Academy’s dormitory plan needs hard look

Published 9:08 am Friday, June 15, 2018

To the Editor:

On Monday night, June 11, three of my Meadow Lane neighbors and I addressed the City Council about a matter of great concern to us. It should be of great concern to all Franklin residents living in areas zoned R-O One Family Residence. I was made aware that Southampton Academy had purchased a house on Meadow Lane with the intent of using it as a dormitory for an unknown number of foreign exchange students. 

I have no connection with the Academy, my own children having attended Franklin City Public Schools, but I do know that it is a fine institution. I am impressed that students from other nations would come from around the world to study here. 

The intention of the present zoning ordinance is to prohibit dormitories or boarding houses in residential neighborhoods. I am told that a local law firm is drawing up a “narrative” claiming that the paid house parents will have guardianship of the children housed in the dorm and that this meets the requirement for being a “family” in the zoning ordinance. This claim has apparently been accepted by city officials with no effort whatsoever to challenge its validity and to protect Franklin citizens. Why was there no public hearing about this matter?

I don’t doubt that these students would be supervised. If this is approved, a can of worms will be opened that could lead to similar “families” situated all over town for varying reasons. I have been told that the Academy wishes to provide these students with the American family experience, but, if that is the case, why don’t they find host families for them rather than having them pay substantial amounts of money to live four to a room (look at the Academy’s website) with paid parents? What kind of “family” is this? Why is this plan better than putting the $315,000 spent for this house into a nice dormitory at the Academy site?

It is my understanding that an inquiry about the use of a house in the R-O zone for this purpose was made several months ago but was turned down. What happened between then and now?  Obviously, the Academy did not spend this amount of money with the hopes that it just might work out for them to house their students on Meadow Lane. I would like to know who gave them the assurance that it would work out, even before the “narrative” was presented.

Again, there seems to have been no effort to question the details, examine the validity of the guardianship claim as it applies to the standing ordinance, or to protect the interests of Franklin homeowners.

One important reason for zoning ordinances is to secure homeowners’ investments. Can anyone say that neighboring houses won’t go down substantially in value if a dormitory is located across the street? The possibility of this happening in other neighborhoods should strike fear into Franklin residents. It is my understanding that it is in the City’s interest to promote private home ownership. This is not the way to achieve that goal.

Southampton Academy receives large fees from these exchange students to pay for tuition and for room and board.

Profits are great, but it is not my responsibility or that of my neighbors to underwrite the Academy’s business needs. I ask the City Council, the Planning Commission, and all City officials to take a hard look at this in an effort to back up the rights of Franklin homeowners.

In closing, letters to the editor often go unread. I ask those of you who are reading this and are concerned about what is happening to forward it to your neighbors. As we proceed, we need the support of Franklin citizens in attending meetings, writing letters and questioning city officials.

Ben Powell