published Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Bud Helton seeks rezoning for Brainerd's 21st Century school

Bud Helton has made a provisional offer to buy the former 21st Century Academy buildings.
Bud Helton has made a provisional offer to buy the former 21st Century Academy buildings.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Businessman Bud Helton wants to change the zoning for the old 21st Century School and he wants the Brainerd community's approval to do it.

He put off applying for a zoning change in May so that the Brainerd Unity Group could get its questions answered and suggest any restrictions they wanted him to put on the use of the building.

Residents still had questions Tuesday.

Helton agreed to give residents until Thursday to list concerns and restrictions for the property.

"We would appreciate your support," he said to about a dozen Brainerd residents who met at Brainerd Church of Christ on Tuesday.

Helton said he hopes to submit an application for a zoning change on June 10 to swap the old school from R-1 residential zoning to C-2 commercial zoning which will allow him to operate the former school as a business incubator.

Brainerd residents want the building to be occupied, but not with nightclubs, payday loan advance firms or any other business that may disturb the neighborhood.

Residents also considered a C-5 zoning, but Helton said he needed the C-2 zoning because he wanted to have schools and churches and entertainment in the building. He said that wasn't allowed under the more restricted C-5 zoning.

Helton said he doesn't want nightclubs, payday loan firms, billboards, hotels, motels or liquor stores. He said he's willing to list them as restrictions when he applies for the zoning change.

He also didn't object to restricting an arcade from going onto the site, as Millie Lander suggested. And Helton offered to include the restrictions that Alton Park residents tacked on to his C-2 zoning change such as auto repair shops and auto dealerships when he purchased the old Franklin Middle School.

"If it's not desirable to the community, it will not be desirable to us," said Helton.

Former assistant city attorney Gary Lander asked Helton to consider writing restrictions into the deed of the property to ensure that whoever purchased the property after Helton would be as considerate of the community.

Helton said he'd have to think about it.

The school, vacant since 2009, sits off Brainerd Road between two churches. Despite being in a residential area with longtime homeowners, it's become a target of vandals and thieves. The building has also been used as a training center for police officers, Helton said. It's windows have been shot out, walls busted and copper stripped from the walls.

"To let it sit vacant would be a disaster," said longtime Brainerd resident Bill Eiselstein.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at 423-757-6431 or yputman@timesfreepress.com.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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