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
(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.