Sunday, July 24, 2011

Benedictine on the way

Planners vote to recommend CUP 6-3

After what seemed like an endless public hearing before the Goochland County Planning Commission on July 21, an application for a conditional use permit that would allow Benedictine High School to move its academic campus to a fifty acre parcel on the south side of River Road just east of Rt. 288 was recommended for approval by a 6-3 vote. James Melton, District 2 was absent. Courtney Hyers and Lowe Lunsford, District 5 and Ty Querry, District 2 voted in dissent.

Speakers included residents of the River Road corridor, alumni and concerned citizens from other parts of Goochland. Everyone acknowledged that Benedictine is an educational institution of the highest degree and its alumni a force for good in our declining society.

The major concerns were about the impact of the school on property values, traffic, noise, water and sewer. Many of the opponents had comments of the “not in my backyard” variety. River Road, which once was a peaceful rural enclave, has grown into an exurban haven for the affluent.

A good portion of the residential growth in Goochland over the last decade or so has happened in the River Road corridor. The new communities are top drawer. The owner of land just to the east of what is now a Benedictine Abbey stated that he has 21 building sites for homes he expects to be priced around $1.4 million.

Darvin Satterwhite represented Benedictine, which offers a faith based military style secondary education. He outlined in great detail the measures that the school will take to bring the existing structures into code compliance as well as described a 1,600 seat field house that the school plans to build on the property backing up to Rt. 288.

Benedictine proffered cash to be used to improve turn lanes at the Rt. 6 River Road intersection in front of the Richmond Country Club. Detailed travel plans which permit students and parents to enter the school only from the west, were part of the presentation.

While the school may be able to discipline the travel habits of its students, Benedictine will not be able to control the routes used by those attending athletic contests on the property, which is currently used by the school for some sports including baseball and football.

The size of the student body and supporting staff was proffered conditionally on water use. The subject property is at the end of the water line supplied by Henrico County and is allocated the last 10,000 gallons per day. That amount of water cannot be increased. Using state water use standards for high schools, 16 gallons per student per day, the school expects to start off with a student body of 325 with about 60 teachers and support staff.

After operating under real time conditions and monitoring its water use, the school may increase its student body if, indeed, its water use is far lower than the 16 gpd per person. Satterwhite said that the school believes actual use is in the seven gpd per person range. Student body size would be allowed to increase incrementally resulting in a maximum student body of 550 and about 112 support personnel. He contended that the school currently increases its student body by about 10 to 16 students annually so it would take more than two decades to reach the maximum.

Water for fire suppression will be supplied from a 500,000 gallon reservoir on the property and a code compliant 40,000 gallon holding tank to supply water for a sprinkler system that will be installed in the building as part of its upgrade for use as a school.

The other end of that equation, wastewater or sewage, raised some serious concerns. Currently, wastewater for the existing facility, which began life as a preparatory high school for seminary students about fifty years ago, is handled by an onsite 15,000 gallon per day treatment plant in use for about half a century.

While the person who currently manages the physical plant on the property contended that it can keep on chugging along indefinitely if properly maintained, he added that “pump and haul” measures could be used if the plant breaks down. That would add large tanker trucks filled with raw sewage to the River Road traffic load.

No concrete information was presented about the cost of replacing the wastewater treatment plant. One Benedictine alumnus contended that it would cost about $6 million to replace and that those funding the move of the school did not have sufficient funds to pay for that. Another alumnus said that there is about $20 million available for improvements to the River Road property.

It is not Goochland County’s job to referee a dispute among Benedictine alumni. The good monks need to have a , pardon the expression, “come to Jesus” meeting with the alumni so they present a united front to the public and get their story straight.

It is, however, the duty of the county to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.

Far more information about the wastewater treatment plant and contingencies for its prompt replacement should it fail is needed before this conditional use permit receives final approval. Perhaps the school should be required to post some sort of performance bond to ensure that the wastewater treatment plant be kept in optimal operating condition.

As usual in these presentations, concerns raised by citizens about the impact of a new venture on services provided by the Sheriff’s Office and Fire-Rescue were ignored. Benedictine could soften this a little by adding an EMT course to its curriculum so the boys could at least take care of their own.

A comment made by Satterwhite early on indicated the outcome of the evening’s antics. He asked the planning commission for a vote that night because a one month delay in approval would defer the school’s move by a year. In the bad old days, a comment like that was code for “it doesn’t matter how the planning commission votes, I have three yea votes on the Board of Supervisors.” Efforts by Hyers to defer the vote were unsuccessful.

We still don’t know “what’s in it for Goochland?” Beyond some vague touchy feely statements that the county should feel honored because the premier educational institution in the region wants to come here, that question was never answered.

Currently, the land is not on the tax rolls, so that’s no change. A good portion of the Benedictine student body already visits the site on a regular basis to partake in sports. It looks like we’re going to get another school here. Keep watch for the tanker trucks on River Road.

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