Alpharetta should approve Amana Academy’s plans

I have a lot of readers in the Windward community, and many of you will probably disagree with me today. Please don’t take me off your Christmas card list!

Amana Academy's current location on South Main Street

Meet the Amana Academy, a charter school in Alpharetta. They teach kindergarten through 8th grade and have an enrollment of about 500 students. They were recently recognized as the 2011 Charter School of the Year for Georgia. We’re fortunate that an outstanding school like Amana calls Alpharetta home.

But Amana has a growth problem. Since their founding in 2005 they’ve operated out of leased space on South Main Street. Today it doesn’t meet their needs. They’ve identified a vacant office building on Windward Parkway near Edison Drive that would be perfect for their growing enrollment. However, moving into this space would require changing the Windward Master Plan which prohibits schools. Residents in the Windward neighborhood protested when this came up earlier in the Fall. Thankfully the parties involved agreed to postpone this issue until after the city elections in November. So here we are. The Alpharetta City Council will consider Amana’s case Monday night.

Windward residents object to Amana primarily because they don’t want to set a precedent of making changes to the Master Plan. They don’t see a compelling reason to change the plan. I disagree.

The compelling reason to change the plan is that an award-winning school wants to move near your neighborhood. This should be encouraged and celebrated! This is a highly desirable school for many parents. In the long run I think it’s proximity to Windward might be a boon to property values.

But what about traffic? The studies show that a school in this building would generate less traffic than an office filled with cubicle dwellers. On top of that, the peak traffic times for this school would be slightly offset to that of Windward’s rush hour.

While I don’t live in Windward, I drive the east portion of Windward Parkway as often as any resident. Creating a traffic problem on this road is nothing I’d support. Amana doesn’t create a traffic problem.

I respect the idea of wanting to preserve the Windward Master Plan. I don’t think fighting a school of this caliber is worth expending political capital. I agree with my friends in Windward on a lot of issues, but I think they need to pick their battles. This isn’t one worth fighting.

13 Responses to “Alpharetta should approve Amana Academy’s plans”

  1. A December 15, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Lee–you forgot to address the elephant in the room on the Amana issue. I think people in the area are probably focused on the fact that they teach the Arabic language at Amana and that a number of faculty and staff there are of Middle Eastern origin. I personally have no problem with the school or any future location, but I can’t help but compare this to the mosque situation on Rucker Rd. Ignorance breeds fear, and I think that’s what’s happening here and not potential traffic problems.

  2. Bob Strader December 15, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    Lee, I agree with you pretty much across the board. Good schools are the bedrock of our communities and a big reason why people move here. It’s not always possible to find the text-book perfect location for a school. If we have a great school here we should try to accomodate them.

    I’ll go a step further regarding changes with the Master Plan. The Master Plan, like all plans, are important to have but there will always come a time when a need for the community doesn’t fit the plan. We should get the idea out of our heads that a Master Plan has to be so sacrosanct that we hand-cuff ourselves forever. Just sayin…

  3. SB December 15, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    Thank you. As an Amana parent (who happens to be as white and American as they come), I’ve been very surprised to find out how much people are fighting this issue. It’s an ELEMENTARY and middle school for crying out loud. Can you really deny my 5 yr old the right to a decent school facilty?

  4. Lee December 15, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Mr. A – Yes, that is the elephant in the room. I choose not to write about it because I was specifically talking about Windward’s opposition to Amana. I know these guys in Windward (they’re great folks) and feel that they are NOT influenced by the Middle Eastern aspect of this school. Their opposition is genuine and is based on the Master Plan.

  5. Greg in Alpharetta December 15, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    I live near the current location of Amana Academy and I think the traffic impact is pretty severe. If you are trying to get through the general area or visit one of the local businesses near the school during drop off or pick up times, you’re out of luck. I can’t find fault with the Windward residents taking issues with the school’s proposed move to their area.

  6. Ehab Jaleel December 15, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Mr. Guy, thanks for your post. Amana has evaluated two dozen properties and none better fit the school’s innovative program than 5905 Windward. Windward is a great community, and I know Amana will complement the business center if given a chance.

    The master plan has been amended to allow for two churches, a fitness center, and a karate studio in the business center. A high-quality public school is no less deserving. The Windward Business Center Association (WBCA) – the closest entity with jurisdiction does not agree with Amana’s opposition. The WBCA has stated in a letter dated August 19th, “…the WBCA Board has concluded that it will not oppose or challenge the application for approval of a school as conditional use in the Windward Business Center…”.

    The building in question has been vacant for 4-years with no clear occupancy in sight, because it did not work for other uses. The building’s current design is not very conducive to traditional zoned/office uses and may be vacant significantly longer before a user occupies it. An empty building does no one any good, and Amana moving in there is a great way to re-purpose a lifeless shell.

    There are many misconceptions regarding Amana, because the school teaches Arabic, a UN Language that our government wants more public schools to teach. The student body and the staff are very diverse; and only a handful of the staff is of middle eastern heritage. 95% of students reside in North Fulton (50% in the Alpharetta area).

    I encourage people to visit the school and see for themselves why the school is being recognized for excellence.

  7. Naeem Mulla December 15, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Dear Mr. Lee,

    Thank you so much for your well balanced article in support of what is good for the Alpharetta community as a whole going forward. Your opinions were very educated and honest. I commend you for this work.

    I have a child who attends Amana Academy and we have been enjoying working with Amana Academy and the dedicated staff since 2008. We moved here from WA State and were very impressed by the care Amana has given my child.

    Amana Academy is a great school and they deserve to move to a nice place in Windward Community. This will be great for the Windward Community and the children living in Windward as well as surrounding areas. I know Amana’s leaders fairly well, and have great respect for their character and dedication to all children. Amana Academy provides a great educational experience and that was proven by their selection as Charter School of the Year.

    The unfortunate and dishonest campaign of some misguided individuals has tainted some minds but I am sure after reading your article they will be forced to rethink their position. The Windward master plan has already been amended several times, and a school of Amana’s caliber is no less compelling than a “gym.”

    I am a Windward resident and I don’t have any objections to this rezoning.

    The City Council of Alpharetta should approve this rezoning without any reservation.

    Naeem Mulla,
    Alpharetta 30005

  8. Andrew December 15, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Greg: I respect the concern over traffic issues. I am an Amana parent, and I would agree to a degree with your assessment; however, it would seem to overlook the manner in which its current location is unsuitable. Traffic to the current location is created by the awkward and disfunctional intersection of Main St./Alpharetta Hwy and Maxwell/Roswell St. This is compounded by the fact that there’s no light, or even a turn lane to get into school’s parking lot. The new location on Windward (while it would increase my wife’s and my personal commuting times) is far more well-suited to deal with the flow of traffic, so comparing what you see at it’s present location is a bit deceptive.

  9. Mala December 15, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I agree with you on this one. This office space is vacant and I don’t see how the traffic would be worse if it were filled with office workers. I feel bad that the Amana students are going to school in a strip mall. On a side note: I’m amazed at how poorly Windward was designed (regarding traffic) considering that it is a recent/modern development. The Atlanta area attracts the worst urban planners.

  10. Greg December 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    Lee, I’m puzzled. It was less than three weeks ago that you wrote:

    “Nearly half the current council members are lame ducks. Mayor Letchas will not return due to term limits. Jim Paine lost his bid to become mayor and Cheryl Oakes was soundly defeated. It isn’t proper for those leaving office to cast such a vote with its longterm implications.”

    (that’s from your article, “Lame Duck council to approve 2030 Plan”)

    Why wouldn’t that apply here?

  11. Lee December 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    @Greg – Because that was the comprehensive land use plan, a document with broad reaching implications that would (in my opinion) change the character of Alpharetta. Amana only wants an amendment to the Windward master plan.

    But if the city wants to table this another month for a the new council to be seated, then that’s fine. I doubt that will happen.

  12. Khalid Yasin December 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm #


    Thank you for your highly insightful and balanced view. An award-winning charter school could hugely benefit the Windward community. The whole argument about the Master Plan is severely overdone. No one wants to change the Plan, but rather approve a variance for conditional use as a school. A Master Plan is not etched in stone – rather meant to protect the long-term vitality of a community. Besides, the Plan has already been amended four times for activities less compelling than an ultra-high-performing school. The businesses immediately surrounding the property do not object. No residential neighborhoods are adjacent to it. And, traffic studies are favorable.

    It seems the only real objection stems from narrow-minded individuals with misconceptions about the school’s Arabic language program. The school teaches Arabic, which like English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish, is one of the six official languages of the UN and the most widely spoken native languages in the world. Like these languages, Arabic is becoming important for success in today’s highly globalized commercial and capital markets. In Japan and Europe, it is common to learn up to four languages in elementary school.

    World class corporations WILL NOT relocate to cities that are remotely perceived as racially, religiously, or ethnically intolerant. And this perception will not help property values or anyone in Alpharetta if the conditional zoning isn’t approved.

  13. Cool Papa Bell December 17, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    I’ve always been curious as to have some people have this sixth sense to know the true reasons why anyone who dare disagree with them have. It’s never that you are right and the other side is wrong. It’s always you are righteous and anyone who disagrees with you has to be a bigot.

    How does one acquire this omniscience and why don’t you use these powers to pick the lottery numbers or forewarn terrorist attacks? It would seem to be better utilization of this wonderful gift than merely using it to marginalize the diversity of opinions who don’t drink the same Kool-Aid.

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