By DAVID BORAKS
Organizers of the proposed Davidson Green School are continuing to seek approvals they need to open in September at 511 S. Main St. in Davidson, and they recently began renovations to transform the single-family house there into a school. Even as they do, residents of the nearby Twin Oaks neighborhood are fighting to stop the project, which they say will bring traffic and affect their quality of life.
One neighbor has even hired a lawyer and filed an appeal of the the town's July approval of the school's site plan. That appeal will be heard by the Davidson Board of Adjustment, though no date has been set yet for the meeting.
The single-family house sits on a heavily wooded 3.2 acres at the corner of Twin Oaks Road. The environmentally focused private school purchased the site for $510,000 in June.
GREEN SCHOOL ADDS TEACHERS
Davidson Green School recently completed its hiring for a fall opening, adding two more teachers to its staff: Tanya Chartier and Cathy Sheafor.
Jakubecy, who has an NC teaching license and MA and PhD degrees in education from the University of Virginia, has been organizing the school with Kathleen McIntyre, a certified teacher with an MA in Forestry Resources from the University of Georgia. She has been serving as president of the Children's Schoolhouse in Huntersville.
Jakubecy said she's excited to get on with planning the curriculum and getting down to teaching. The school plans a curriculum that emphasizes outdoor activities and environmental education. They'll tackle “core skills” in science, technology, engineering and mathematics while also focusing social equity, economics, culture and political structure.
More information is at http://www.davidsongreenschool.org/
Educational uses are allowed in most parts of town under Davidson’s planning rules, and no zoning change was required for the school to use the property. However, several administrative approvals are needed.
Jennifer Jakubecy, the head of school and co-founder, said workers are installing a sprinkler system and elevator, upgrading the electrical system, and making other safety and accessibility improvements. She said her construction contractor hopes to finish in time for a Sept. 3 opening.
If all goes according to plan, the new school will open with about 25 students in grades K-4. The school also will have four staff – three teachers and Jakubecy.
OPPOSITION IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
As the school pushes ahead with its plans, neighbors are hoping to find some way of stopping the school in its tracks.
In a recent meeting with DavidsonNews.net, about 10 residents expressed concerns ranging from traffic to the environment to the change in use from a residence to a school.
“We would love to see our neighborhood stay residential,” said Michelle Parris, whose property on Meadowbrook Lane touches the back of the school's lot at a small creek . “We think the idea of the school is a good idea. We just wish she would have chosen a better location.”
Although trees cover most of the back half of the school property, Parris said she is worried about a loss of privacy.
Laura Grosch, who lives on South Main Street next door to the school, complained that the school had not informed her it was installing a construction fence. She also expressed concern about the building's septic system, pollution from entering and exiting cars, and traffic that already drives too fast on a curve in South Main Street near her home.
Belinda West said she's worried about wildlife on the site, including a den of foxes that lives there. “The foxes will be forced out by the Green School,” she said.
Tammy Polozune complained about an “abysmal” lack of communication from the town and the school.
Several residents said they wish the school were not locating at the edge of their neighborhood. Ideally, said Bill Latham, “keep it as a single-family residence.”
John Burgess, who lives at 523 S. Main St., across Twin Oaks Road from the planned school, has hired a lawyer and last week appealed the town's approval of the site plan, which required a review only by the town planning staff.
Burgess disagrees with the decision by Town Planner Ben McCrary and argues that the project “does not meet the requirements for schools in the Village Infill” planning area, in part because it is not in a “civic building.” He also says the renovations will take it out of conformity with the planning ordinance, and believes that the change in use constitutes a “development,” which would require a more substantial planning review.
The appeal will be heard by the Board of Adjustment, which has not yet set a meeting date. (See Burgess's detailed argument against the project, on the town website. (PDF))
PROJECT MOVING FORWARD
The Town of Davidson approved the site plan on July 15, and Mecklenburg County issued a building permit July 31, allowing the school to begin renovations. The work, which the permit says will cost $180,000, has now begun though the school still faces a couple of other hurdles before it can open.
- The N.C. Department of Transportation is considering whether to issue a permit for the driveway onto South Main Street/NC 115.
- Davidson Planning Director Ben McCrary said the county still must sign off on the home's septic system, which is expected to limit the school's occupancy to 36 students and faculty.
- And McCrary must issue a “change of use permit” certifying that the school has all the necessary approvals. “My role is verifying that all of those other requirements are done, to say that the property meets all the other regulatory requirements,” McCrary said in an interview.
Jakubecy said the school has done its own traffic study, and found that no improvements are needed immediately to address traffic. “The numbers are so low that it won't have a meaningful impact on traffic,” she said.
Meanwhile, the school has agreed to add four off-street parking spaces behind the house, including one handicapped spot.
Jakubecy has met with the neighbors this summer. And town planning officials and residents have exchanged information in a chain of emails in recent weeks.
The also school has tried to address neighbors' concerns by staggering student morning drop-offs and afternoon pickups in three 15-minute windows, with six to eight students per shift.
To help reduce the number of cars, the school has offered parents a $100 tuition reduction if kids walk or bike to school. About one-quarter of the current students enrolled will take advantage of the discount, she said. Meanwhile, there a six sets of siblings, who will be arriving in half as many cars as if they were solo.
Jakubecy said she understands neighbors' concerns, and says she wants to keep the school small. Her vision calls for growing to a maximum 150 students in grades K-8 in the coming years. That figure has neighbors concerned, but Jacubecy has said the school may move elsewhere as it grows.
“We don't know yet how we'll grow. We don't know that we'll grow here,” she said.
Adding classrooms or even an additional structure at South Main would be difficult, Mr. McCrary said, requiring more approvals and a full review by the Davidson Planning Board.
Look for a continued discussion a year from now, when the school ponders its second year, and how it will grow.
Davidson Planning Department web page for the Davidson Green School project, with documents and history
MAP OF THE GREEN SCHOOL LOCATION