Emotions ran high at an informational meeting organized by Smyrna’s Ward 5 City Council Representative Susan Wilkinson about the proposed expansion of Oxford Academy.
“We are a residential neighborhood and you have more or less tried to decide that the middle of Church Street is no longer residential," said Sandra McQueen, a Church Street resident. "My property values are going down because of this.”
“This is our lives you’re talking about!” shouted Bonnie Berry, a resident of Flagler Circle and one of the organizers of Concerned Citizens of Cheney Woods. “Quit hiding behind your silly rules! This is our lives!”
Berry and about 20 other residents of Cheney Woods and the surrounding neighborhoods assembled Thursday at the Aline Wolfe Adult Recreation Center to voice their concerns about proposed plans to renovate a rental house on the corner of Flagler Circle that would be used as Oxford’s third daycare building. Smyrna City Administrator Eric Taylor and Community Development Director Ken Suddreth were there to answer questions. Ward 6 Council Representative Wade Lnenicka also attended the meeting.
Issues were raised over the increased volume of traffic, the daycare’s negative impact on property values and drainage issues. However, residents were principally upset about the circumstances surrounding an amendment made to a city ordinance concerning the R15 zoning classification and day nurseries in 2006.
Jimmy Smith, former Ward 5 City Council Representative, and his wife Cindy own Oxford Academy. Suddreth, who did not work for the city at the time, explained that in 2006 while Smith was still on Council, the body voted to add day nurseries as a permitted use under the R15 zoning designation provided that the property in question met certain criteria.
Exemptions for day nurseries in residential areas are sometimes referred to as “grandmother exemptions.” Berry’s real estate consultant Alan Aycock said at the meeting that other municipalities in the metro area have similar exemptions, though he argued they are more detailed and explicit than Smyrna’s ordinance.
Minutes from the July 2006 meeting show that the amendment passed 5-0. Smith and then Ward 4 Council Representative Mike McNabb were absent.
Cheney Woods resident Hazel Hale asked Suddreth why they were learning about the amendment after the fact.
“Was there a hearing before the city decided to zone it that way?” she said. “Why was there not a meeting like this then? It would seem appropriate don’t you think if we’re having it now.”
Suddreth explained that a public forum was not required because the zoning classification was not changing from residential to commercial; rather a text ordinance was changed to add day nurseries as a permitted use to the R15 zoning classification.
However, the minutes from the July 2006 City Council meeting show that the Council held a public hearing at that meeting concerning the amendment: “Mayor Bacon stated that this was a public hearing and asked for public comment. There was none.”
One resident asked Suddreth what needs to be done to change the ordinance. Suddreth explained that Wilkinson has already brought it up before Council and the Planning and Zoning Board.
“That process has started, but all I can do is encourage you to either send Susan an email to that effect,” he said. “You’re welcome to send me an email or you can come to the meeting and voice your opinion that you think it should be removed. What I hear you saying is you’d like that use removed from the ordinance.”
The approval of a text amendment to Section 703 of the zoning ordinance concerning day nurseries has been added to the agenda for Monday’s Planning and Zoning Board meeting. However, Suddreth said even if the ordinance is changed the Oxford Academy expansion would be grandfathered in because while Smith has not been officially granted a building permit, he’s already submitted a site plan.
“He’s grandfathered in on the very first submittal (…) once the process starts he’s in,” Suddreth said.
However, Aycock said he and the Berrys plan to take legal action to put a stop to the expansion.
“We’re planning to go to full court to get an injunction to stop this,” he said. “This is irreparable damage to the property values of the neighborhood. You can’t change this back.”
The Planning and Zoning Board meets Monday at 6 p.m. at Smyrna City Hall.
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