Sandy Springs guest column: Patience a virtue in zoning matters

I’m willing to bet most newspaper reporters logged time at public meetings where zoning decisions are discussed, debated and decided. While some may enjoy watching the wheels of parochial American democracy in action, I never did.

I understood what was decided in those rooms was important, but those aforementioned wheels can make an execrable noise when they turn. Many evenings I thought I had died and the zoning meeting I was sitting in was Hell.

The absolute nadir was when the Presidential Parkway was being debated. I was called in to cover an evening meeting. As the meeting lugged forward like an elephant soaked in Valium, and my deadline came hurtling at me at supersonic speed — I grabbed one of the principals.

What was the likely outcome, I asked? He told me, in effect, the group would take a nonbinding vote that would be passed along to a committee. That committee was under no compunction to agree with the vote, which didn’t matter because it had no juice.

And that was three hours of my life gone. Democracy, as vital as it is, ain’t always pretty to witness. I felt like strangling the guy, but I’ll bet the judge would have sentenced me to 30 years over covering zoning meetings.

This comes to mind after the Sandy Springs City Council deferred voting on a rezoning request by the Church of Scientology concerning a building at the intersection of Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive. This will surface again in December, but has been in the works since last spring.

The average person doesn’t know how long it can take in governmental circles to get from “this might be a good idea” to the official “yes you can” from those occupying the seats of power. These matters are never decided quickly, and for good reason. Rezoning decisions need to be deliberated and filtered through several legal hurdles.

The objections to the Scientologists getting the building center on how that would affect traffic, but I’ll bet the creeped-out factor is also in play. I don’t think the average Sandy Springsteen could explain Scientology, but knows he doesn’t care for it.

What I know: It’s weird. Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, and he’s weird. Ditto John Travolta. Double-damn ditto Kirstie Alley.

Oh, and the big office in New York City was originally built in 1912 for a group called The White Rats Club. That last nugget is included because I will likely never get to use the phrase “White Rats Club” again.

So if you are among those, on either side, wishing for a rapid decision on this, take a deep breath. A resolution based on speed is rarely the best one.

Or look at it this way — do you really want to be in line at your neighborhood bakery behind Kirstie Alley?

Jim Osterman lives in Sandy Springs.