An unworthy option

Published 7:56 am Saturday, March 16, 2019


It seems fairly certain that the Southampton Academy, located in Courtland, has hoodwinked the City of Franklin, not by accident, but by using forethought, planning and for a profit.

The Academy has established two “Dorm Houses,” to house their international students, within our city limits, but they violate our Residential-Only zoning ordinances (RO). The first one was established in 2015, and is located at 229 North Drive, and the second one, opened in 2018, is located at 313 Meadow Lane. These neighborhoods are both well-established Residential Only zones.

It appears that there are four major issues involved. Two are ordinance related, and two are risk/safety related.

One central issue in the dispute is whether or not Southampton Academy is in violation of the R-O district definition of a family which reads as follows;

A group of not more than four persons not related by blood, marriage, adoption, guardianship or not living in an approved foster care program living together as a single household in a dwelling unit.

There are 16 exchange students and 2 chaperons living at 313 Meadow Lane at last count.

That equals 18 people.

There are approximately 10 students and 2 chaperons living at 229 North Drive at last count

That equals 12 people.

(Even a group home limit is 8.)

The justification given to the city by the Southampton Academy is that this housing falls under the guardianship category of our code. It is this very point that was put forth by The Academy in June of 2018 in front of the City Council, when the Meadow Lane residents objected to the housing of 18 people.

At this junction perhaps two definitions need to be examined, they being the definitions of GUARDIANSHIP and CUSTODIAL CARE.

In legalese, Guardianship is phrased “IN LOC PARENTIS.”

In layman’s terms the definitions are as follows:

Guardianship is a term used to describe a bundle of rights and responsibilities of a parent (or a person) what been legally appointed a guardian. The guardian is someone who has the duties, rights, responsibilities that a parent has in bringing up a child.

Custodial Care: Custodial Care refers to personal care that provides assistance in activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, eating, getting in and out of bed and chairs, moving around, using the bathroom, preparation of food, feeding, and supervision of medication.

The Academy submitted, at some point in time, a 5-page document to substantiate their guardianship claim. That document states, in bold letters, on the top of each page, “Custodial Responsibility and Consent for Medical Treatment Authorization.” The signed documents in themselves state that they are Custodial documents. Custodial and Guardianship intents carry vastly different legal intents and meanings. It hard to imagine how you can argue Guardianship when the signed documents say Custodial. Our code does not allow Custodial arrangements, of 4 unrelated people, to reside in a single-family dwelling in a RO zone. The dwellings at 229 North Drive or 313 Meadow Lane are zoned RO.

(A copy of that document is available at City Hall and at The Tidewater News office.)

At no point does the English word Guardian appear on any of the 5 pages. Those of you that can read Chinese, you should be thrilled as fully one-half of the document is in Chinese. If you can find the Chinese equivalent of the word Guardian in that text, please contact me, run straight over to the Academy or go to city hall.

On a second front, The Academy is basically running a for-profit business in an RO zone. This is in violation as well. Violation of our R-O zoning laws.

The Academy houses are being taxed at a residential rate of $.99 per hundred of assessed valuation. This is the same tax rate of all of us pay living in single family dwellings. The city has confirmed that these boarding houses are being taxed at the $.99 rate.

When queried as to whether or not the Academy had applied for a Business license the city answer was NO.

It has always been my experience that if you are earning a profit, then you are in business. (The opposite is true as well. If you are losing money you go out of business.) The first house was established in 2015, at 229 North Drive, while the 313 Meadow Lane boarding house was established 3 years later in in 2018. (What can one conclude? Perhaps they are making a profit? It sure smells like bigger and better.)

If you go a little deeper into this boarding house issue you probably will find find that there are taxes not being paid to the city, aside from the business license. Probably lodging taxes of 8 percent on Gross receipts being a boarding house are being evaded. I am not sure if addition fees are applied but probably there are some usage surcharges for businesses.

On the issue of the definition of a boarding house one can look in their Webster’s Dictionary for a formal interpretation. However, the old southern adage works for me. If it looks like a pig, acts like a pig, smells like a pig, it must be a pig.

Of equal importance, at the City Council level, there exists within the city of Franklin, two houses run by Southampton Academy, that house exchange students. Both are in violation of our R-O codes, as these two single family dwellings house more than the allowable 4 non-related persons. I believe the city is running a major financial risk it does not need to take. Given their usage these dwellings, they are probably are not up to fire codes, and public health standards, with multiple youngsters and chaperons living in them, but with the city’s tacit approval. God forbid any happens to any one of these youngsters. These youngsters are not off some sampan in Kowloon or from a ghetto in Beijing. Most probably come they from well-to-do families, and who are not ignorant of our litigious society.

A second issue that should warrant concern, at the city level, is a simple Custodial Document is being allowed to be interpreted as Guardianship. If that is allowed to stand, then there is no street, in any of our Wards, that are safe from unwanted activities in our R-O zones. The proof is that there are in two such dwellings in two different Wards here already.

On a personal note, shame on the Southampton Academy for using these great kids for their gain. They should be out and about enjoying our city instead, of cooped being up, when not in school. If the Academy wants to expand its international student base, then build a dorm, and not a gym, and I’ll even contribute to it. Academy’s current activities diminishes the stature of the great school that it is.

If this OP-ED piece strikes a chord, pro or con, please let your views be known, so that the city can react to your input. You might also drive past these boarding houses to get a real sense of problem.

Bob Trainor (EC)