Stanton Hgts. group fights school

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Since January 2009, the Stanton Heights Community Organization has been trying to keep Neighborhood Academy, a private school, from being built in their “backyard.” The battle has disintegrated into a war of words with opposing sides unable to reach a compromise.

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COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION— From left: Jean Bryant, Howard Harrington and Joyce Meggerson-Moore will be close neighbors to the new development.

“In January 2009, Neighborhood Academy introduced their plans to the community. Only about two people from around here were at that meeting. The majority of people there weren’t from this area,” said SHCO President Jean Bryant. “The next thing we knew, the school had approval to build. We approached the planning commission and asked them to rescind the approval and of course they could not.”

In April 2009, The Neighborhood Academy received approval from the City Planning Commission to build a new $10 million site for their school. Prior to and since the approval, they have held several meeting with different community entities such as Presbyterian Senior Care, Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., and the other Stanton Heights Community Group that meets regularly, as well as the community group that is opposed to it.

While some in these factions have voiced concern, no voice has been louder than the members of SHCO. Based on Rosecrest Drive, members of this group are the closest neighbors to the development to be built at 709 N. Aiken Ave.

Their list of concerns is long. They worry about an increase in noise and traffic and a decrease in their property values. However, the source of their concern is that those residents living closest to the development were not involved in the planning process.

“We’re not against pro­gress; we’re not against schools,” said Joyce Meggerson-Moore. “We may have had a different perspective if the community had been involved from the beginning.”

“A lot of developers look at it like they can do whatever they want without the community’s input,” Bryant said. “So it has been an uphill battle to get that area re-zoned.”

The parcel of land soon to be developed by TNA is zoned RP. Under the city’s zoning code, a preliminary hearing, which is open to the public, is required before a development proposal can be approved. If the parcel had been zoned R1-DL, the zoning code would’ve also required a public hearing with city council before approval could’ve been given to TNA.

“The first thing I saw as a problem here was TNA technically has a right to do what they did. They didn’t violate any laws, but the laws aren’t right. It was unfair to the neighbors that they didn’t get a fresh look at an ancient approval, so we fixed that,” said District 7 City Councilman Patrick Dowd. “What we have effectively done, and I think that’s important, is said that can never happen again. We’ve solved these problems certainly going forward.”

Dowd has submitted a new zoning map, supported by the community, which will protect much of Stanton Heights’ green space and require community input in future developments.

Despite this victory, the zoning is not retroactive and SHCO is still fighting to hold TNA at bay. On April 15 they filed an appeal against TNA’s final plans with a list of challenges ranging from the size of signs to lighting violations.

Even so, these challenges do not get to the root of the SHCO’s real issue. They simply don’t want the school built in an area they consider their backyard.

“Our question is how is the school going to remain stable. Maybe they can raise $10 million this year, but will they be able to continue to do that?” Bryant said. “It is just too much for this community to bear.”

“You also wonder why they would want to build a school when there are so many vacant schools (buildings) available,” said Howard Harrington. “We’re for what they want to do, but they have all these vacant schools and they’re just going to be torn down if we don’t do something with them.”

Both SHCO and TNA feel the other group has acted unfairly. Meanwhile, Dowd said he continues to work to bring the two groups to the table.

“We tried to get the neighborhood engaged with the academy so we had a lot of meetings. There was a lot of anger and animosity. We’ve had no success as an office to bring these two parties together,” Dowd said. “There are a lot of people in other parts of the neighborhood, and not too far away, who are not opposed to the development. Clearly the neighbors on Rosecrest are the most affected, so we want to make sure their concerns are immediately addressed. A lot of them are rightly concerned with what might come in with TNA. This is going to have an effect on the neighborhood, but the plan is to reduce what that effect is going to be.”

TNA is a college-preparatory school for low-income students funded by private donations from corporations, individuals and other entities. The school provides the students with counseling, transportation, three meals a day and assistance with emergency needs such as medical care.

“We really did our best January through April to contact the neighbors even though we weren’t required by law,” said President Jodie Moore. “I understand (SHCO) doesn’t want the school there because they were used to having woods there. It’s interesting because these students will be a great asset to the neighborhood.”

The hearing for SHCO’s appeal against the development will be held June 24.

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