Concept I Academy public hearing is contentious and lengthy

By Greg Smart -

HUBER HEIGHTS — After a lengthy public hearing Monday night, the Huber Heights City Council passed to a second reading an ordinance affirming the recommendation of the Planning Commission to deny a major change to a previously approved development plan for property at 5363 Tilbury Rd. (the former Lamendola Elmentary School building) to have a residential private school utilizing the Ohio Dept. of Education K-12 program on site for 16 to 18 year olds.

The applicant was Concept I Academy LLC in this zoning case and the Public Works Committee will review this case further on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The majority of the 7 p.m. meeting was devoted to the public hearing. However, Mayor Thomas McMasters did not invite residents to address the topic until 9:35 p.m. Citizen comments closed at 11:03 p.m.

The project is proposed to have a maximum of 32 students between 16 to 18 years old and that must go through a screening process to enroll. The Academy co-owners have previously stated that they do not accept referrals from the criminal justice system, medically fragile students, students requiring psychiatric supervision or students requiring drug or alcohol rehabilitation services. They have indicated the Academy does accept public, private and military dependent students.

There was heated debate between McMasters and Concept 1 Academy LLC co-owner Tari Darr. McMasters had been questioning Darr about releasing financials. She said she was trying to protect the rights of the school as she was concerned the information would be given to their competitors and harm their school. In response to another question, she said she would not divulge the application screening in an open session.

After the mayor asked if there was anything in the information submitted that would prevent the school from taking a student with a criminal record who was discharged from penal system at age 14 and applied to the school at 16, McMasters told Darr to “stay on task.”

Concept 1 Academy co-owner Jake Decker suggested this request for information could be put in writing and they would confer with their counsel.

Darr later asked if other members of Council had questions for her. McMasters responded,” Hey, I’m running the damn meeting.” He said he would let Council talk when it’s Council’s turn to talk and told Darr to address Council through him.

Darr responded that she found his behavior offensive.

The topic of the purchase of the facility at auction from the Huber Heights City Schools for $19,000 then was addressed. After McMasters talked about the possibility of whether Concept 1 could afford to run the business and not fold, leaving the care of the facility to the city, he asked if she had anything to say that could calm the concerns that this would happen. Darr said she didn’t have anything to say at that time.

Council member Tyler Starline told McMasters that blanket assertions that it’s most likely going to happen was speculative and irrelevant and that he wanted to hear from citizens. He suggested the mayor move on because that point was invalid.

McMasters said he contended that was highly possible with a building that has a $1 million tear down cost.

Council member Tracy Dudley said that after one hour, they had not yet heard from the public and encouraged him to “move on.”

Council member Karen Kaleps then asked questions. Darr responded that Concept 1 was in the process of closing within three weeks on the property and suggested they would have annual taxes of about $129,000 annually when they assume ownership. She said they would like to open the school in October.

Starline asked Darr if she had a prior business effort that was unsuccessful and that she had to persuade Council that she had met her burden of proof. He also told Darr the mayor did not have a vote on this issue, but it was the Council. She said she respectfully declined to give a resume.

Decker said the school would offer 110 hours of instruction each school year. He said their passion is the education of kids and that they become well adjusted young adults.

Darr said the school had met every legal requirement for a major change and addressed issues that have recently been published in area newspapers about why the Planning Commission made their decision. She addressed the negativity and suggested that property values would actually rise due to the presence of the school. She also questioned the truthfulness of statements made in a petition that was signed by residents who did not want the school in the neighborhood.

Speaking in favor, Pat Eshbaugh, a former teacher at La Mendola said every child is owed an opportunity for a quality education and suggested the students more than likely would not be a burden to the neighborhood as they would be supervised.

Kathy Butler said she planned to volunteer at the school and questioned if Council had put another private school that opened in recent years under the same scrutiny.

Resident Janell Smith listed previous court cases that were brought against the applicant and gave a copy of her findings to Council. Smith said she felt that Darr’s behavior was unprofessional and suggested that Council vote down the request that night. She said she would have addressed this issue even if she was not running for Council.

Don Webb, a member of the Planning Commission said there was a preponderance of the evidence that has to be met by the applicant. He asked Council to respect the fact that there was a unanimous decision by the Planning Commission to deny this application. He said that he felt the change of use for the property would impact the neighborhood negatively.

Toni Webb asked about sealed records which City Manager Rob Schommer and Starline both clarified. She said she did not want to see a business in the neighborhood.

Leslie McMullen suggested that property values would go down and put families and neighborhoods at risk.

Robert Beam said that under no circumstances did he want a facility like this in the neighborhood.

Susan Mullen said it was the responsibility of applicant to provide evidence that they can make a go of it and suggested there was no need to go any further with this since the applicant had not met the burden of proof.

Lisa Burke suggested the city could find a better solution than a group home for at risk students.

Concept I Academy withdrew its original application in June after Scott Liberman of Altick & Corwin gave his legal opinion that they did not meet the definition of a school.

For information on other action that was taken at the Council meeting which concluded at 11:59 p.m., see the Courier next week.

By Greg Smart

Reach Greg Smart at 937-236-4990, ext. 2542 or on Twitter

Reach Greg Smart at 937-236-4990, ext. 2542 or on Twitter