Potential sale of United Methodist Children’s Home topic of upcoming meetingThe United Methodist Children’s Home on South Columbia Drive in Decatur. Source: Google Maps
This story has been updated.
A former resident and employee of the United Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur is planning an informational meeting about the potential sale of the property.
Members of the Board of Trustees, which would have to approve the sale, have all declined to comment about the matter, referring questions to John Cerniglia, Vice President of Development at The Children’s Home.
The meeting will be held on Jan. 13 at the Avondale Estates Fire Station, located at 24 North Clarendon Avenue. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.
“Alumni, staff, board members and neighbors are welcome to attend,” alumna Debora Burger said. “Space is limited to 30 people so neighborhood associations may need to send a representative.”
Burger said she knows about the pending sale due to her connections within the school’s alumni network. She has said the 77 acre property on South Columbia Drive could become the site of more than 600 homes. The prospect has alarmed residents who live on and around the busy street.
Decaturish reached out to the nearly two dozen active members of the UMCH board of trustees to ask about the potential sale. Most did not return messages. The few who did return messages or answered the phone all declined to comment, referring questions to Cerniglia.
Cerniglia had previously confirmed that the board was considering a sale of the property, but has been tight-lipped about the details saying more information would be available when a decision is made. He has said the nonprofit has an important mission of serving children and that any decisions would be to further that mission.
A reader who contacted Decaturish said when she contacted UMCH to express her concerns, she was told there had been a public meeting in December to discuss plans to sell the property and that residents of South Columbia Drive and Missionary Drive were notified. Neighbors did not receive this notice, the reader said.
Cerniglia confirmed there was a meeting.
“Yes, there was,” he said. “For clarity, the property is not on the market for sale, and we have not petitioned the county (where our land is) for a zoning change. So it was not a ‘public hearing’ from a zoning perspective. We do value input from our neighbors at this early stage, and so we invited neighbors who use the land or live nearby to come and give us input. Some attended, and their input was conveyed to the Board.”
While the property has a Decatur address, it is not in the city limits Mayor Patti Garrett said.
“A tiny part along the front of South Columbia Drive is in the city,” she said. “Almost all is not.”
Garrett confirmed that the property had been in previous versions of the city’s annexation plans. The city currently does not have a plan for this year’s Legislative session.
But the city has expressed an interest in buying the property, according to Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne.
On Jan. 11, the city announced the City Commission will hold a closed-door executive session at 8 a.m. on Jan. 12 to discuss real estate matters. The timing is unusual because executive sessions often occur around regularly-scheduled commission meetings. City Manager Peggy Merriss declined to discuss the subject of the meeting.
“Matters that are part of an executive session are not discussed outside of the executive session,” she said.
When asked if the City Commission would take any action following the meeting, Merriss said, “Not immediately.”
Burger said the potential sale has stunned UMCH alumni, a tight-knit group of former residents who are like family.
“From the alumni perspective, a lot of people are grieving,” she said. “They don’t want to see this happen.”
One of the alums, Mike Haynie, protested on the busy street in front of of UMCH and an unidentified person interviewed him on camera. Haynie said alumni got wind of it because they wanted to do something to remember the home’s longtime administrator Bev Cochran, who passed away in 2016.
“The alumni wanted to plant a tree in his honor … and they wouldn’t let us do it,” he said.
The video has been removed since this article was published.
The Children’s Home has been in Decatur since 1873 and was established to care for children orphaned during the Civil War, according to its website.