Faced with opposition from residents of Albemarle’s Bentivar neighborhood, the county Board of Supervisors has postponed a vote on whether to grant a special-use permit to allow a private middle school to relocate to a site off Polo Grounds Road.
“That works well for us in the short term, but we have no choice at this point to search for a long-term home,” said Todd Barnett, founding head of the Field School.
Barnett’s ideal location is a 62-acre property in the county’s rural area. The school plans to erect up to 30,000 square feet of buildings, but individual structures would be a maximum of 12,000 square feet.
Supervisors would need to grant the permit to allow a school to operate in the rural area.
However, many residents argued at Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that the use would add too much traffic to the road and would lead to further development in the county’s rural area. Many wore yellow buttons that read, “Save Polo Grounds Road.”
“We recognize the irreversible damage that could be done to one of the last rural areas between the city of Charlottesville’s northern border and Airport Road,” said Jerry Ludeke, who said she was speaking on behalf of her sister who lives nearby.
Barnett said the school only plans to use 12 acres of the property, and would place the rest under conservation easement. They would also develop trails throughout the rest of the property to provide connections to adjacent neighborhoods. Those are called for in the Places29 Master Plan.
The site has a zoning history that presented mixed signals for how the county should proceed.
In 1990, the board approved a special-use permit allowing for an 800-seat church on the property, but it was never built. In 2007, supervisors denied a request by the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle to expand its facility on the site.
However, the board voted 5-1 to approve facilities on the same road for the Monticello United Soccer Club last September.
In July, the Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit for the Field School on a 4-2 vote.
Barnett said he felt he had the support of county.
“If we have gone wrong in seeking [a permit] on this property, it goes against the signals we have gotten from the board and county staff in our pre-application meetings,” Barnett said.
Barnett said the majority of students will travel to the school via a shuttle bus. As part of the application, the Field School would pay up to $25,000 toward a right-turn lane on Polo Grounds Road. That has a cost estimate of $200,000.
“I really don’t think we’re going to add to safety issues on that road,” Barnett said.
Proponents of the Field School, including students and their parents, asked the board to consider the facility on its merits.
“This is going to be to the type of community that you would want in an area that you want to maintain the dignity of the beautiful land, as well as the character of the people there,” said parent Doug Granger.
However, the majority of speakers at the public hearing called for the board to follow precedents set in the past.
“Six years ago, for all of these exact same reasons, this board denied the SOCA request,” said Bentivar resident Jim Masloff. “There is very little difference between that request and this one.”
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said he believes the Field School is “great” but did not think this location was appropriate.
“What I’m really concerned about are the transportation issues involved,” Boyd said. “I do believe that’s a dangerous road.”
Boyd said he would be willing to work with the Field School to help them find a new location, the same pledge he made to SOCA in 2007.
However, Supervisor Duane E. Snow said he thought the proposal was perhaps one of the best possible uses of the land.
“My experience with Todd Barnett and the people that work with him is that he’s honorable,” Snow said. “For that reason, I would support it.”
At the end of the meeting, supervisors tried to discuss potential ways to address traffic and other concerns. Rooker said it would be better to postpone the vote.
“We’ve talked about a number of things, and the question is whether conditions can be fashioned to deal with those issues,” Rooker said.
The application is scheduled to come back to the board at its meeting Oct. 9. A public hearing will not need to be held unless Barnett suggests new proffers.
Boyd and Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas both voted against the deferral.