Proposal to convert historic home into preschool draws concerns about traffic, preservation

A community is divided over the future a historic home in Polk County. A couple plans to turn the house into a community preschool, but not everyone in the neighborhood is on board.

It’s known as the Deen House and it’s been around since 1912. It's part of the Lake Morton Historic District, which is a community filled with residents committed to preserving history.

“It’s the only prairie-style home in the neighborhood and we would like to see it remain a residence," Lake Morton Neighborhood Association Spokesperson Julie Townsend said.

The homeowner is contracted to sell the home to Thomas Brawner. He and his wife, who has a degree in early childhood education, believe the Deen House is the perfect fit for a community preschool.

“It's in central Lakeland. It’s easy to access for a lot of people. There’s a lot of new families moving into the east side," Brawner said.

At an October meeting, Brawner presented more than 100 emails sent to him from young parents expressing their support for the new school and its location.

“We’re not putting a manufacturing shop right next to these houses. We’re putting a place that’s going to resource the communities that live in the vicinity," Brawner said.

However, opposition to the school is growing. Several homes in the neighborhood have signs reading, “Keep the Deen House a historic home."

Townsend has concerns about traffic and parking.

“Any structure that’s going to invite 70 families to come and go, throughout the day, needs a place for them to park or queue or drop in, drop out and that’s not the nature of this site," Townsend said.

Traffic and parking plans are something Brawner says they’re still researching. He and his wife plan to present their final plans at the next planning and zoning board meeting on Nov. 19. Then the zoning board will offer a recommendation to city commissioners who will vote on the final proposal.