The debate over daycares in residential areas continues after the Smyrna Planning and Zoning Board tabled an amendment that would clarify the city's zoning ordinance until July 9. Planning and Zoning Board members Frank Pologruto and Larry Jones were absent.
“I think it’s a victory for us because I was afraid they were going to pass it, but a lot of research needs to be done to really understand the impact of this,” said Don Berry, a resident of Flagler Circle who is opposed to the expansion of Oxford Academy. “So I’m really happy with what happened here tonight.”
Berry and some other residents of Cheney Woods and the surrounding neighborhoods are opposed to the proposed expansion of Oxford Academy, a private daycare located on Church Street near their homes. The daycare is owned by former Ward 5 City Council Representative Jimmy Smith and his wife Cindy. Neighbors' complaints to city officials led staff to propose clarifications to the city’s existing ordinance that allows day nurseries in residential areas zoned R-15, said Ken Suddreth, Smyrna’s community development director.
The changes to the existing ordinance are indicated below in bold. Language that's proposed for removal is italicized:
(1) Section 703.2(1) of the Zoning Ordinance—Are located on a lot which such has access to either an arterial major or minor arterial thoroughfare as identified on the City’s Thoroughfare Plan.
(2) Section 703.2(8) of the Zoning Ordinance—A semicircular drive shall be provided for off-street loading and unloading of children. Both ends of the drive shall be connected to an arterial, major or minor thoroughfare.
However, Brian, Daughdrill, an attorney representing some of the property owners opposed to the expansion disagrees that the amendment clarifies the ordinance.
“The portion of the text amendment that says both ends of any circular drive have to open on an arterial, we are in favor of that,” he said. “We’re all in on that. But as to changing any kind of roads as to what are subject to it, we think that the use of the term minor thoroughfare introduces confusion and introduces ambiguity in the ordinance, which isn’t there presently. We would strongly encourage y’all to not recommend that or not vote in favor of it.”
In offering the background of the amendment at the start of the meeting, Suddreth iterated that even if the amendment was approved by the Planning and Zoning Board and City Council it would not impact the Oxford Academy expansion because the applicant has already submitted preliminary plans.
However, Daughdrill argued against the grandfathering of the application because the plans have not been officially approved by the city yet.
“I disagree with him that the application that is presently before the city is a complete application and therefore that its rights are vested under the existing ordinance,” he said. “It would in theory be subject to any new ordinance that’s came in because until you submit a complete application that’s complete in all respects, you’re rights don’t vest under any ordinance that’s in place.”
At a meeting held last week about the expansion Alan Aycock, a real estate professional representing Don Berry and his wife Bonnie, indicated that even if the city grandfathered in the application they would petition the court for an injunction against the expansion.
Other members of the community took to the podium to share their concerns with the board. Flagler Cirlce resident Matt Houghberg argued that the zoning amendment was not a clarification of the ordinance, but an addition to it.
Howard Martin does not live in Cheney Woods, but exercises at the Aline Wolfe Adult Recreation Center nearby on Church Street. He said he's concerned about the traffic increase that will result from the daycare expansion and also water runoff to the surrounidng homes.
Judy Davila spoke on behalf of her brother David Smith who owns a rental property on Flagler Circle next door to the proposed daycare expansion. Jimmy Smith, the owner of Oxford Academy, is the brother of Davila and David Smith.
"Just so you know this is not the only daycare that he wishes to open," she said. "Another one right behind this house he wishes to turn that into a daycare also. That would be a number of four daycares. Not only that, there are five other neighbors up the street that he has approached to buy their property."
The amendment to the zoning ordinance will come before the Planning and Zoning Board again at its meeting Monday, July 9 at 6 p.m. at Smyrna City Hall.