Summit’s zoning commission split on its decision Tuesday night to allow a couple’s plans to convert a house on the corner of a busy intersection into a school for young children.
Longtime educators Mickey and Travanda Morris had asked for a conditional use permit to operate the school for about 20 students out of a house on the northeast corner of Highway 51 and Hershal Grady Memorial Parkway.
The commission voted 3-1 to recommend approval to the town council, which is expected to vote on the matter Feb. 11. Commissioners Evelyn Williamson, Rusty Covington and Mike Wimberly approved, while Tom Carey opposed. Commissioner Mary Knox was not present.
Travanda Morris said Wednesday that the school will have one program for children 6 weeks old to 5 years old and another after-school tutorial program for children ages 6 to 12.
A former director of family nurturing at Kennedy Early Childhood Center, Morris said she’s well aware of how under-prepared some children are when they go to kindergarten, and her center hopes to reverse that trend.
Neighbors Ashley and Gayle Atkinson protested the couple’s proposal, saying zoning laws don’t allow for the conditional use, site plans haven’t been properly filed and plans for an entrance and exit to the facility on the Hershal Grady parkway are dangerous and haven’t been approved by state highway officials.
John Howard Shows, an attorney representing the Atkinsons in this and another unrelated zoning dispute against the town, also disputed the description of the facility. He called it a daycare center, which would undermine its status as a quasi-public enterprise, unlike public, private and parochial schools.
However, Mickey Morris, a former coach and teacher in the South Pike School District, said that’s an inaccurate description.
“The facility is an academy. The end. School,” he said. “It’s not just a daycare. That’s the terminology they want to use. It’s a preparatory academy.”
Zoning commissioners turned to town Zoning Administrator Wayne Parker for insight.
Holding up a copy of the town’s zoning laws, Commissioner Mike Wimberly said to Parker, “You know this book better than anybody. Is there any reason we should deny this?”
“Not that I can see,” Parker said.
He agreed with the Morrises’ classification of the facility and its eligibility for the conditional use permit.
“If it was just for changing diapers and that kind of stuff, it would be a child care center,” Parker said.
“It is an academy all day long,” Mickey Morris said.
Shows said that even after getting past the description of the facility, the Morrises’ application should be denied on other technical grounds.
For one, he said, the house in question is zoned R-1 — a single family dwelling. Shows said zoning laws only allow for a conditional use permit to be given to school in R-2 zones.
He also took issue with the site plan filed.
“What he’s showed y’all is not a site plan,” Shows told commissioners. “Y’all need to read the ordinance.”
Ultimately, traffic and access to the center seemed to be the biggest hangup among commissioners.
The couple had initially planned for an entrance and exit from Hershal Grady, but agreed to use the mostly abandoned Olive Street as a backup plan.
Commissioners, with the exception of Carey, who lives across Highway 51 from the property, seemed more agreeable to that idea.
“I worry about the safety of it, period,” Carey said.
“I know you’re concerned about the traffic, but understand my kids don’t arrive at the same time every day,” Travanda Morris said, adding that parents will be picking up students anywhere from 3 to 5:30 p.m.
Parker said the couple has done what’s been required of them.
“These folks have been doing this for a long time. I think they can handle any problem they’ve got. … It seems to me like she’s got everything in line. All she needs to do is get the building full of kids,” Parker said. “I recommend you approve it.”