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Cheney Woods Residents Angry, Frustrated Over Oxford Academy Expansion

Some residents voiced an interest in changing the ordinance allowing daycares as a permitted use in residential zones.

Emotions ran high at an informational meeting organized by Smyrna’s Ward 5 City Council Representative Susan Wilkinson about the .

“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 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.

Do you have concerns about Oxford Academy's expansion? Share them in the comments.

David Smith June 12, 2012 at 03:21 AM
As the property owner next door to the preposed expanse on Flagler Circle I can state that I am strongly opposed to the expansion.
Jamie Hughes June 13, 2012 at 01:33 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 13, 2012 at 01:49 AM
You're saying it's repulsive to admonish someone for not only getting into office to only financially better himself, not only at the expense of his neighbors, but also by amending and skirting the very ordinances that he so harshly used to hold his neighbors in check when they wanted to "expand" THEIR properties? It's cool that you're personally happy with the business experience you've had with the Smiths, but to call it "repulsive" when these neighbors have had enough of Jimmy's self gratification at their expense, and these being the same nieghbors that Jimmy has held to a MUCH higher and restrictive standard when it came to utilizing THEIR properties, is well, repulsisve.
Jamie Hughes June 13, 2012 at 02:07 AM
To everyone upset at this article: There was an open forum where City Council voted on this nearly 6 years ago. Jimmy did not even vote. If you had a concern at that time, it should have been voiced. The public was invited to join the forum. To personally attack someone who ethically conducted business is terrible. I reiterate that that behavior is repuslive. I stand by my recommendation that an elite and premier school like Oxford should be able to make a beautiful and quaint addition to the corner of Flagler in Cheney Woods.
L. Davis June 13, 2012 at 02:58 AM
It's a shame that the Cheney Woods neighborhood had to hire a lawyer but this city does not have a reputation for acting in the best interest of its citizens. Just talk to the neighborhoods adversely affected by Glock. The expansion of this daycare center will have an impact on Cheney Woods. Their concerns are valid.
Inside-Out June 13, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Well actually there was no open forum for this change to the ordinance. The change was listed in the consent agenda and the consent agenda is not open to the general public for comment. When items are on the consent agenda they do not even include a description. The item did not require a posting of a sign advertising it or listing the date of the hearing. The sad truth is that this change was brought up by Mr. Smith. And just to make it look on the up and up he was not even in attendance at the meeting. This way he did not have to abstain from voting on his own requested change. This was done as underhanded as possible. Why else would these changes even be brought up. I have nothing against Mr. Smith but this entire situation stinks for his neighbors. I hope the entire neighborhood shows up at the council meeting and lets their voices be heard, whichever way they see it. This was a nice neighborhood that has had these businesses forced on them and they are the true victims .Appartently there is more to come later on down the road. I certainly hope that the council listens to the neighbors especially those that will be personally effected by this vote. For one I think that this ordinance change should be revisited without having someone with a personal agenda to influence a vote on the council. I am a huge city proponent but this entire situation stinks of impropriety. Maybe the neighbors need to contact the State attorney general to look into this.
Brian June 13, 2012 at 03:24 AM
L. Davis, yes the city's zoning code and especially future land use plan is seriously outdated and needs an overhaul. There are too many loopholes, many outdated future land uses. This is a systemic issue. We only go at individual pieces instead of going at the whole thing. Yes, it's costly to overhaul the entire code, but it needs to be done.
Brenda N. June 13, 2012 at 03:22 PM
As a senior citizen, on a fixed income, this action of bringing in a commercial establishment will decrease the property values in the neighborhood and impact the financial future of those in my situation. Smyrna, wake up. Brenda N
Donna L June 14, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Years ago 2 of my three children attended the original Oxford Academy. The facility both inside and out were absolutely beautiful. I find it difficult to believe that another beautiful facility would deteriorate the surrounding home values. Many of them look in need of refurbishing anyway. The appearance of the surrounding houses and ecomony have more to do with home values than addition another well put together daycare facility. In addition, one of the funniest things about the aritcle picture is that I believe Sandra McQueen used to teach at Oxford. Hmmm. Wonder if there are sour grapes? Oxford is an asset both esthectically and financial to Smyrna. Let them build
Alan Aycock June 14, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Under the existing ordinances, Oxford could only cover 35% of the lot with building/paving. using County data, Oxford covers over 79% of the land area and does not have a water detention pond-so-rain water sheets onto the streets and to neighbors property. Their is no traffic turn lane. The mgr. of the Senior center has complained about traffic and access to the Center due to Oxford. Somehow I do not think these supporters would like a day care with 140 kids at the front of THEIR subdivision. As a Ph.D/planning professor-this violates every rule and is unique in Metro Atlanta zoning. Question is WHY?
Donna L June 14, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Mr. Aycock, I also have a doctorate degree and I do not believe this makes my smarter than most folks commenting on this issue. Why does your degree level matter? My mother goes to the senior center each day it is open. Sometimes twice depending on the classes. I drive church street twice a day to and from work and have never seen traffic backed up. I live off of North Cooper Lake drive and very, very near the vinings learning center. It doesn't bother anyone nor has it caused a decrease in home values. Again, the enonomy has that covered. In this day and time of needed tax revenue, I would think this would be a good thing. It would also employ many people.
Mona N. June 15, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Donna L, I don't believe arguing over the status of your PhD helps your fight. I'm sure if you read the post you would understand Alan Aycock seems to simply be displaying his expertise in the this subject by adding that he does indeed hold a PhD in this field. Which I'm sure also comes with years of experience as most PhD’s do. As it stands there are only TWO daycare facilities. The addition of TWO more would most certainly increase the traffic flow. Would you want to drive your mother to the senior center with the increased traffic this would bring? And while Church Street might be more desirable for commercial building, Flagler Circle IS NOT. This is a residential neighborhood. The argument is not to have the building of these wonderful daycare centers axed but rather moved to a new location that would not harm local residents.
Don Berry June 16, 2012 at 09:47 PM
I don't believe you live in the neighborhood. Flagler Circle, in spite of the name, is not a loop road. And anyone who lives here knows that Flagler is a cut through to Campbell High School and downtown Smyrna. That's why we have speed bumps.
Alan Aycock June 16, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Read the ordinance - there is NO BUFFER required. A 25' buffer would not change the traffic/student density. All zoning was designed to protect property values and public safety - that is why we segregate commercial uses from residential uses, and why we limit densities within these various classifications. Per your logic, we should put a McDonald's and a liquor store in a subdivision because they create more jobs. If this was such a good idea, Smyrna would not be the only city that allows this...I have actually read the other ordinances. Neighbors are indeed complaining about the traffic. The big issue is the expansion into 5 more homes or 400+ more kids on 2 residential streets - Mr. Smith is not denying he wants to expand this way, and this badly written ordinance allows him to do that with no further hearings or oversight. The day care language just needs to be stripped out of R15 as it also affects dozens of other neighborhoods. Also, the current center was not built to code.
Neal Dow June 17, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Thanks AA for cleaning Calls It's clock and clarifying the issues. Smith pulled a fast one with the help of the city council. And he didn't even build to code. Until you wake up Smyrna you're going to continue to have these problems. It seems like you'd get tired of whack a mole.
L. Davis June 17, 2012 at 03:47 PM
"Call it like I see it" is Sean Murphy of the Smyrna Downtown Development Authority. He sits on the board with the mayor. He has an agenda. He lives in Smyrna Heights.
Cunningham June 17, 2012 at 04:26 PM
What happened tot the Patrch policy change of a few months that requires your real name to be allowed to post?
K. Davis June 17, 2012 at 05:07 PM
E.G.G. is Sean Murphy who is on the Smyrna Downtown Development Authority. He lives in Smyrna Heights. He's also posted as Call it like I see. He's a public figure trying to present himself as a private citizen. Until he severs his relationship with the city of Smyrna he is not a private citizen.
Alan Aycock June 17, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Some technical/planning/traffic points; -Public schools - are far off street / have lengthy turn lanes/most kids arrive by bus/not one kid per car like day care -Smith controls 4 properties now/is actively trying to buy 5 more/this equates to 9 properties-550-600+ kids - 1,000+CAR TRIPS PER DAY. - residential area/narrow streets/no turn lanes/entrances right at stop signs/limited access for public safety vehicles-etc./all the front yard paved/increase in rain water runoff - all of this occurs with NO public meetings/NO vote/NO input from public. -The dissenters should actually read Marietta/Duluth/Roswell/Gwinnett/Forsyth ordinances--all limit to 6 kids--in 2 cases you can go up to 17 with spec. use permit which is like a zoning-requires public notice/hearings/vote--not back door approach like Smyrna. -No city would zone this-either one or all possible.--Mr. Sudderth would not have proposed this in Duluth his last job for fear of being laughed out of town. Does not meet any zoning/planning standards. -This ordinance applies to ALL older R15 subdivisions-so applies to Pat Mell/N. Concord/etc. -Only good solution is to halt bldg. permit process-a full application was not submitted anyway-and strip the entire language out of R15 regs. --This use will allow Smith to make million$ while City/County lose million$ in lost taxes due to lower assessments. Why is Mayor Bacon allowing? --Other neighborhoods being informed of this danger /will protest. Article MDNEWS Monday.
R. Anderson June 18, 2012 at 12:42 AM
You're not from around here are you?
Alan Aycock June 18, 2012 at 04:50 PM
CIt Council TONIGHT - CBS will be there to film discussion. AJC may be there. All of you please come if you can. Our goal is to strip ALL of the day care language from the R15 ordinance.
Lissa K. June 18, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Mr. Aycock THANK YOU! for all that you're doing. This mayor and council are the worst excuse for public servants. They are the city's enemies when they've been sworn to be its public servants.
Lissa K. June 18, 2012 at 05:21 PM
An aerial easement involving Glock is also on the agenda. Fennel will not communicate with you about Glock. You will have to attend or watch the meeting to find out any information.
Alan Aycock June 19, 2012 at 02:39 AM
No easement for Glock unless we approve Smith + Wesson, Colt, and Winchester also ************************************************************** Thanks for everyone who went to City Council. Meeting went OK as a starter to voice our issues. We need you to identify OTHER NEIGHBORS AFFECTED so we can get them to next meeting--for example, I found several on Pat Mell that met requirements / dozens and dozens more--to identify - corner lots into a subdivision adjacent or across street from a non resid use--a business/church/park etc. - you will be surprised how many people are affected.///we need them fired up
Neal Dow June 19, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Mr. Aycock you are doing a wonderful job explaining the issues involving what has happend with the daycare center. But I believe you are mistaken if you think that Smyrna is a democracy. You broke with protocol last night by questioning and engaging the mayor and council. That is not done in this city. Also last night was not the start of voicing your issues. It was the end. Even the mayor seemed to indicate that in his rambling barely coherent comments after you spoke the second time.
Alan Aycock June 21, 2012 at 03:43 PM
excerpts of our legal letter to City and Council: As you know, this firm represents Donald and Bonnie Berry of 835 Flagler Circle, Smyrna Georgia with respect to their stated objections to the proposed expansion of the Oxford Academy along Church Street and onto Flagler. This objection is made more poignant by the observation that Oxford Academy is not an authorized use under the R-15 zoning category as Church Street is designated a “minor road” on the Transportation Plan and is not designated a major or minor arterial. As you know, Section 703.2 (1) requires such uses to be located on a major or minor arterial. Accordingly the current use should not have been allowed. It additionally has come to our attention that the current use covers 71% of the property. As you also know, Section 801 imposes a 35% impervious lot coverage requirement (regardless of the “use” of the R-15 property). Accordingly, the site is dramatically overbuilt with no apparent variances and has been illegal since its inception. As I am sure you are aware, a permit granted in violation of the existing ordinance vests no rights in its continuation and the use should be terminated immediately. Part !
Alan Aycock June 21, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Part II legal letter t is no defense that a building permit or license already has issued for the existing facility. “A permit issued for a use or structure which is forbidden by the ordinance is beyond the power of the officer to issue; consequently, it has no legal status, is invalid, and is itself entirely without power to clothe its holder with any legal rights thereunder.” 56 Rathkopf, The Law of Zoning and Planning, § 1 (1964) and cit. “A permit for a use prohibited by a valid zoning ordinance, regulation, or restriction is void, of no effect, and subject to revocation. This is true although the permit has been issued under a mistake of fact.” 8 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, § 25.153 (3d ed. 1983). “The expenditure of even substantial sums in reliance upon a permit found to be void is generally held not to raise an estoppel against its revocation or against enforcement of the ordinance found to be violated by the use or structures maintained pursuant to the permit.” Rathkopf, supra, § 56-13. See Corey Outdoor Adver., Inc. v. Bd. of Zoning Adjustments of City of Atlanta, 254 Ga. 221 (1985). Georgia courts have held “that a permit issued for either an illegal use or an illegal nonconforming use is void; it cannot be used as an excuse to continue the use in violation of a zoning ordinance, and it does not vest rights. The conversation should be about the termination of the illegal use and not the unlawful expansion.1
Alan Aycock June 21, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Don Berry and I met with Councilman Welch today - we discussed all the issues openly and appreciate his interest and concerns. ********************************************************** We are awaiting our atty. meeting with the City atty. - we will keep you all informed.
M Jones June 23, 2012 at 10:44 PM
The City attorney, Scott Cochran, is very good friends with Jimmy and Cindy. They have been to each others vacation homes on several occasions through the years. ( know Mayor Bacon has also been entertained by the Smith's at their Florida home also). As far as "public" vote and Jimny not voting, all this is decided away from the viewing public, the televised vote is a mere formality. Also, to address the parents who say "how beautiful" Oxford is, yes, the facilities themselves are beautiful BUT there's much more behind the scenes than people are aware of.
BB June 29, 2012 at 02:37 PM
To everyone arguing their property values will decrease...guess what, they already did. and it had NOTHING to do with Oxford! Wake up! Also, the buildings are lovely and there's never been an issue with traffic. Try fixing up your own houses if you want to keep your property values intact.

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