Arlington resident buys 2-acre lot to open a preschool. She didn’t expect the backlash

dfwnewsa | February 14, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Arlington resident buys 2-acre lot to open a preschool. She didn’t expect the backlash

Arlington resident Amanda Musick Armstrong stands in the backyard of her 2-acre lot Jan. 3, 2024, in the Wimbledon neighborhood. She had planned to open a Spanish-immersion Montessori preschool on the lot. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)
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Amanda Musick Armstrong thought she had an idea that would bring value to her Wimbledon neighborhood in Arlington.

In June 2023, Armstrong bought a 2-acre lot on Mansfield Road to open a Spanish-immersion Montessori preschool focused on outdoor learning in a calm, nurturing environment. 

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Her neighbors disagreed with her plans. During the next few months, Armstrong battled nearby residents over their complaints about potential noise and increased traffic. In December, the Planning and Zoning Commission denied a rezoning request. By January, the Arlington City Council had struck down her appeal for a public hearing.

Now, she’s looking to open her preschool, SonrisaLandia Montessori School, elsewhere. 

“I thought there might be a couple of people who feared the change that we could show the plans to, and maybe that was naive of me,” Armstrong said. “But this type of backlash I did not anticipate.”

Residents’ concerns

Arlington seemed like the ideal location to live when Armstrong’s family moved there in April 2022. Her husband works in the city and she loves the school district’s dual-immersion language programs. Her young child, however, was only in preschool when the family settled into their new home. 

For the following six months, Armstrong, who works from home, was fine with a two-hour commute to Spanish-immersed child care in west Fort Worth. But when Armstrong spent four hours driving to and from one day, navigating through a crash each way, she decided then and there to open her own preschool. 

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The 2-acre lot had been on the market for 10 months when Armstrong purchased it. Its three sides backed up to single-family homes. The front faces Mansfield Road, an undivided two-lane street. The property lies near the corner of the road. 

The anticipated enrollment for SonrisaLandia Montessori School was 90 to 120 students. Armstrong’s team planned for 26 parking spots and a drive-off zone on the property. She was going to provide a three-hour window for both pick-up and drop-off to avoid traffic congestion. 

“Nothing should ever back up on Mansfield Road,” Armstrong said. 

“I thought there might be a couple of people who feared the change that we could show the plans to, and maybe that was naive of me. But this type of backlash I did not anticipate.”Arlington resident Amanda Musick Armstrong

Residents weren’t convinced. 

Arlington resident Monica Grace was concerned about noise and the traffic at the short section of road where people turn into the school, she told zoning commissioners Dec. 20.

“I can’t wake up in the morning when I want to because I get to hear doors slamming and kids and people talking,” Grace said. 

Commissioners mostly focused on the traffic and the number of cars on the road. Armstrong’s team didn’t conduct a full traffic study because the city didn’t require one. The commissioners voted 5-3 against the permit, with vice chair Ignacio T. Nuñez absent. 

More than 30 people showed up to the meeting in opposition — more than double the number of those supporting the special use permit, according to city documents.  

Armstrong appealed to the City Council, and residents once again objected.

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Arlington resident Felicia Abram said at the Jan. 9 meeting that she has not seen a nonresidential building in the middle of a single-family neighborhood. 

“With a day care comes noise. With a day care comes traffic. With a day care, there comes more lights that will be shining into my backyard,” Abram said. 

Armstrong’s appeal failed 6-3. 

The sides of the 2-acre lot back up to single-family homes in the Wimbledon neighborhood. Neighbors expressed concerns about potential noises and traffic if the rezoning permit was approved. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

The model 

At SonrisaLandia, children are encouraged to complete tasks on their own — from putting on diapers and washing their hands to cleaning up after themselves — once they’re old enough. They also will learn from outdoor gardening, eat outside and play with toys made out of natural materials, Armstrong said.

“The whole thing with the Montessori method is to have a calm approach and talk calmly with the children,” she said. “There’s no yelling and that kind of thing.” 

Montessori education emphasizes independent learning and interaction between children. The approach centers on children and gives them ownership of their learning. 

Most of the parents supporting the preschool are also supportive of public schools, Armstrong said. She hopes her preschool creates a pipeline for students to pursue dual-language programs at either Arlington or Mansfield schools. 

Arlington ISD trustee Brooklyn Richardson said she likes the idea of combining Montessori schools and dual-immersion programs. She knows parents in Arlington have driven farther to Grand Prairie and Southlake for those programs, she said.

“As a working mother, I know what I was looking for when my kids were little,” Richardson said. “A program like this was exactly what we needed and didn’t have.”

The lot’s future 

Armstrong plans to sell the lot and start over on a new piece of land. 

She finds the change in plans bittersweet. At one point, she imagined having a garden with lots of trees and bringing more wildlife into the neighborhood. Even when she didn’t get the rezoning permit, she still planned to develop it into residential living homes. 

But she’s moving on. 

“Basically, we’ve lost a year and are starting over,” Armstrong said.

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at dang.le@fortworthreport.org or @DangHLe. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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