Community concerned about proposed school
A proposed micro-school is causing concerns for local residents.
The Greer Board of Zoning Appeals will hold over a zoning request on matter until Aug. 6 after hearing from community members last week. Some concerns were centered around intersection traffic at Abner Creek and Liberty Hill Roads.
“We’re concerned about the infrastructure of the significant cars and the people that will be on this property,” resident Mike Sinclair said. “We’ve lived in our house for exactly one year. We specifically did not put our driveway on Abner Creek. The reason we didn’t is because I’ve observed near collisions.”
Sinclair expressed concerns about the speed of vehicles on Abner Creek Road, as well as other new developments in the area.
“The road is simply unsafe today, and it will continue to become more unsafe,” Sinclair said. “My second concern is the fact that this is going to be a business.
“The owner and employees will be traveling into this unoccupied area every day as a business,” he said. “There are appropriate areas that we can have a business such as this. We do value education. We believe that this area people chose to live in because of the current environment.”
The proposal for the school includes four new structures, including an 8,000 square foot pavilion and a parking lot.
“These significant changes to a five-acre property with a significant grade on the back side of the house comes down into my land,” Sinclair said. “It comes down into a field that will be a pasture that we will eventually put livestock in.”
The goal of property owners Harold and Susan Johnson is to convert the existing residential structure into an independent day school, Greenville Student Success Academy (GSSA), to serve students in grades 1-8 with an expected enrollment of 50 and a maximum enrollment of 75, according to a statement of intent.
“I’m also concerned about the hours of operations,” Sinclair said. “I’m concerned about my liability as a growing young farmer sharing a significant property line with two sides of the school that will have approximately 50 students or more.”
“In some ways, this proposal has moved very fast,” he said. “Thankfully, my wife and I were in town for one business day.”
The Sinclairs, who purchased their own property a year ago, saw the signs posted for the public hearing on the special exception request.
“Our family is opposed to the current design with those multiple new structures,” Sinclair said.
If approved, the academic program would combine multi-age students by ability for instruction and thematic project based learning. There would be no food service.
“We looked into other properties, not in Greer,” Susan Johnson said. “This was very close to our home, and it was the kind of property I just fell in love with when I saw it.”
“I could picture the school there; the other properties I could not,” she said.
Johnson has been an educator for almost 40 years and has worked on a similar project outside of Washington D.C.
“I have helped many, many kids over my 40 years,” Susan Johnson said. “I have devoted my entire career to education and to the betterment of children’s lives.”
“We literally are both retired and are coming out of retirement,” she said.
The Johnsons purchased the house for the purpose of running a school without rent.
“What we’re hoping to provide is an environment of a small setting for a specific profile of students,” Susan Johnson said.
Targeted students would be average, above average or brilliant, but not successful in school.
“I’m not looking for many, many kids,” Susan Johnson said. “I’m looking for the right kids for this very specific program.”
“It will provide opportunities to even out skills,” she said.
Tuition would pay teachers, and a gravel parking lot is in the plans.
“I have the ability to clearly define the student profile and to select and also de-select,” Susan Johnson said. “I’ve done this before.”
“It’s going to have students who need the mission of the school,” she said.
Susan Johnson also specified that the proposed school would be for profit.
“It was for-profit versus not-for-profit,” Susan Johnson said. “Those are internal differences. A not-for-profit school has a board.”
“I worked for 14 years with a board,” she said. “The one thing I did not want was a board, so it went to for-profit.”
Daniel Harrison, who moved to Abner Creek Road in 2007, shared his concerns as well.
“Since that time , our community has seen record growth, for what I’m extremely proud of,” Harrison said. “I’d like nothing more than for our thriving community to continue that trend.”
“To us, what’s important is smart growth,” he said.
Harrison questioned the future employment center designated for their community.
“We’re a very tight-knit community,” Harrison said. “We all know each other. Our tight-knit community prides itself on freedom and the sense of community that comes with living in a rural setting.”
“This is a rural, residential community,” he said. “It is not a commercial or industrial setting. At some point, if these businesses keep coming in, we’ll end up a weird hodgepodge of loosely affiliated neighbors in the middle of a zone where we no longer know each other.”
Harrison moved to South Carolina from the northeast.
“I’m not from here; I love this place,” Harrison said. “I’m so proud to live here and to raise my kids here.”
“We’re seriously tied to this community,” he said.
Property around the area, however, is seeing considerable developments.
“We have all these new communities,” Harrison said. “We have the quarry.”
“They use us as a short cut because I-85 is horrendous,” he said. “We’re pretty inundated with traffic.”
Harrison asked if this request would open a door that could not be closed.
“We have incredible culture and incredible community, and there’s no take backs once you start building businesses in our community,” Harrison said. “We start becoming exactly what I moved from the northeast to get away from.”
Al Brudel, who has been in the area since 1999, has been through this process before.
“I’m really surprised I’m having to show up here again,” Brudel said.
A year after he moved to his property, a business looked at coming to the area, but the neighbors opposed, and the city deemed that the business “did not fit the character of the area,” he said.
“The infrastructure there’s going to be overwhelmed,” Brudel said. “I believe this is a business, and business does not have a place in this rural area.”
Planning Manager Kelli McCormick and city staff recommended approval of the special exception with two conditions: module units being residential in character and a 50-foot setback from Abner Creek Road.
“We recognize there are growing traffic concerns in this area,” McCormick said.
“That’s probably one of our number one concerns is stormwater because we’re under a permit from the federal government that we have to keep runoff on sites where runoff is,” she said. “They will have to go through a detailed stormwater analysis when they construct anything new. We hold those developers to very strict standards because we’re held to strict standards by the EPA. There should be zero runoff.”
A nearby development recently reduced from 40 to 19 to now four homes, and the employment center designation could be changing with the upcoming update of the comprehensive plan.
“Your homes may not be designated as employment center any more,” McCormick said. “I would encourage you to be a part of that planning process because you are in an area that is probably one of the hottest growth areas in the Upstate.”
“It’s called the golden box,” she said. “It’s kind of a sweet spot between Greenville, Spartanburg, northern Greenville County, southern Greenville County; it’s at a crossroads. You have fabulous wealth of resources at all the interchanges right there.”
With BMW nearby, workers are looking to live close.
“That land is just ripe for development because it’s easy to service with sewer,” McCormick said. “Water is available.”
The ten-year Comprehensive Plan will be updated in the next two years to be implemented by 2020.
In other business, the BZA unanimously approved a special exception in C-2, Commercial, to allow NTB, an Automobile Service Station, to locate at 107 and 111 Brannon Drive.
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