Despite Denials, Couple Persists With Preschool Plans

Madison and Thomas Brawner

Even though two city boards have rejected their plans, Thomas and Madison Brawner say they are pressing on with their proposal to turn the 107-year-old Deen House into Alta Schoolhouse, a preschool.

The Lakeland Planning & Zoning Board this morning unanimously denied the Brawners’ application for a conditional use allowing a school serving up to 70 children ages 2 to 4 in the mansion at the corner of Frank Lloyd Wright Way and Success Avenue.

But the board left room for the Brawners to try again if they can come up with a better plan for handling parking and traffic circulation for parents dropping off and picking up children.

Board Chair Stephanie Franklin ended the session with encouragement for the Brawners: “We hope that maybe the school will come back and lease you the property, but the traffic with the young ones we are very concerned with. So continue because they do need taken care of and educated.”

Leaving the meeting, the Brawners told reporters they are continuing to talk with St. Joseph’s Church, which owns a largely unused parking lot next to the Deen House.

The church has told its congregation it’s planning to move St. Joseph’s Academy from its current home a block from the Deen House back to the downtown area, Brawner said, so they’re hoping to be part of a deal to use a portion of the parking lot.

The city planning staff’s main concern with the Brawner’s application was their plan to use a 10-foot residential alley as the route for parents to drop off and pick up their children. The planners also expressed some reservations about plans for five on-street parking spaces on Frank Lloyd Wright Way.

The use of the alley was always their Plan B, Thomas Brawner said. They’d like to be able to see parents parking the church’s currently unlined parking lot on South Boulevard and park just across the alley from the school, and have been in talks with the church all along.

Audio: The Brawners talk with reporters after the Planning & Zoning decision

The Deen House is appealing because of its location in a walkable neighborhood, and the historic nature of the house makes it a natural for Montessori education, said Madison Brawner, who describes herself as a childcare enthusiast on LinkedIn.

The couple concedes they have other locations in mind if the Deen House doesn’t work out, but they aren’t ready to name them.

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They faced another setback Oct. 24, when the Lakeland Historic Preservation Board’s Design Review Committee rejected their proposal to place two fire escapes on the western side of the building. That board also rejected a plan to place 10 paved parking places on a currently grass area along the alley near Frank Lloyd Wright Way.

Thomas Brawner took issue with the preservation board’s decision, saying the process is subjective and, “Their minds were made up prior to us even entering that room.”

He said he and Madison will address the preservation board’s concerns but not until after getting through Planning & Zoning approval.

Their plan for fire escapes is less intrusive to the house’s historic nature than the interior alterations that would be needed to meet fire regulations, he said, and noted there were fire escapes when the house was used as housing for Florida Southern College students.

Bottom line for the Brawners: There will be an Alta Schoolhouse somewhere in Lakeland. “Alta Schoolhouse is bigger than one building,” Madison Brawner said. “We’e coming to Lakeland no matter what.”

Document – City Planning Staff Deen House Recommendation:

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