The Albemarle County Planning Commission held a pre-application work session during their September 16, 2008 meeting to help the
Charlottesville Day School
determine whether to seek approval for a special use permit for a new private school. The pre-application process has been established as a way for applicants to test the waters of the governing body before committing too many resources to any given project. Each of the Commissioners weighed in on whether the Planning Commission would consider a private school an appropriate use for the selected site off of Hydraulic Road, and, if so, what would need to be done to secure their approval.
The current enrollment of the Charlottesville Day School is 152, but it expects to expand to between 185 and 228 students on a new site. Adopting a line from Socrates, the school director David Bruns emphasized their mission: “wisdom begins with wonder.” He said this commitment led them to consider a piece a land with open space and natural characteristics for the children to explore. They determined that land off of Hydraulic Road would suit these purposes well and remain within the vicinity of many of the families who would be traveling to the school. The school expressed an interest in preserving the aesthetic nature of the land, as well as reusing a residential building on the property for either offices or faculty residence.
The Commissioners questioned several aspects of this proposal, especially noting the proximity of this site to the South Fork Rivanna reservoir. Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) pointed out that a church that wanted to develop this property in 1988 was denied and another private school also withdrew a similar application in 1997. The reason for the initial denial was the potential for water contamination in this sensitive watershed. He wanted to know how this case was relevantly distinct from earlier cases. Commissioner Cal Morris (Rivanna) expressed that other commissioners shared this concern.
The water contamination issue is especially pertinent in this case because county water and sewer services cannot be extended into this rurally zoned property, outside of the designated growth areas. Current owner Miles Wilhelm told the Commissioners that they receive water from the
Albemarle County Service Authority
. However, any expanded development would have to provide its own septic tank and well. The planning staff reported that there is very little precedent for granting variances to public service limitations, and that these exceptions are only considered for health cases in existing use of the property. Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) stated unequivocally that she would not support expansion of these services even if it were a procedural possibility. Commissioner Morris stated that, “schools produce a lot of septic.” Whatever the size of the school, in his opinion, a private septic tank would be problematic for this area
Another important factor, in this particular case, is that the site is located directly adjacent to the border between a designated growth zone and a rural zone. The staff report reminded the Commissioners that the comprehensive plan calls for sharp boundaries between these zones. Commissioner Tom Loach (White Hall) said he was particularly sensitive to this issue, saying that it was important to be able to see the open space from the developed region. The boundaries were not drawn arbitrarily but rather they follow closely the river watershed. Since the County had been pretty good at sticking to its boundaries, he did not want to see that track record compromised.
Additional traffic volume was also mentioned as a concern, especially considering the potential access road to the school is actually a private road. For the development to be approved, neighbors would have to be supportive of the increased traffic, which is estimated to be approximately 150 – 200 vehicle trips during the peak hour. More work would have to be done both in traffic analysis and public engagement.
While the work session was not intended to reach any final decisions, the general impression was that the Planning Commission would not approve the request in its current form. With the exception of Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville), who felt that the school would be an acceptable use for the area, each of the other commissioners expressed their doubts about the potential application.