Neighbors Concerned About Oxford Academy Expansion

Smyrna-Vinings Patch will have coverage from Thursday's informational meeting later.

Good fences make good neighbors, but what about good daycares? That’s the question many residents of Cheney Woods subdivision are asking as Oxford Academy makes plans to expand into a third building.

Oxford Academy is a private daycare facility located at 755 Church Street. The school currently has two buildings, but owners Jimmy and Cindy Smith have plans to renovate an adjacent house on a lot that faces Flagler Circle.

The Grandmother Exemption

The lot located at 805 Flagler Circle is zoned R15, which means it’s a 15,000 square-foot residential lot, however, a caveat sometimes referred to as the “grandmother exemption” allows for childcare in a residential area.

Don Berry, who lives at 835 Flagler Circle, said he doesn’t think Oxford Academy qualifies.

“While it’s not a KinderCare or something like that it’s still a commercial daycare,” he said. “It’s not a residential daycare. Residential daycare I assume is some family lives in the house and they have kids come in. I’d like to get it stopped where it is. No more new daycare anywhere in here.”

The city of Smyrna updated its R15 zoning in 2006 to allow for “day nurseries and kindergartens” provided that:

(1) Are located on a lot which such has access to a major or minor arterial. 

(2) The lot is a minimum of half acre in size and adjacent to a non-residentially zoned parcel. For the purposes of this section, adjacent shall also include parcels 
separated by a publicly dedicated right-of-way. 

(3) Enrollment shall be restricted to children between the ages of infancy and six. 

(4) There shall not be less than 35 square feet of indoor play area for each child at 
maximum enrollment, and not less than 100 square feet per child of outdoor play 
area at maximum enrollment. 

(5) The outdoor play area shall occur only in the rear and shall be enclosed by a fence not less than four feet in height. A 10' wide landscape buffer as defined by 
Section 503 shall be provided along any portion of the property which adjoins 
residentially-zoned property. 

(6) A semi-circular drive shall be provided for off-street loading and unloading of 

(7) The hours of operation shall be limited to between 7:00 am and 6:00 pm Monday through Friday. No children shall be permitted to play or congregate outside before 9:00 am. No weekend operations shall be permitted. 

(8) All applicable state and county regulations are conformed with.

These caveats were added during Jimmy Smith’s second term on Smyrna City Council, though he was absent from the meeting when this ordinance was approved.

What About Property Values?

Six years later, Smith plans to renovate a rental house located at 805 Flagler Circle to serve as the school’s third building. Berry lives two doors from the house and said he’s concerned about the impact a daycare facility will have on his property values. Berry said he hired a professional appraiser to assess the value of his home. The appraiser told him a daycare on Flagler Circle would reduce the value of his home by $40,000.

However, Smith disagrees saying the home currently located at 805 Flagler is a more than 50 years old and in “extreme rundown condition.” He said he tore down a similar rental house several years ago when Oxford first expanded into its second building. Smith, who lives next door to his daycare facility on Church Street, said that property values were not negatively impacted at that time.

“Property taxes will go up,” he said. “The property value will go up compared to what is there now. If that property value is going to go up I don’t see how it will deter the neighboring property.”

When Does It Stop?

But Berry isn’t just concerned for his property values. In a letter he distributed to his neighbors as Concerned Citizens for Cheney Woods he asked for their help to stop the expansion. He told Smyrna-Vinings Patch he thinks the Smiths will continue to expand their facility down Flagler.

“He tells me at any given time he has a waiting list of 300 or 400 people and I think it’s pretty costly,” Berry said. “So 60 will be in the new building. And once he goes from there he’s going to want to expand is the way I see it. And I’m not putting words in his mouth, but why would he not?”

Smith confirmed that there are currently 400 people on the waitlist to enroll their children at Oxford Academy, but said he couldn’t expand further down Flagler because those properties lie in a floodplain.

Why Cheney Woods?

Berry argues further that there are several vacant commercial spaces in Smyrna that could serve as a daycare facility.

“Why not pick this whole thing up and put it under one roof?” he said. “I guess it costs more. I thought what about the old Kroger sitting up there? It just doesn’t make sense to me to expand into an established neighborhood when you’ve got all this commercial space available.”

But Smith said the fact that Cheney Woods is an established neighborhood is exactly why he thinks it’s a great location for a daycare.

“We don’t want to be in a commercial area,” he said. “We want to be nestled in a residential area just to be unnoticed. We try not to be what we have termed an ‘institutional-style preschool.’ The main service difference is we have a Christian curriculum and we don’t take state funding.”

Berry and other Cheney Woods residents will have the opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions about the expansion at an informational meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at the . Ward 5 Council Representative Susan Wilkinson and other city of Smyrna staff will be at the meeting to take questions.

Smyrna-Vinings Patch will have coverage of Thursday's informational meeting later.

Kamma June 07, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Great article, I live in Cheney woods and I wasn't aware that Flagler was even a part of our neighborhood! This specific daycare already seems to be very considerate of the neighbors - the buildings have a neighborhood feeling and the landscaping is always very nice. Their parking lots are always clean and they don't actually even look like parking lots!
Liz June 07, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Oxford's buildings look like homes. Beautiful homes, actually. And they don't even have a sign outside. They're not a typical daycare center; it's not like they are kindercares in the middle of a subdivision. Nobody would ever realize they were daycare facilities, unless someone told them.
Anna Ryder June 08, 2012 at 01:40 PM
I could not agree more with Liz and Kamma. Oxford is a well maintained organization inside and out. I can't imagine that the buildings would bring the property value down. I think it is the market that is bringing down home values. And, we obviously need more daycares like Oxford considering that the waiting list is a mile long.
anryms June 09, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Let me start by saying I am glad that some people do care about their property but maybe the folks in Cheney Woods should first start by having their neighbors cut their grass and clean up their own properties on Church and Stephens etc. Dont get me wrong there are probably 3 or 4 very nice well maintained homes on Flagler but over all that area is not going to deprecaite because a clean well maintained daycare with no signage moves into that house on the corner. Heck most people dont even know thats a daycare. BTW Oxford does a good job and is obviously needed in our community.
Bonnie Berry June 09, 2012 at 11:53 AM
The calibre of Oxford or the general need for high-quality day care is not the issue here. What's important is this. Residents of Flagler Circle do not want this for-profit, commercial day care center on their quiet, residential street. By all appearances, the Smith's run a quality business, but what happens when the Smith's retire? This was misguided from the beginning, and Smyrna officials are to blame for their lack of vision and failure to follow established planning and zoning protocols. Please remember that many of the residents on Flager Circle are seniors with limited resources. Their homes are their largest investment. This expansion will impact property values and to think otherwise is incorrect.
Brenda N. June 09, 2012 at 02:07 PM
A commercial enterprise is a commercial enterprise. No difference between a day care center and a convenience store on a residental street. Both would bring an increase of noise and traffic and create a disturbance in a residential area. I am very opposed to this proposed expansion. Brenda N.
Cunningham June 09, 2012 at 03:28 PM
It seems Jimmy's only motivation to be on council was to feather his own nest. What's REALLY disgusting is that he ran on an "anti-density" platform which, while in office, he applied diligently, strictly and unfairly to the OTHER citizens in Ward 5 - his NEIGHBORS - yet he has completely, repeatedly and consistently not only not held himself to this standard, he has flat beat it to death when it should have applied to him. Increased density has to do with additional impact on city services, increased traffic, increased nonporus surface area (driveways, structures), etc. A number of his fellow citizens made requests to split residential lots into two, some of whjich were similarly grandfathered, as they were two lots on the original subdivision plat, and Jimmy not only would not support such, he actually signed petitions against them. His school probably has a relative impact on the lot's density similar to that of at least a 5 unit building - far greater than what his neighbors' projects would have resulted in. What a greedy, self-serving bum.
vicki tucker June 09, 2012 at 05:56 PM
The old Kroger ,what a great idea ! where would they play, So Cobb Dr or Concord rd. Oxford Academy offers a quality Christian environment,that is well staffed with long term,dedicated employees,and is not your typical "daycare".the properties are well maintained,inside and out,and have been in business for over 9 years,there is no reason to think that a third facility would be anything but better!
Cunningham June 10, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Not so sure running for office on false pretenses and illicitly slipping in ordinance changes to put money in your own pocket, while ardently opposing any similar and less onerous requests by your own neighbors; and carrying out a stealth plan to take over and in essence commercialize well over an entire block of residential homes, comes anywhere near going hand in hand with a "Christian environment." Yes, what a wonderful example they set for the children - pad your pockets and screw your friends and neighbors under the cover of darkness, all for self-enrichment at the expense of those very same friends and neighbors. Salt pillars of the community...
David Smith June 12, 2012 at 02:35 AM
I know the house at 805 Flager Cir had renovations done in March and April of last year and the house was rented out. The house did have damage and it was due to the water run off from the concrete parking lot of the daycare next door. This daycare is owned by Jim and Cindy Smith. I know the water runoff flooded the house numerous times over the years, before the water runoff was diverted by Jim and Cindy Smith.
Bonnie Berry June 12, 2012 at 09:55 AM
Living next door to David Smith's home, I can concur with his comments regarding runoff and flooding. Oxford Babies has a higher percentage of paved area than is allowed by code - in fact, about double. Why? Also, no retention pond, which is required by code. Commercial businesses belong in commercial zoning, not residential neighborhoods.
smyrna parent June 12, 2012 at 05:51 PM
I'm against the expansion of the daycare as well....with so many empty buildings in Smyrna, a subdivision isn't the place for the daycare...and anyone in the area knows that many of the homeowners in the area are elderly and maynot realize what is going on. As far as the comment about the care of the homes, I take it you haven't been in the area very long. Stephens Street, Flager, Church Street and the areas around have improved much over the last couple years...with remodels or tear downs and new construction..except for the few run down rental houses...mainly the one at the corner of Stephens and Church Street, that you can't miss...
anryms June 12, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Actually I drive on that street every single day and have for the past 5 years so nice try. I guess its convienent for your argument to minimize the issue and claim its only a few rental homes. Again focus on the real issues that plauge that area, a quiet well maintained daycare is better than unsightly homes or rentals. Why dont the folks who are directly impacted, meaning the homes within 1-2 lots away from Oxford just ask Oxford to buy their homes at a fair price and then have the city create a larger buffer. If I was directly impacted as some are I would be coming to the table with solutions instead of just complaining and trying to stop something that more than likely is going to happen. A happy middle ground can usually be found for those willing to make the effort to find it.
smyrna parent June 12, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Hi, Here's an idea, expand the daycare towards South Cobb Drive....the corner of Church and South Cobb have been empty forever....Do you live in the area? If so, you'd know that many of the homeowners are elderly, many are widowers. They shouldn't have to sell a house they have lived in for 50 years so a daycare can expand. There is plenty of other space in the area. What about Brown Elementary, which is closing after this year? As far as the upkeep of the area, it's not the boring cookie cutter houses that all look the same as in other parts of the county. It's not perfect, but it has character and the neighborhood is quiet, with a good mix up new incoming families, residents that have been there for a while, and those that have lived there since the 50s...it's quite obvious to anyone the area has gotten better-no more apartments on Stephens Street, Greenwood houses on Stephens street, and several tear downs on Church Street and in the surrounding areas. And the location, well it can't be beat. Pity those with the crazy commutes so they can have the big house in the burbs...lol...I'll take my toys and time with family anyday...:)
Cunningham June 12, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Those affected ARE coming to the table with solutions - and yes, that happens to involve "stopping something", and those affected are WELL within their rights to "complain'. Since, as you say, you are only driving by, maybe you should just keep on driving and leave the conversation to those who are actually affected; we are in a FAR better position to opine. Pretty slick entry, though; I wouldn't be surprised if you were the "unknown" party Jimmy got to slip the first ordinance change "suggestion" in...also wouldn't be surprised if you were Jimmy - but without a doubt, it is not an issue that affects nor apparently concerns you, if you are not.
Jamie Hughes June 13, 2012 at 01:39 AM
As a parent and as a homeowner in Cheney Woods, I welcome Oxford Academy expanding. Their remodeling of the two current schools/houses is beautiful and I believe it brings value to our community, not the latter. With all of the young families moving into the neighborhood, excellent full time daycare is very difficult to find. We were lucky enough to get into Oxford but many friends of ours have not been. I also find that people attacking Jim personally for this is repulsive. He is an honorable man and served this community well for years. To reiterate: their properties are always clean, beautiful, and maintained. Oxford should be permitted to expand onto Flagler
Cunningham June 14, 2012 at 03:09 PM
What's honorable about using your office to enrich yourself, while denying your neighbors the ability to similarly utilize THEIR properties, and even more scurrilously, to slip in an ordinance change that improperly benefits you even further, and all at the expense of those very same neighbors you deny those same rights to? Exactly what part of that do you consider honorable? How well maintained the properties are is not the issue. If I opend up a Hooters there, and kept it immaculate, I suppose you would be OK with that? Or is it maybe that you feel it's OK to not only open a business in a residential area, but to expand it, unfettered several houses into the neighborhood simply because it is one that you personally approve of?
Lissa K. June 14, 2012 at 05:23 PM
People will post comments on Patch but they won't come before the city council for citizens' input. Take control - it's your city. It's not the mayor's, the council's, the planning & zoning committee's, or the dowtown development association's . How many Oxford Academy's will it take for people to take control. And the Cheney Woods neighborhood retained a lawyer. That says a lot. They knew they didn't stand a chance against this council. Speak up. Act out.
Susan June 17, 2012 at 10:01 PM
I've known The Smiths for many years (I'm also a former Oxford Academy parent) and it makes me absolutely sick what some of the comments in this post are saying about them. Jim and Cindy are some of the most hard working, generous, gracious people I know and their entire lives have centered around making the Smyrna community better. Jim's political career with the City of Smyrna was 100% about furthering The City's agenda, not his own. He often put in countless hours for his duties as City Councilman in addition to working a full-time day job. Unfortunately, JIm and Cindy are victims of a smear campaign started by some of JIm's disgruntled relatives who don't even live in Smyrna (his brother owns a home there but rents it out while he lives in Texas and his sister lives in Woodstock, GA). The Smiths run very upscale daycare facilities that are so nice they resemble Pottery Barn Kids showrooms both inside and out. The renovation of the daycare properties the Smiths own most certainly have improved the aesthetics of the community in addition to providing the families of Smyrna with a wonderful, safe, loving place for their children to be taken care of. I assume they will do the same thing to the property located at 805 Flagler Circle.
Bonnie Berry June 18, 2012 at 12:48 AM
I feel it necessary to set the record straight here. I lived next door to David Smith for three years and never once heard him make a negative comment about his brother. Ditto for Judy. I don't know her well, but we have been working together to stop the development at 805 Flagler, because we believe it will lower our property value,make our homes more difficult to market, among many other issues. The folks who live close to Oxford think that two commercial day care centers on one street is enough. Would the city approve three Primrose Schools or Kids R Kids so close together? Mr. Smith already has developed plans to convert his personal residence to a center also. He told me this himself. Four commercial day care centers on the same block! Perhaps you can understand why the neighbors are upset. Walk in our shoes.


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