Planning Commission denies one private school expansion, approves another
The Albemarle Planning Commission has recommended denial of a request from the private Regents School of Charlottesville to expand, citing transportation safety concerns.
Regents officials sought to amend a special use permit granted in 2013 that allowed their school to have up to 96 people on site. They returned Tuesday to increase that number to 115 for the upcoming school year and 130 in fall 2015, but county staff that would have a negative effect on Ivy Road.
“The current delay times [for 96 people] are for 4 minutes and 12 seconds per vehicle exiting the site in the morning,” county planner Christopher Perez said. “Projected to 115 [people], it would double the time for delay.”
Regents is located on the campus of the Christian Aid Mission near the intersection of Ivy and Broomley roads in an area of the county designated as rural in the Comprehensive Plan.
“[The Regents School] is the only classical school in Charlottesville and the desire for that type of education is proven,” said Jared Christophel, a member of Regents’ board of directors. “We started out with seven children in 2010 and in 2013 we had 83 students.”
The Virginia Department of Health is satisfied that the site’s septic system can support the additional people, but county staff said the additional traffic could cause unsafe conditions in the mornings when students are dropped off.
School officials disagreed with staff’s interpretation.
“I have never waited more than 1 minute, and generally much less than that,” Christophel said.
“The main time we’re talking about here is 15 minutes in the morning,” said Courtney Palumbo, the head of school. “We’ve offered to hire a policeman to direct traffic — and they’ve sent me a contract — but I don’t think [county] staff likes that option, but it does solve the delay problem.”
Regents officials are investigating whether they can build an access point to Broomley Road, an idea that has been tentatively explored with the county and the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“The unsafe movement would be the left-hand turn out of the site going towards Charlottesville,” said Troy Austin, a planner with VDOT. “The thought is that if you provide this other access it gives them an opportunity to make a left towards Charlottesville at a stop light.”
However, staff expressed concern construction of the entrance might require a critical slopes waiver and were not ready to make a formal evaluation.
Palumbo said building the Broomley Road entrance will be expensive and may be not worth investing in because the school is already looking to relocate to accommodate demand.
“Eventually, we’ll be a school of 250 to 300, but probably not on this site,” Palumbo said. She added they may be moving in time for the 2016 school year.
Commissioner Karen Firehock said she hoped an out-of-the-box solution could be found to support the school during its growth period.
“I’m sure that the parents and the children love this school enough to make the extra effort to attend it,” she said. “Are there carpools or vanpools? Even through voluntary measures you could reduce the number of vehicle trips potentially.”
One county planner said he would not recommend requiring that as a condition of approval.
“Carpooling and vanpooling are good approaches to reduce traffic impacts, but it becomes difficult for us to enforce that,” said David Benish, the county’s chief of planning.
Commissioners were unanimous in their decision to recommend denial of the request.
“I drive that road every morning at 7:30 a.m. and traffic is backed up past Broomley down the opposite hill,” Commissioner Tom Loach said. “I tend to agree with staff’s position. … That said, they’re talking about a two-year period essentially.”
No date has yet been scheduled for the Board of Supervisors to hear the matter but school officials are hoping they can have an audience in early July.
The school year starts Aug. 25, and Palumbo hopes Regents might be able to get the entrance to Broomley Road built by then in order to secure approval from the Board of Supervisors. She said the school has already raised money from parents to help pay for it.
In other business, the commission recommended approval of an expansion request from the Tandem Friends School. Currently the school can have a total of 260 students and staff on premises at once time, but that would increase to 300 if the Board of Supervisors approves the request.
“It’s my feeling that Tandem Friends School has a unique place in Albemarle County,” said Andy Jones-Wilkins, the head of school. “We are a school that provides opportunities for kids that is unique, is friendly, and is open. We have bold ideas at Tandem.”
Tandem Friends officials also requested an expansion of their gym from 8,000 square feet to 18,000 square feet. The commission recommended approval of that request as well.