The owners of a downtown spa say they’d like to move their operation to the Deen House in the Lake Morton neighborhood if plans to use the 107-year-old mansion for a preschool fall through.

Jeanna Parker, a Lake Morton resident who along with her husband, Mark Parker, owns Bella Visage Medical Rejuvenation Spa, told ABC Action News, “We don’t want to move any walls, we don’t want to change any of the paint. We want to actually take this house right as it is and share it with the community.”

Her husband elaborated in a message to LkldNow: “We basically would remove the beds out of the bedrooms and the couches out of the living room in the fireplace room and just use our spa beds. We would also like to have open houses for the community to come and see the house on a regular basis. We would also like to have small fundraising events for local nonprofits to be able to use the house as a meeting point.”

Photographer David Dickey Jr. recently accompanied the Parkers on a tour of the Deen House:

A young couple’s proposal to buy the 6,736-square-foot house at the corner of Frank Lloyd Wright Way and Success Avenue and turn it into The Alta Schoolhouse, a preschool for up to 70 2- to 4-year-olds, has sparked controversy.

At an initial planning and zoning hearing last month, proponents spoke of the shortage of quality preschools in central Lakeland while opponents objected to traffic/parking issues and the possibility of damage to a historic structure.

Since then, opponents have protested the project with about 100 yard signs in the neighborhood saying, “Keep the Deen House a historic home.”

But Thomas Brawner, who along with his wife, Madison Brawner, want to open the preschool, responded to ABC Action News: “It really should be keep the Deen House an Airbnb because that’s what it really is.”

On Tuesday, the Brawners take their case again to a meeting of Lakeland’s Planning and Zoning Board, which is scheduled to decide on their request for a conditional use for the property. The Deen House issue is tenth item on a long agenda.

The city planning staff has recommended denial of the application “without prejudice,” meaning the Brawners could re-file for a permit if they can solve traffic circulation and parking issues.

See the city staff report here or at the end of this article.

In their report, the city planning staff says a major concern is heavy use of a residential alley between Charles Street and Frank Lloyd Wright to drop off and pick up students in the mornings and afternoons.

Video – a look at the alley:

An “ideal solution” would be for the Brawners to arrange to buy or lease a portion of the “underutilized” parking lot next door that’s part of the nearby St. Joseph’s Academy, the city planners said. Brawner told planning board members last month that he’s had discussions with the parking lot owners but they’ve yet to come to an agreement.

“In the absence of this or other possible solutions, staff cannot recommend approval due to the substantial impacts on adjacent properties that would result if the alley is used to circulate school traffic to and from the site,” planner Joshua Cheney wrote. “As such, staff recommends that the application be denied without prejudice to allow the applicant to reapply at any time, and without further delay, if an agreement with St. Joseph’s or another option is obtained.”

LkldNow asked Mark Parker about the spa’s plans for parking in the event the Brawners abandon their plans for a preschool and Bella Visage buys the Deen House.

He declined to elaborate on their long-term plans but noted their parking needs are minimal and said at the least staff could park offsite and that the driveway off Success Avenue could handle their “current guest load.”

The Alta Schoolhouse proposal was considered last month by the Design Review Committee of the city’s Historic Preservation Board. That committee denied the Brawners’ request to place twin fire escapes on the west side of the house and to pave 10 parking spaces in a grassy area off the alley.

The Brawners plan to go back to the Historic Preservation Board with revised plans, The Ledger reported earlier this week.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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