An Albemarle County private middle school for boys has been denied permission to move to land off U.S. 29 and along the South Fork Rivanna River.
Supervisors voted 3-3 this week to deny a special-use permit allowing the Field School to operate on a portion of a 62-acre property in the county’s rural area. The school currently rents the former Crozet High School from the county but is seeking a permanent home.
Neighbors of the proposed new site had argued that additional traffic generated by the school would contribute to congestion on Polo Grounds Road.
“The proposed school is not a good use of this property,” said George Foresman. “Common sense says the intense development in this plan is not compatible with the rural areas.”
At Wednesday’s board meeting, those against the permit wore white shirts and yellow buttons that read “Save Polo Grounds Road.” Those who supported the request wore the blue colors of the Field School.
In order to mitigate its traffic impact, school officials had agreed to pay for a second turn-lane onto U.S. 29 to reduce backups onto Polo Grounds Road. They also had agreed to a requirement that half of the school’s enrollment take the bus until the second lane was completed.
Support during the public comment period was split evenly.
One teacher suggested that the school’s location was perfect.
“Most schools are not built now with the outdoors in mind,” said Jennifer Wilson, who teaches English. “We are asking to put a school in a place with compelling outdoor features where we can make the river part of our curriculum.”
Neighbors said they understood why the property made sense for the Field School, but that the county needs to consider impacts they would feel.
“Although the fields and trails sound wonderful, there will also be a parking lot and lights,” said Kasia Otterbein. “That’s part of our negative feeling about the whole project.”
“If not here, where does the Field School go?” asked Neil Higgins, a parent of one student. “How can you promise there’s a better piece of property? Do you know of one?”
During the deliberations, Supervisor Kenneth C Boyd said he could not vote for the permit, but had a suggestion on where the Field School might go. Boyd added he could not divulge details at this time.
“There’s a reason we have zoning and that’s to make sure the appropriate buildings are in the right place,” Boyd said.
Supervisor Dennis C. Rooker said this was one of the hardest decisions he has had to make in his 12 years on the board.
“I’ve rarely seen an applicant bend over backwards to meet all of the imposed conditions,” Rooker said.
But in the end, he said he could not support the project because of opposition from the neighborhood. He added that while the second turn-lane might help congestion at U.S. 29, the one-lane railroad underpass could be overburdened by the additional traffic.
Supervisors William “Petie” Craddock, Duane C. Snow and Ann H. Mallek all supported the permit.
“To me, this school is a low-impact use of the property and they are really trying hard to solve the problems of the impacts they do create,” Mallek said.
Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas also voted against the permit. A tie vote on a motion to deny means the project cannot move forward.