of each day, the restaurant donated unsold baked goods to local hunger relief and charitable organizations. Other restaurants, he discovered, threw away perfectly good unsold food because they had no way to transport it to food pantries. He decided to do something about that. Once Noah could drive, he contacted a couple of restaurants and offered to transport useable food they otherwise would toss out to the Community Assistance Center in Sandy Springs. Since 2018, Noah has been responsible for the donation of 11,400 pounds of bakery and other food items to the CAC, reported Deanna deRoux, a school counselor at Dunwoody High, where Noah is a senior.

Honoring students who give back to the community With more than 80 nominations this year, narrowing down our slate of 20 Under 20 honorees was more difficult than ever. But we think you’ll agree that this year’s honorees – along with runners up – are doing extraordinary things to make world a better place to live. As in previous years, we asked public and private schools along with service organizations and the general public to nominate students who have been active volunteers in their communities. These students have accumulated thousands of hours of volunteer time, traveled to other countries, created nonprofits and worked with the underprivileged as part of their service. This year, we noticed a trend among many of the honorees – their interest and passion for the environment and social justice causes. Many of the students are actively working at school and in the community to combat climate change and homelessness as well as mentoring refugees and underserved minority communities around the city. There has been an incredible uptick of students creating nonprofits to help raise funds not only from the community, but from corporations as well. We hope these uplifting stories will inspire you to find ways to give back to the community.

Francesca, who goes by “Frankie,” says she got her first taste of community service when she was in the eighth grade and joined Creating Connected Communities, an organization the provides ways for teens to volunteer with children in need. “Doing something for people I didn’t know made my heart feel whole,” she wrote. So, she kept volunteering. She stayed with CCC and branched out into other forms of service. At The Weber School, where she’s now a senior, she and a friend formed the Green Team, a club that pushed for recycling of utensils and plates in the school cafeteria. She has raised money for the Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance and traveled to the Dominican Republic for a marine and coastal conversation program. Last summer, she said, she helped restore a school building in a village in Fiji. “I truly love helping my community and I find it rewarding,” she wrote. “Through community service, I want to make an impact on the world. Though I feel that I have been on this journey of helping through community service for a long time, I do not see an end in sight. I think when given the opportunity to help, one should take advantage and lend a helping hand.”

Francesca Grossman, 18 The Weber School

George Corbin, 17

The Westminster Schools The junior has created a project called Technology Opens Doors that addresses the technology needs of men transitioning out of homelessness with the guidance of GivingPoint’s Social Innovators Academy. After a visit to GeorgiaWorks! and observing men seeking employment, but without adequate technology, tools and training, George knew he could help. He surveyed the men at GeorgiaWorks!, met with the director and men to listen to their needs, but also to understand their capacity and skills they already possessed. Using this information, George started involving his peers, his school community and others to work with him to fulfill his project goals. George plans to apply for nonprofit status for Technology Opens Doors so that he can obtain funding and continue to provide assistance to those in need. He’s also found time to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army Bellwood Boys and Girls Club, and more. “Age is not a barrier when it comes to helping improve peoples’ lives,” George said. “I learned to always keep looking for different ways to find a solution. If your first idea does not work, approach it from a different angle but never give up.”

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Kennedy is founder and CEO of Aid the Journey, a nonprofit she started with money from her tutoring work to provide medical supplies, hygiene kits and educational materials to refugees. She also made time to volunteer more than 100 hours at Emory St. Joseph Hospital and this summer Kennedy is parMarist School ticipating in the Harvard Medical Science program and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Youth Leadership Institute at the University of Chicago. She also will participate in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Disease Detective Camp, and attend an Inspiring Girls Expedition for 12 days in Anchorage, Alaska. “Although I feel perpetually tired, every time I hand deliver one of my medical kits to a refugee I am energized,” Kennedy said. “Maya Angelou’s quote was right: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”

Kennedy Elise Walls, 17

Be Greater. Be an individual. Be part of a community. Be strong in faith. Be challenged academically. Congrats to Lizzie Joiner, Reporter’s 20 under 20

Come discover what it means to Be Greater.


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After participating in a Covenant House “Sleep Out” to raise funds to combat youth homelessness, the seniors were so moved by what they witnessed, that they applied for and were accepted into the organization’s Scholars in Service program. For four months, Spencyr and Maya learned about philanthropy, fundraising, conducting service projects and developing their voices to speak about homelessness. They approached local businesses and large corporations alike to educate others about youth homeless and solicit donations. In the end, they raised more than $50,000 for Covenant House Georgia, won the $2,500 Scholars in Service scholarship award, and presented one of CHGA’s college-bound youth with a matching $2,500 scholarship. Three weeks later, the girls reached out to say that they decided to donate their scholarships back to Covenant House to launch the Post-secondary Education Fund fulfilling a long time dream of CHGA’s program staff to have funds dedicated to helping young people overcome their barriers to accessing college. “No matter how big or insurmountable any problem seems, there is always something that can be done to help find a solution,” Spencyr said about her work as a volunteer. Maya echoed that sentiment: “Through my work with the Covenant House, I have seen how even a little bit of help can make a huge difference in someone’s life, from giving someone a roof over their head to providing them with the opportunity to access an education.”

Spencyr Aronson and Maya Kaplan, 18 Pace Academy

Riverwood International Charter School

Ruthie started a Culture Club at school and volunteers with the Agape Youth & Family Center, but found her volunteer calling working with immigrant children in DeKalb County. After completing a project on Syrian refugees for her 10th-grade history class, Ruthie laid out a plan to work with young immigrants in Clarkston, the DeKalb County community where scores of refugees have settled. For her Girl Scout Gold Award, Ruthie put together a program through the Clarkston Community Center. In summer 2018, refugee children at the center drew and wrote in “Journey Journals” Ruthie created to share their cultures, to document things they found important and to improve their English writing and speaking skills. “In light of the local, national and global plight of refugees, I wanted to make a difference and felt this organization and community was a good place to start,” Ruthie wrote in her final project report. “Using my talents in art and education, I wanted to develop a program to give these children respect and a voice through a project that could be shared with other refugee centers.”

Neha is the founder of nonprofit ASA (Aspire, Serve, Achieve), an organization that helps support and raise funds for underprivileged children. Her inspiration for the organization came after a trip to India and after she discovered there were also exorbitant levels of child poverty in Georgia. The organization has grown to 100 ambassadors and chapters in Georgia, Texas, Michigan, and India. Currently, Neha is working to help a group of children in Michigan who are impacted by the Flint Water crisis as well as a school in India for blind children in need of Braille books. Local initiatives that ASA is currently organizing include a donation of food to the Community Assistance Center and support for the Sandy Springs Mission. At school, she developed the Riverwood United alliance to bridge the gap between students of distinct cultures. “My volunteer work has made me aware of the little things in life that make the biggest difference, the vitality of uniting a community to pursue a cause that makes a difference in peoples’ lives, and the significance of receiving emotions that can be cherished for a lifetime.”

Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School

Neha Devineni, 17

Ruthie Reid, 18

Amanda Houston, 12 Marist School

When she was 7, Amanda was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and that requires regular injections of insulin for blood-sugar control. But she hasn’t let the disease slow her down. Soon after her diagnosis, she wrote thankyou letters the nurses and doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta who treated her. She also wrote letters offering hope and comfort to other children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and to their families. She has continued writing those encouraging letters to patients and their families every year on the anniversary of her diagnosis. She also has helped raise thousands of dollars for JDRF, a charity that funds research into diabetes and provides support for people dealing with the disease. Amanda’s Army, her JDRF One Walk team, has raised more than that $45,000 for the charity over the past five years. In addition to her One Walk team, Amanda has introduced speakers at the JDRF Type One Nation Summit, attended a research event and lab tour at Georgia Tech as part of a JDRF-funded research update, and, since 2015, has volunteered as a Youth Ambassador for JDRF.

Education | 29

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AIS_INtownBuckheadReporter_Winter2019.indd 1

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20 under 20

Where authentic Christian mission and academic excellence aren’t mutually exclusive

Congratulations to

Caroline Sellers ’20

Inspiring girls (grades 6-12) to find their own unique voice and use it in leading lives of purpose.



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CONNECTING LEARNING TO LIFE AT EVERY LEVEL. ABOUT THE PHOTO: Last summer, Upper School students explored Ghana and Botswana through an Isdell Center for Global Leadership (ICGL) study tour.



At Woodward, we provide the compass.

Lizzie works to help disadvantaged people both in Atlanta and abroad. She teaches Vacation Bible School, has assisted in New Birth Missionary Baptist Church’s community services iniGreater Atlanta Christian School tiatives, and helped distribute more than 5,000 shoes through a back-to-school drive. She also helped create more than 50,000 meals for families in Kenya. This fall, Lizzie and a fellow student created a campaign to collect donations of necessities such as canned goods for victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. “Viewing everyone as equal, volunteering becomes an act that improves the lives of those who may be in need,” Lizzie wrote. “True volunteers do not help beUNDER cause others have less; they volunteer so that everyone can obtain exactly what they need to survive and thrive. I have learned that a true volunteer serves best when combined with deep respect, encouragement and motivation. That is what I strive to offer each time I volunteer.”

Lizzie Joiner, 17

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Sophie’s passion is the environment. As a sophomore, she travelled to Ghana, where she watched women craft beads out of recycled materials to support their families. Upon her return, Sophie was selected to serve on Pace’s Isdell Center for Global Leadership Council, a student group that works to improve Pace’s environmental practices, lower its carbon footprint and educate the student body regarding Pace Academy waste reduction in their daily lives. Through that organization, Sophie led an initiative to redirect Pace’s cafeteria waste through composting, an effort that has kept thousands of pounds of food waste out of landfills. In addition, Sophie has helped coordinate hands-on activities ranging from making homemade toothpaste and fabric food wrap, to charting the lifecycle of items from orange peels and laptops, to hosting a bulk “candy shop” for Halloween. Sophie is now one of four students who spend the school year diving deep into the ICGL annual global theme. This year that theme is “waste.” “My passion for the environment is a great start, but I cannot hope to influence others unless I combine that passion with knowledge,” she says. “Hopefully, this venture will lead me toward similar programs in college and beyond and even help shape my career.”

Sophie Lettes, 17

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With Los Niños Primero (LNP), a kindergarten readiness program for Latinx preschoolers, the senior has logged over 300 hours of service. As a fluent Spanish speaker, she has been actively involved in the program for four years. She has been selected for three years as one of 10 Teen Ambassadors who reflect the values of LNP within the organization as well as in their community. As part of her Girl Atlanta Girls’ School Scout Gold Award project, she created a campaign to address the issue of organ donation with teen drivers at Atlanta Girls’ School and beyond. “Through my volunteer work in and out of my local community I have developed empathy and respect for intellectual and cultural differences in regard to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status,” she said. “Throughout my time with Los Niños Primero, the students constantly show me the power of forgiveness and inclusion. Watching them put these practices into action at such a young age reminds me to employ them in my own everyday life, and gives me hope for the future.”

Caroline Sellers, 17

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As a ninthgrader, Channing was nominated to participate in a leadership development and philanthropy program run by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Over a seven-week period, she managed a team of nine students and Wesleyan School raised over $64,000 for the charity. She coordinated a lacrosse clinic for Wesleyan students and asked friends, family members and local corporations to help her meet her goal. Now a 10th-grader, Channing has continued her involvement with LLS. She serves on the organization’s Student Leadership Team in Georgia and mentors other students on how to raise money for LLS. She has worked with the national LLS team and helped develop training materials for students nationwide. Channing also is a member of the National Charity League and has received awards for significant levels of volunteer work in her community.

Channing Stall, 16

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The senior’s focus on activism, sustainability, and citizenship has seen her serve as Georgia’s representative for the Student Worldwide Sustainability Protest, which organized last year’s Youth Climate Strike. Kendall also curated a nonprofit art gallery at the Center for Civil and Human Rights to unite performers, painters, sculptors, and poets to discourage the idea that young people need to be isolated from one another. She worked on this project for months in partnership with the City of Atlanta. In terms of future projects and endeavors, she is integrating her love of community gardens and sustainable initiatives with yet another partnership with Atlanta native musician and artist, Raury, to create a community garden and art center in Stone Mountain. This long-term project will inform her Lovett senior capstone project in the spring as well. “Through volunteering, I’ve learned the importance of showing up consistently. I’ve found strength in compassionately serving others and following through on my commitments, regardless of how tired I may be from school. I have learned to prioritize volunteer work and creating opportunities for people to come together. The service work that I have had the ability to do has exposed me to not only the realities and injustices of the world, but the solutions.”

Through the Young Men’s Service League, Robert shares his time and energy with all sorts of people. He volunteers with senior citizens, cancer patients, at-risk elementary school students and teens with disabilities. And during each of his four years with the YMSL, he’s contributed 50 to 100 hours of volunteer time in the community. He’s helped develop the organization, too, by serving as its president, secretary, chairman of philanthropy and historian. “He is very proud of these accolades,” St. Pius X counselor Arline Umpierre wrote. “However, this is not why he remains enthusiastic about giving back to his community. He truly enjoys calling bingo games for his senior friends, making and serving meals for cancer patients at the Hope Lodge, working with at-risk elementary school students and playing basketball with the Titan [wheelchair team] teenagers.”

Kendall Greene, 17 The Lovett School

Ty Thompson, 17

Riverwood International Charter School On the volleyball court, Ty is known to be as a team player. Off the court, she’s helping lead the way to better awareness and positive change in her community. The senior’s list of community service projects includes working with Hands on Atlanta and founding and serving as president of the Riverwood Black Student Union, a group that encourages minority students to take leadership positions at the school. She’s also co-founded RICS United, which works to improve race relations at Riverwood, and founded an organized called Building Relationships in Dialogue Gets Everyone Speaking, or BRIDGES, to promote communication among teens.

Kaelyn Bannon, 15

Holy Spirit Preparatory School

Robert Weir, 17

St. Pius X Catholic School

Through book drives organized as part of her Silver Award service project for Girl Scouts, Kaelyn collected reading material for children who might not otherwise have ready access to it outside school. She contributed nearly 1,000 books to the Cobb County Juvenile Court System, and she and her dad made two brightly colored bookshelves to hold the material. “Some kids who end up in the waiting room may not have [books] at home,” she said, “and these bookshelves can serve as a distraction from their reasons for being there.” When delivering the books, Kaelyn told a crowd of judges and other court staff members: “Our hope is that children will have the opportunity to find interest in literature, and be able to read and learn, even in the most unlikely places, no matter their circumstances.”

Isha works with the Community Assistance Center’s food bank and thrift shop to help families in need in Sandy Springs and also is involved in many school-based leadership positions, including the North Springs Be The Voice anti-bullying campaign and in the North Springs Principal/Student Advisory Committee. She takes part in the North Springs “High 5 Friday” program, through which student athletes go to Woodland Elementary and cheer their students on for making positive choices. She also volunteers as part of the Student Association of Sandy Springs, a collaboration between the students of North Springs High and Mount Vernon School to strengthen the community through service and to build a bond between public and private schools.

Isha Perry, 17

North Springs High School

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Emily began helping others in the seventh grade when she organized a clothing, book and toy drive for students at Lomas del Rio school while serving on a mission trip to Costa Rica. Since then, the junior has logged more than 500 volunteer service hours as a tutor and mentor at Buckhead Church, Los Ninos Primavera, Camp All American and Woodson Park Academy. Emily parNorth Atlanta High School ticipated in GivingPoint’s Social Innovators Academy, where she started a group called Smart Brown Girls at Woodson Park Academy. Through the club, she mentored a group of fifth grade African-American girls focusing on issues of self-esteem, self-image, leadership and challenges associated with living and learning in underserved communities. She also raised money to purchase clothes, toiletries, school supplies and backpacks for students at the Academy. She also recently organized a volunteer project with her volleyball team to raise money for St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital. For her volunteer work, Emily was recently awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award. “A person shouldn’t volunteer because they have to, but because they want to serve someone else in their community. The love to serve others makes the service more impactful and has a greater impact on the people or organization you are serving.”

Emily Demps, 16

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A busy senior at AJA, Tali’s list of volunteer initiatives and efforts would never fit this space, but Atlanta Jewish Academy highlights include sitting on the board of the Leadership Development Program for nonprofit Creating Connected Communities (CCC), which serves underprivileged children around Atlanta. Tali oversees CCC events including spring and fall festivals and afterschool programs. She’s also a member of the Teen Leadership Council for the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House (ARMH), where she raised enough money through school and synagogue fundaisers to host a family at the ARMH for an entire week. Tali also volunteers at the Childrens Hospital and at the Jewish Food Bank. She was selected to participate in the MLK ADL Summit, which educates high schoolers on tolerance, acceptance and non-violence. With plans to become a pediatric cardio-thorasic surgeon, Tali’s advice for others who want to volunteer is simple: “Even the smallest acts of kindness make the biggest difference.”

Tali Feen, 17

If you have questions or want to schedule a tour, contact Director of Recruitment & Enrollment Laura Weiss at laura.weiss@epsteinatlanta.org or 404.250.5607.

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Registering now for 2017 > Ages 12 mos. through Kindergarten > Ages 12 mos. through Kindergarten > Hours: 9:00 – 12:30; Kindergarten

The senior designed a video game called “Race,” creating the concept, characters and animations to highlight marginalized groups and promote inclusion in the video game industry. He was recognized for his achievements last spring when he received the Rochester Institute of Technology Creativity and Innovation Award. Along with his involvement at school, including serving on the Student Council and co-leading the Student CulAtlanta International School ture Club, Robert Luke initiated a project and has volunteered his time over the last year at Campbell-Stone Assisted Living Facility creating a fundraising calendar for the residents. “It may seem counterintuitive, but once you really become a dedicated volunteer towards a specific program or project, it can often take real patience and perseverance to make the difference you are committed to. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes, and the nuances to contributing to social change involve hard work, dedication, and resilience, inside of the honor of seeing a job through.”

Robert Luke Joseph, 17

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Learn. Lead. Serve. Serving grades 7–12, Marist School provides an education where achievement exists within a spirit of humility and generosity. Students are challenged by an extensive college-preparatory curriculum while an array of extracurricular activities inspire exploration and uncover hidden talents. Through it all, students gain a unique strength of character and skill and a joy of serving others that prepares them to be compassionate, confident leaders.

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BEYOND CONFIDENT At Galloway, students are inspired to be fearless learners, to embrace challenges, and to discover more about themselves and the world around them. Pre-K —Grade 12.

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An independent Catholic school in Chastain Park, forming students 6 months-12th grade. holyspiritprep.org

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RUNNERSUP OLIVER DAVIDSON Oliver’s passion is Spanish, both the language and the culture. Through Los Niños Primero in Sandy Springs, Oliver taught Latino youths to help them in school. Through the Spanish National Honor Society, Oliver participated in Hispanic-based community service and encouraged his peers to join him. As co-founder of the Riverwood International Charter School Spanish Club, Oliver spearheaded service projects, programs about Spanish politics and culture, and supply drives to benefit school and community Latino families. Oliver also co-founded the ESOL Tutoring Program at Riverwood and he has helped rebuild homes and facilities in Spanish-speaking countries. MICHAEL FU As one of the top chess players in state, the Pace Academy junior co-founded Scholarly Chess, a non-profit organization to promote chess and host regular chess tournaments. He also co-created VEMS, an app designed to help track student volunteer hours that received the LexisNexis championship award. DEV JOSHI AND EMAAD DAYA The Westminster duo educate people on the environmental crisis through their social impact project called The Carbon-12 Project, which raises money for carbon capture technologies and a variety of climate projects that reduce carbon emissions. SARA GELBER Sara, captain of Dunwoody High School’s fencing team, finds time for many local charities. She has organized her team to make sandwiches for the homeless, has taught fencing at summer camp and has volunteered to coordinate children’s activities through Creating Connected Communities. She also planted daffodils in a local park in remembrance of children lost in the Holocaust and made biscuits to be donated to Furkids Animal Rescue & Shelters. MAANIT MADAN The Atlanta International School senior captains the school’s iHOT Robotics Team and has been instrumental in leading the team to the quarterfinals in

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is division in the World Championships for three years in a row. He also plays bassoon in the AIS band and co-founded two tech startups. CHANDLER MCCLESKEY Whether Chandler is serving as president of his class president or the student government, overseeing the Riverwood International Charter School math tutoring program, serving as head tutor at the Raider Writing Center, teaching STEM to elementary school students, representing the school in both lacrosse and football, or representing the school as a Riverwood Ambassador, he is helping all of the students and future students at Riverwood. Chandler also volunteers at Hands Across Atlanta to feed the homeless; donates school supplies and toys; and organizes craft workshops.

We cultivate a love of learning Trinity, Atlanta’s only private elementary-only school, serves children age three through Sixth Grade by design. We believe this configuration best supports children’s growth and development. Our entire focus—expertise, facilities, resources—is devoted to these young learners and helping them flourish. Discover Trinity School firsthand at our January 15 Open House. Begin your child’s journey at trinityatl.org/admissions 404-231-8118

TELISSA REYNOLDS An aspiring physician, the Westminster Schools senior created an outreach program, Gene Shorts, that exposes inner city students to the field of genetics. “When the students see me, a black girl who’s excited about biology, they realize that they too can become the future doctors, nurses, and scientists of the world.” JULIA RHEE In 2017, Julia Founded Double Play ATL, a nonprofit organization developed to help underprivileged youth obtain the necessary equipment to play organized sports, which has since collected nearly 5,000 pieces of equipment and put 90 percent back into the community. Double Play has grown to involve sustainability projects as well. The Westminster Schools student also made time to volunteer her time at Threads, the Atlanta Food Bank, Agape, L’Amistad, Atlanta Children’s Shelter, My Sister’s House and many more. SARAH STREET The Westminster Schools junior has raised money and served more than 500 hours at organizations including LaAmistad, Operation Gratitude, Covenant House, Buckhead Christian Ministries, UNICEF, Changing Lives in Guatemala, PowerMyLearning, Hospice Atlanta, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and City of Refuge. RUSSELL WYATT The Holy Spirit Preparatory School 8th grader volunteers every weekday after school at Jacob’s Ladder Neurodevelopmental School and Therapy Center. His sister, Mae, has cerebral palsy, and he’s helped her and other students with communicating their needs and expressing themselves through art and yoga.


Springmont School offers an authentic Montessori experience, where individualized learning inspires students to become creative, independent thinkers. EXTRAORDINARY BY DESIGN. SCHEDULE A TOUR TODAY! 404.252.3910 OPEN HOUSES JAN 9 & 26


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Exceptional Educator Greg Morris, Brandon Hall School

From left, Brandon Hall School students Que Howard and Risa Shinozuka clean gravestones during a field trip to the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, Ga. on the 18th anniversary of 9/11.


BY HANNAH GRECO Hannah@reporternewspapers.net


Greg Morris has been working hard to have his students more actively engaged in the community, from cleanup projects to water testing experiments. Morris teaches science at Brandon Hall School, a Sandy Springs private school serving grades 6-12, and started in 2017. Before he became a teacher, Morris was in the Army and worked for the Lilburn Police Department, which inspired his school field trip in September. To honor the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism attacks, Morris brought the middle school class to the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, one of the 135 national burial sites in the United States, to clean service members’ headstones. “I hope my students can learn from me how to be a good citizen and care about the community they live in,” Morris said. For a new project, Morris is raising money for each student to have a test kit to examine the quality of public drinking water.


Tomorrow calls for a new kind of leader. Every day, we connect bright, curious students with opportunities that expand their vision and help them meet their greatest aspirations so that they can lead positive change in the world. Let us show you how. Learn more at westminster.net.

WESTMINSTER Love. Challenge. Lead. Change.



From left, Brandon Hall School students Timothy McReal, John Ogbeni and Annabelle Langlais take a golf cart around the Georgia National Cemetery while cleaning gravestones during a field trip on the 18th anniversary of 9/11.

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Q: Why did you decide to become an educator? A: When I worked as a police officer, I had the opportunity to teach a fifth grade anti-drug DARE program. I really enjoyed teaching the kids, so I started going to school while still working nights as a police officer. Once I graduated, I started working in Gwinnett County and found my way to Brandon Hall.

Q: What do you like about teaching youths? A: I like teaching the middle-schoolers new ideas. I like seeing the newness of that knowledge in their eyes.


Greg Morris, a middle school science teacher at Brandon Hall School.

Q: What inspired the trip to the National Cemetery? A: I received an email from the Veteran Affairs asking for volunteers. These kids have no idea about 9/11, so I thought it was a good idea to get them out there to see people who have given their lives so that they can go to school.

Q: Why did you think the trip was important?

Blessed Trinity Catholic High School - 11320 Woodstock Rd., Roswell, GA 30075 - (678) 277-9083 - www.btcatholic.org



A: It was a history lesson seeing the generations of people that are buried there that have fought in different wars. We saw people who fought in World War I up to Afghanistan.

Q: What is next for you and the students? A: My students are very excited to find out what is in the water we are drinking. Our school counselor showed me a video at the beginning of the year

Tours can be scheduled at www.btcatholic.org/Admissions Blessed Trinity Catholic High School invites prospective students and their families to tour our facilities, meet our students, and speak with our teachers and coaches. Applications due February 1, 2020

about water quality. We see on the news all the time about big cities with water problems and we haven’t heard anything about Atlanta.

28 Advanced Placement classes ~ Curriculum delivered on an A/B block schedule that maximizes instructional time ~ The 245 members of the class of 2019 earned more than $32.7 million in college scholarship offers in addition to Georgia’s HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships ~ A fully funded Fine Arts program that includes band, chorus, visual arts, and theater program that performs four first-class productions each year, including a musical, and one of the most highly honored dance programs in the state ~ A student-teacher ratio of 13:1; average class size of 19 ~ A comprehensive community-service program ~ An athletic department that fields more than 50 teams in 22 sports, and has won 44 state championships

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